Psychology of Color for Interiors

Image of Living Room with colorful furniture and floor to ceiling windows. It feels like a loft space.

Choosing a color scheme can feel daunting if you just don’t know where to start. First of all, to be able to choose a color scheme for your home with confidence, you need to better understand the psychology of color.

Psychology of Color

The psychology of color is essential when it comes to setting the mood for your space. As a result, you will be successful in creating the right color scheme. Interior Design is an art that combines a person’s personality with their preferences, to create a significant representation of their inner self. We have a physiological reaction, directly or indirectly, to the colors in our space. Your inner self is a blank canvas on which we fill the colors and add the touches textures and textiles. Essentially, you are creating a personality for your space.

We use the psychology of color to combine color finishes together to create an organic and sensible flow in residential and commercial interiors. Although a large portion of interior design is largely focused on creativity, we also need to look at the effects of the color schemes we use. We must take into account the psychology of color on behalf of our client and their friends, family, and colleagues, as they will spend hours in the rooms we design for them.

Understanding Room Colors and Moods

Trust me when I say it will get easier, my friend, to choose a color once you have a better understanding of the psychology of color. It will bring clarity to your process.

When you dive deeper into the importance of color theory, it will begin to guide you on what mood or setting you are trying to accomplish and how you want the people you invite into your space to feel. Serene? Invigorated? Joyful? You get the picture, right?

Your first introduction to color psychology was in grade school where you learned about primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. These three colors are the foundational points of the color wheel. This is just the tip of the iceberg, my friend. We’ve got so much more to learn.

Shall we?

The Basics of color

There are 12 colors in the color wheel.

Here’s how things break down:

  • Primary Colors: Red, blue, and yellow. These colors are true pigments and are not and can not be made by mixing colors.
  • Secondary Colors: Orange, Purple, and Green. Can be made by mixing the primary colors together.
  • Tertiary Colors: There are six shades. These shades are made by mixing primary and secondary colors together.

If you’re unsure of where to start when it comes to creating a colorful interior, one of these 12 is often a good jumping-off point. Pick one and it will help you narrow down your selections until you settle on the exact shade that you love.

Top 10 colors most frequently used for Interiors and how they affect us:

  • Red – warmest tone, dynamic, intense, attention-grabbing, brings vigor and excitement to a room
  • Brown – neutral, soft, reassuring essence, used to combine elements of modernism and class
  • Orange – vibrant, symbolizes sunshine and nature, evokes an incredibly positive effect on the psyche,
  • Yellow – aspects of sunshine and therefore brings feelings of light and happiness, associated with prosperity and intellect as its characteristics also are closely associated with gold
  • Green – is associated with nature, therefore, bringing a sense of peace, calm, and serenity with the effect of relaxing the senses
  • Blue – the most calming color for interiors as it relaxes the mind and slows down the heart rate, metabolism, blood pressure, and hypertension
  • Purple – associated with elegance and royalty, inspires creativity and adds flair or calm depending on the shades and hues used
  • Pink – influences emotions close to the heart; love, compassion
  • Black – signifies simplicity and functionality with versatility and elegance
  • Grey – a neutral color that is also associated with elegance and style. It provides a backdrop for almost any accent color or one can create a lovely monochromatic color scheme, either having a very positive effect.
  • White – a blank canvas that symbolizes simplicity and cleanliness. Those who suffer from claustrophobia benefit from a white interior as white makes a room feel more open and spacious providing a sense of calm.

First, let’s dive even deeper into color psychology and the characteristics of each one. In the end, we will we can have a better understanding of how to apply color to our own spaces.

Color Psychology of Red

Interior space with lots of red represented in the design. Red walls, red arm chairs and pop art with dominant red color in it.
  • Positive effects: enthusiastic, joyful, confident, passionate, charismatic, natural leader, ambitious, love, sexuality, desire,
  • Negative effects: impulsive, unapologetic, aggressive, overly competitive, anger, rage, malice, wrath, danger, war hunger

The most vibrant color with its fiery hues tends to evoke the strongest and most contradictory emotions of any other colors. For example, red stimulates love, passion, desire, and power as well as its opposing emotions anger, hate, and revenge. See what I mean? However, in order to curb the more negative effects of red, it’s best to tone it down with calming, neutral tones like beige or white bringing in a more harmonious balance to human emotions.

