January 19, 2022
Colour Psychology: How do colours affect our mood and emotions
The psychology behind colours and the effect they have on our living space.
The colours we see affect us on more levels than we’re aware of. Whether it’s a room, a place, clothing or art, every splash of colour impacts a core part of our mind that we rarely think about but are always guided by.
The psychology of colours is something that has been studied for centuries. Nods to colour psychology have trickled down to us through culture in sayings like "Red makes you want to stop and take notice" and "Orange means fun". But the old wisdom is not always proven true when reconsidered through modern eyes.
It’s true that every colour has its own distinct psychology, and a very specific effect on those who encounter it. But the variance in mood that colour can invoke is a field still evolving even after centuries of thought.
Nostalgia for a certain decade may influence large groups of people similarly, but within that cohort will be a range of interpretations and associations unique to each individual. Colours have meaning to us simultaneously on a personal, tribal and cultural level. How we find the middle ground or leverage the extreme edges of colour association to have the desired impact in a space is always more art than science.
Let our guide ease you into the concepts and get a feel for where your own personal mood palette of colours can elevate the classics, setting the right tone in your living space.
Choosing a colour scheme
The perfect colours for your living space can be difficult to narrow down. It's natural to feel overwhelmed by a decision that will impact the appearance of your home for years to come.
There are so many aesthetically pleasing modern hues to choose from, without a mood philosophy to guide your choices and tie an aesthetic together early on, your colour palette can quickly lose cohesion.
When trying to account for mood, you must also consider how much space is in a room, what colour light is coming in through the windows, and whether you want warm or cool tones to prevail throughout your colour scheme. Lean into what you have to work with, and avoid forcing anything that “should work” but doesn’t resonate.
Using colour psychology to reinvigorate your living space
The psychology of colour is a branch of consciousness studies dealing with how colours affect mood, behaviour, and physiological wellbeing. Anecdotal wisdom tells us across the centuries that colour schemes can be used to influence mood or create an approximate feeling. In recent decades, more scientific research has explored the many mechanisms with which colours affect our body and mind.
What colour comes to mind when you think of your favourite food? The answer might surprise you. It may also be different than the person sitting beside you. Colours can make us feel a certain way and can be used very effectively to influence our moods.
This happens both on a conscious and subconscious level. Looking inward while making design choices and applying the psychology behind colour is a fundamental step to creating a home that's truly your own. For a deeper dive into how colour theory works, see our Coloursmith article.
The basics of designing for atmosphere with colour
To start decorating for mood, the first step is assembling some of our favourite colours.
Start by choosing three colours that you personally like, to serve as a foundation. These don’t need to be matched or adhere to colour theory in any way. The goal is to first evoke a sense of peace and joy in yourself, before exploring how you can best guide the emotional experience of anyone who visits the space.
Those designing their home with the experience of visitors in mind will tend to be guided by how you feel when you first enter. Consider the cultural associations invoked by a red carpet or the calculated minimalism of a gold feature wall dominating an entryway. Imagine yourself encountering different arrangements of your preferred elements, and pay close attention to the feelings each can prompt.
Entertainers might focus on a kitchen with modern-feeling colours like beige and white, textures of stainless steel throughout that give a sense of eating out at a restaurant. For classic movie lovers, deep burgundy hues and brass railing would recall the nostalgic theatre experiences of yesteryear.
At this higher level there’s no precise recipe, just experiment with what works for you and the types of people who occupy your space. There are no wrong answers!
Colour Theory 101
Drilling down to the finer detail, there are some more precise guidelines that can be followed to make sure that your space aligns with the centuries of colour theory and practice available. The colour ratios and decorating flair used in a room are where more traditional wisdom around colour psychology comes into play.
For a cohesive and aesthetically pleasing look, the main thing keep in mind is the colour wheel. This wheel has three primary colours (red, yellow and blue) which are present in all other colours on the wheel. These three colours are mixed through different shades, tints and tones to create derivative colours, just as they’re arranged individually to form palettes that we tend to see reused throughout successful art and design.
