The biggest influence on the human state of mind with the possible exception of the weather is colour. We are surrounded by references: “a red rag to a bull”, “blue with cold”, “green with envy”, “in the pink”. The psychology of colour and how colour affects human behaviour is now a serious course of study at universities. Hospital rooms, classrooms, fast food restaurants and offices are painted in colours to influence the behaviour and mood of the people who use these spaces. Even the products on the shelves of your local supermarket have been packaged in colours carefully chosen to attract your attention and encourage you to buy. So why are people so hesitant to use colour in their home environments? Why is the neutral space currently the ideal?
Why are We Afraid of Colour?
The first step to relinquishing fear in the use of colour is to understand the psychological effects it has on us. Red is known to stimulate the appetite – so it’s an excellent colour for dining rooms. Both blue and green are fresh and calming. They are the colours of nature and could be popular choices for bedrooms. Yellow and orange are energising like the sun, so are good choices in rooms where your energy may need boosting – the kitchen perhaps. Orange in its toned down terracotta form can be ideal in a home office; it has the energising effect of both red and orange but isn’t so bright that you won’t be able to stay at your desk!
Many contemporary television programmes have made a virtue of the use of bold colours in wild combinations: violet and lime green; turquoise and red-orange; orange and fuchsia. But be careful about casually throwing colours together. Violet and lime green will work because they are complementary colours – they are opposite each other on the Colour Wheel. Likewise turquoise and red-orange. You would think that orange and fuchsia would clash, but because they sit next to each other on the Colour Wheel, they are a colour harmony. It is worth investing in a Colour Wheel (available from most good art shops) to help you see how colours sit with each other before you splash out on several gallons of grapefruit yellow and olive green paint for the bedroom. And really consider carefully whether a violet and lime green living room is something you can live with.
This does not mean to say that dramatic colours do not have their place. Far too many houses are decorated in various shades of beige (I think “taupe” is the current fashionable term although this is being challenged by “string”), and the standard neutral colour for new dwellings is still the veritable magnolia. Subtle, muted wall colours (like off white and taupe) are fine, and very easy to live with. But contrast and enliven them with bright highlights in your accessories and upholstery. Consider a multi-coloured rug, some coloured ceramics or glassware, vivid prints or paintings, or squashy cushions in jewel tones. The overall effect will be airy and soothing yet the flashes of colour can bring in your personality and be your signature touches.
Strong colours are best confined to the rooms that have less usage. Hallways and cloakrooms are ideal spaces in which to experiment. No one spends much time in these rooms, so you can afford to be bold. Just because these spaces may be small or narrow, don’t be afraid of using vivid colour. Sometimes a tiny cloakroom is just a tiny cloakroom, and no amount of white paint is going to change that. Why not emphasis its bijou proportions by painting the space dark burgundy or navy and use lots of white (in the sanitaryware and towels) as the accent colour? A touch of aqua might be the finishing touch. Be like a chef – a dollop of coral, with a swish of aquamarine and a pinch of jade may be exactly the right recipe for your room. The important thing is to consider the quantities. Decide on your main colour and then add carefully selected accents.
Consider the texture of your colours. A bright red dining room can be toned down by the application of various glazes so that its vibrancy is turned to a rich burnish. Bright yellows can be colourwashed over a white base to wash them out. In both cases the original character of the colour is maintained and only its brightness is muted. Colours can be layered for unusual effects. A piece of inexpensive pine furniture can be transformed by distressing it – painting an undercoat of blue, an overcoat of white and then sanding off the white paint on its corners and around its handles to make it look like its an antique.
If you’re stuck for ideas when trying to decide what colour scheme to choose for a room, look at the furniture and objects you want to use. You may have a painting or a rug that can act as your inspiration. Many interior designers build up complex colour schemes from just one item. Look around you – even an old purple vase or the faded red covers of a collection of books can be the starting point of a whole room scheme.
Have fun with colour. Be brave! Be bold!