For example, red is an excellent choice when you want to bring energy and excitement to a space. In corporate office spaces, red can promote productivity, leadership, determination, camaraderie, and friendship. It pops, and it is eye-catching so great for signage or as an accent color throughout the office space where you may want to bring up the activity level. Red can also increase appetite making it an ideal color for restaurants and cafés. With its attention-grabbing characteristics, red signifies warning and alerts to danger as we see in the street and building signs all around.

In residential design, using red in any of its glorious shades, in communal areas like a living room or family room, inspires friendships and invigorates conversation. This is a no-brainer since warm colors evoke happiness and optimism with red being the warmest color of them all. No wonder that space with the right shades of red feels inviting for any social situation.

We know all too well the stigmatism that red arouses passion and desire and is an ideal color for the bedroom. I’m not completely convinced that this is a trend that has stood the test of time. But yes, red is associated with romance, love, and passion. However, use it sparingly or use a toned-down color or hue of it as you don’t want your bedroom to also be a place of aggression, anger, or revenge. Let’s not forget 50 Shades of Grey and what his red room was all about. As mentioned earlier, bring in neutrals to balance the calm. Remember, red is associated with the most opposing emotions so tread lightly, my friend.

Color Psychology of Orange

  • Positive effects: optimism, enthusiasm, self-confidence, agreeableness, happiness, joy, calm, warmth, relaxation, determination, enthusiasm, success, prosperity, healing energy, creativity, love, passion, sexuality, pleasure, desire
  • Negative effects: deceit, betrayal, aggression, dominance, distrust, inferiority, arrogance, pride, superficiality

Orange triggers creativity with the energetic glow of its color and the positive characteristics mentioned earlier.  Think about how you feel when you watch the sunset. I don’t know about you, but I’m in awe of the beautiful orange glow of the sky or the “golden hour” as we call it, which is why yellow is contributed to the same physiological feelings as orange.

How does one not feel positive when you are surrounded by such warmness in their environment? Warmth also evokes calm and a sense of safety in one’s space.

Orange stimulates a high degree of positivity. It revives us when we are feeling our lowest. Hence the term, ‘look on the bright side’. This is why orange should be used daily. This is why orange is ideal for interiors. Who wouldn’t want a daily pick-me-up?  

This is also a color that encourages us to be active, making orange to be considered an extrovert color. Well duh! No wonder orange is a very social color. Double duh! Given all these positive traits, orange is ideal for learning new things or creativity.

However, keep in mind that the darker shade or tone of orange will bring out the more negative effects of the color. Choose wisely, my dear.

Color Psychology of Brown

  • Positive effects: safety, security, dependability, warmth, comfort. resilience, spirit, determination, strength, power, sophistication, openness
  • Negative effects: rigidity, sadness, loneliness, depression, isolation, indifference, vastness, starkness, solidarity

Brown is mostly associated with a sense of strength and reliability. Use it sparingly. Over-saturation of brown can cause depression and a lack of motivation and can cause you to feel too relaxed. Browns are so key to bringing warmth into space through natural textures, like wood. Think of all the variations of browns found in natural woods and the beauty of the textures. It can add so much richness as well as coziness.

Be sure to liven up browns with colorful accents and other neutral hues to balance out the senses. Generally, browns are used to create a rustic interior style feeling a bit dismal. The space can feel sparse, lonely, and empty but sprinkle in some colorful throw pillows along with colorful throw blankets, and voila! You have a more uplifting vibe! With the right balance, browns can bring a level of sophistication to a space and bring a sense of warmth, comfort, and security with their down-to-earth characteristics

Color Psychology of Yellow

living room with yellow sofa
  • Positive effects: hope, laughter, warmth, happiness, energy, enthusiasm, awareness, joy, care, cordiality, intelligence, excellence, obedience, productivity, optimism, encouragement
  • Negative effects: depression, anger, fatigue, irritability, anxiety, illness, jealousy, decay

Well, we know all too well that yellow is definitely going evoke joy and enthusiasm in a space. Think about the times when you had days of gloom or rain and you felt low on energy and lacked the motivation to do anything. Then the minute the sun peaks out, your whole mood changes, right? It has stood the test of time that sunshine and happiness go hand in hand. That’s why yellow is associated with uplifting your spirits and is ideal for spaces and is found to spark spontaneity.