Certain colours complement one another favourably to create a solid foundation for more complex colour schemes. Similarly, certain colours mean something very specific in the mind of the majority who encounter them.
For example, if a person wants to create a relaxing space, then blue, green and purple are proven to suit the purpose individually, as well as together. Let’s look at the most well-known colours that influence mood and talk about the general effect they’re known to have.
When choosing a colour for a space, deciding on a mood or emotion you want the space to evoke is a great first step. To help with this, colour psychology charts have been created based on the common emotions associated with different emotions. For inspiration here are some emotions that common colours are known to evoke:
Red Colour Psychology
Denotes: Passion, aggression, importance
Red is a dominating colour that adds gravity and heightened awareness. It’s traditionally been a stimulating colour that’s known to increase blood circulation, breathing rate, and metabolism.
Red isn’t just associated with love or war. It can also represent honour and celebration. As a design tool, it does a great job capturing people's attention. However, if overused it will overstimulate the senses, preventing the space from also feeling calm or relaxed.
It's best when used in lighter shades in combination with vibrant colours for a sense of youthful optimism. Dark red schemes tend more to emphasise power and durability—something along the lines of a royal bedroom.
Orange Colour Psychology
Denotes: Playfulness, energy, fun
Orange is a great choice to inject some energy into your space. Unlike its cousin red, it has lower risk of causing eye strain or excessive stimulation, while still promoting a sense of fun and excitement. Orange sits opposite blue on the colour wheel, meaning the two colours can offset and juxtapose each other in a way that speaks directly to our psyche.
Yellow Colour Psychology
Denotes: Happiness, friendliness, warning signal
Yellow is an odd colour; it can be associated with happiness and simultaneously trigger anxiety. Like red and orange, it's a powerful color—one that stimulates and revitalises.
It's also the colour of warning signs, taxis, and post-it notes—a fact our subconscious can’t seem to miss. Use a bright yellow in moderation, because of its potential negative connotations
Lighter yellows tend to represent happiness and joy, a sense of airiness. The strongest association most people make with the colour is “golden hour”—that period of the afternoon when the sun is setting, shining like a golden spotlight through everything. For something more serious and elegant, choose a darker shade with gold accents.
Green Colour Psychology
Denotes: Nature, stability, prosperity
Green is closely associated with the environment, representing nature and organic quality.
Green is also the most balanced colour of the wheel, making it the ideal choice for anyone wishing their design project to take on an air of stability.
It's a popular choice as an accent or for feature walls because it stands out, but more subtly than the warmer colours already discussed. In certain cultures, it also represents money and financial safety.
Blue Colour Psychology
Denotes: Calm, peace, water
Blue is one of the most popular colours when it comes to home design, and for good reason. It's seen a lot on feature walls in quiet spaces because blue is a colour that inspires introspection. Blue also signifies calm and serenity, making it an appropriate colour for the spaces in your home that should evoke feelings of tranquillity.
Blue is incredibly versatile. Its vibrant end of the spectrum has more drastic impact in isolation than other colours, and combines tastefully with the rest of the colour wheel almost universally.
Light blue is the colour of water and sky, giving it a refreshing and freeing feeling. It can also be energizing if bright enough, while still projecting reliability. Darker blues have a more somber feel and can be seen as serious, professional or secure.
Blues shouldn't be used in areas where food is served. Because blue food isn't common in the wild, it can have a suppressing effect on appetite. Great for the home gym though!
Colour balance affects the way we live and breathe
Balancing colours effectively for mood makes a huge difference in the way we live in our space. It's important not just to make good long-term design choices, but to pay attention to the colours we surround ourselves with.
Begin by taking a long look out our colour selections. Sit with them… let them soak a while. What do you think about? How do they make you feel?