In some cultures, yellow depicts intellect and wealth because of its association with the color of gold. However, the more subdued shades of yellow can breed feelings of misfortune, decline, and sickness. Bright shades of yellow are ideal but must also be used in moderation as they can tend to have uncontrollable effects on emotions and can cause a rise in one’s blood pressure.

Color Psychology of Green

  • Positive Effects: peace, balance, harmony, security, safety, protection, healing, freshness, calm, sincerity, comfort
  • Negative Effects: jealousy, greed, ambition, cowardice, sickness, conflict

We tend to automatically associate green with nature, bringing a sense of peace and calm, and relaxation to our psyche allowing us to lower the levels of hypertension and blood pressure. And much like produce, we feel a sense of freshness which can bring to the surface feelings of rejuvenation and healing.

Green is highly recommended for interiors because it is an extremely versatile color and touches on a range of emotions. Light shades of Blue greens instill a calm while deep greens, such as emeralds, bring a level of sophistication and richness to an environment but keep in mind that the darker shades of green can also bring out emotions of jealousy and greed as noted.

Color Psychology of Blue

bedroom with blue accent wall
  • Positive Effects: peace, stability, calm, tranquil, control, confidence, affection, sincerity, bliss, softness, integrity, healing, health, intelligence, wisdom, power, seriousness, loyal, truthful, faith, trust,
  • Negative effects: Coldness, aloofness, lack of emotion, unfriendliness

In regard to the psychological effect of colors, blue, by far, is thought to be the most calming of all. I bet you thought green was, right? Blue has mostly positive effects and very few if any, negative side effects. It brings calm to our busy minds and attributes to lowering blood pressure, heart rate, metabolism, and hypertension.

Think of a body of water; deep blue shades of aqua of the sea or how you are floating in a pool or a lazy river. I don’t know about you, but the minute I submerge myself into a body of water, I immediately feel a sense of relaxation. I feel so grounded. But underwater, not so much, as I am claustrophobic. Can any of you relate? Just seeing the body of water gives a sense of healing and restoration to my mindset. It immediately shifts me out of any stressful or negative vibes.

However, we must be careful how we use blue. Ya’ll have heard of the term ‘having the blues’, right? Well, where do you think it came from? Using blues in rooms that lack a good amount of natural light can bring feelings of isolation and coldness to the space producing the feeling of melancholy. Warm blues are ideal to offset the melancholy. Another option is to use warm complementary colors to accent the space.

Color Psychology of Purple

picture of a living room
  • Positive Effects: Spiritual awareness, calm, vision, excitement, luxury, authenticity, truth, quality, mystery, creativity, richness, sophistication, elegance, tranquility, relaxation
  • Negative Effects: timidity, dissolution, containment, inferiority

Historically we have always associated the color purple with royalty as we think of the elegance that embodies them. However, there are many great uses for purple and one might say that purple is underused as an interior color. If the wrong hue or tone is used, it can immediately devalue the space or object of design.

Purple, a secondary color on the color wheel, is ideal for areas that inspire creativity or design such as any and all types of artists’ studios, craft rooms, or home offices. While shades of deep plum can arouse sensuality and mystery.

Color Psychology of Pink

Image of a living room and foyer
  • Positive Effects: romance, love, compassion, sweetness, nurturing, warmth, feminism, glamour, softness
  • Negative Effects: loss, self-consciousness, emotional claustrophobia, emasculation, physical weakness

The once very feminine shade of pink has shifted from feminine & girly to one of the most popular colors for interior design. It has become the new neutral in its shades of blush, rose, and corals over the past few years. And although it will forever represent love, nurturing, and romance, we no longer confine pink to a princess party them! Thank goodness! Corals and salmons tend to be the most gender-neutral shades of pink and can bring a bit of zing to a space without being to be overpowering. If you’re not sure how to think pink, maybe start small, and incorporate small, with the use of exceptional textiles and patterns. Have fun with it and play around with different color combinations.

If you dare to be bold, then try some magenta and fuchsia accents to add a pop of color to your space and you’re sure to elevate the energy in that space.

Color Psychology of Black

  • Positive Effects of Black: elegance, functionality, simplicity, desire, protectiveness, modernism, sophistication, beauty
  • Negative Effects of Black: grim, control, depression, untidiness, terror, evil, death

So, we all know the theory on the simple, black dress, right? When in doubt, go black! It flatters every body shape. You can’t go wrong! The same applies to interiors. However, be careful not to make your space feel like a cave or dungeon as black can drum up negative emotions. Use warm accent colors to offset the gloom and doom of too much black. The warmth of wood in furniture can add balance to a black interior.

Whether you see black as a color or void of color, black can make a space feel elegant and sophisticated when paired with the right color accents and is ideal for modern interior spaces and architecture. It can add simplicity to a traditional room by subduing existing ornate moldings or decorative wall panels transforming it into a more modern interior. Black can make things disappear or bring them to focus. It can be a backdrop or an accent color. Either way, you are making a statement!  You’ll be the envy of your neighbors and friends. In addition, you just saved a ton of time and money on demolition. Winning!

Color Psychology of Gray

  • Positive Effects of Gray: stability, security, strength of character, style, elegance, simplicity, willpower, strength, determination, form, functionality
  • Negative Effects of Gray: gloom, rigidity, depression, steely, cold

While some find gray calming and soothing, others find it depressing and gloomy. Personally, I find gray very pleasing to the eye and makes a space feel clean and fresh. But when I once suggested it to a friend of mine, her immediate reaction to it was ‘No way! Too depressing’. Her reaction to gray had a lot to do with where she lives. She gets a lot of snow in the long winter months; the days are shorter and her outdoor environment is gray and gloomy for months. I get it!  Where I live, we have sunny days throughout the year, with minimal gloomy days, even in the winter. That’s why we call it “Sunny California”.

So, if you’re much like my friend living in long winter months with no sunshine, my advice to you is to opt for warmer shades of grey and use cool grays more sparingly to prevent that cold and depressing feeling. Bring in warmth in accent pillows, throws, curtains, or in paint colors. Gray is such a neutral palette that you can bring in a combination of warm colors and textiles. Go for it!

Color Psychology of White

  • Positive effects of White: purity, cleanliness, clarity, tranquility, peace, harmony, prosperity, openness, trust, productivity, efficiency, creativity, elegance, luxury,
  • Negative effects of White: sterile, cold, barrier, elitism, unfriendliness, challenge, control, empty, critical, distant, ignorant, boring

Though white can serve as a blank canvas where you have unlimited choices for interior design, it can also tend to make a space feel too sterile. Frankly, it can feel a bit too institutional for me. But what I love most about white is that it’s impartial, distinct, and neutral toward everything. And believe it or not, white is one of the hardest colors to choose.

White makes a room feel more spacious as well as clean and simple. This is why minimalists love this color! White can pair with any color. Obvi! To bring sophistication to a white interior, sprinkle gold, yellows, or greys. If you want vibrancy, add pops of red, orange, or green. For a calm and relaxing feel, pair white with shades of blue.

Take Away

Understanding the psychology of each color makes all the difference in how you want your space to feel. It’s not just about what it looks like. Many people fall into this trap and end up hating their space. Now that you’ve got the knowledge under your belt, apply it to your own design. Be intentional about each space. Take the time to jot down thoughts for each area of your home, private and public. Think about how you want people to feel when they experience the space you created. You’ve got this! I believe in you!

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