If you’re thinking about painting the walls in your home another color, you may want to think about how you’re feeling. This is because there’s actually quite a bit of psychology around colors and how they affect our mood. In fact, researchers have studied this phenomenon for a couple of centuries now. Back in 1810, for example, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote a book, Theory of Colors, on how various hues are perceived by people, linking colors to emotional categories. (For example, red and yellow signified certain emotions, such as warmth and excitement.)
“Warm colors (red, yellow, and orange) tend to provide the room with an energetic and welcoming atmosphere,” says neuropsychologist Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D., director of Comprehend the Mind. “Cool colors (blue, green, and purple), on the other hand, tend to give the room a calm and easygoing mood.” So, a red painting, wall, drape, or entryway can provide excitement and stimulation, she explains. But you may want to avoid red accents in your bedroom in order to avoid increased blood pressure and to promote better sleep.
Jean Lin, the founder and creative director of Colony, a cooperative gallery, design studio, and strategy firm, takes this notion further, stating that not only are the colors in our home absolutely in conversation with our moods, but they’re often able to dictate them. “As a designer, I am hopelessly intrigued by the idea of color as a psychological and emotional tool, combining the physical plane with a psycho-emotional response,” she tells TZR in an email. “In CHROMA, a model apartment Colony recently completed at One Prospect Park West, each room embodies a specific color and its corresponding historical, emotional, and psychological response. For example, the red living room uses deep maroon accents, hand-blown amber glass, and natural terracotta to evoke a subtle, yet growing, internal energy.”
If you’re interested in putting this psychology of color into practice in your own space, read on for tips and insights from Lin, Hafeez, and other experts who further explain the correlation between colors and emotions.
Colors — And What They Say About Your Mood
Dawnn Karen, fashion psychologist, founder of Fashion Psychology Success, and author of Dress Your Best Life, teaches how colors can impact one’s mental health. “If someone has bright colors in their home, I would typically think they have gone through something traumatic or they have experienced a downturn in their life,” she tells TZR. “So, now, they want their home to be a reflection of everything they would like to feel.”
Karen also thinks that as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and now a global recession, people are spending more time in their homes, which is causing them to reevaluate their living and working spaces. “You may realize that this white wall is not working,” she says. However, she cautions against redesigning — or repainting — simply based on your mood of the moment. “When it comes to interior design and the psyche, people may give way to mood fluctuations after they experience one color for a while,” she says. So while a bright color, like red, could be uplifting in the moment, “perhaps you don’t want to walk around in that ‘high’ all the time,” she says. “Instead, you may want to maintain an emotional equilibrium and choose a more tranquil color, like blue, which signifies a calm, stable environment. Your mood within your house is your safe haven, and you may not want to fluctuate high-highs or low-lows through colors.”
Generally, Karen says certain colors evoke certain moods, including:
- Red – dominance
- Pink – cheerfulness
- Teal – optimism
- Purple – sensitivity
- Yellow – happiness
- Blue – calm/tranquility
Different Colors For Different Rooms
Interior designer Diana Sfera agrees that, when decorating a home, the color you choose can have a tremendous impact on your daily mood, emotions, and even your thoughts and how you express yourself. “For example, choosing bold colors, like red or orange, can evoke power, warmth, passion; bright pink and yellow can encourage enthusiasm, happiness, and playfulness; and blue, green, and white can soothe, calm, evoke serenity, and even lower your stress level,” she tells TZR in an email. “When choosing brighter, bolder colors, like red, bright pink, or yellow, they have the power to literally raise the energy level of a room. And because they’re more ‘active’ colors, most people tend to reserve these for more social spaces in the home, like a dining room, living room, entryway, or in small, unexpected spaces to pack a punch of color, like a bathroom.”
Likewise, more “natural” colors, like soothing blues or greens, are often reserved for a bedroom, den, or study, she explains, where you want to feel a sense of calm and peace. Hafeez seconds Sfera. For example, “people associate yellow with warmth and may prefer a softer shade of yellow to induce happiness,” she says. “And orange walls in your fitness room add an aura of energy while invoking light blue walls in your bedroom promote better sleep quality and tranquility.”
Lin also points out that a lack of color — such as gray — or, alternatively, the deep saturation of it, can ground a space. “A home is intrinsically personal, and the desire to feel grounded in it, maybe soothed and quieted, as well, can be a powerful one,” she says. “I challenge myself to look beyond gray, because I find that a more nuanced spectrum — think oxblood, ink, and even chocolate — offers a more textural and livable home with the same rooted feel.”
How — And When — To Switch Up Your Color Scheme
So how do you know when to change up your color scheme? Can repainting your walls suddenly improve your mood? “Boosting your mood with a specific color is false,” Hafeez explains. “Everybody interprets colors with certain memories or feelings attached to them. A child might have had yellow walls growing up and did not have a pleasant childhood. This results in an individual correlating yellow walls with a traumatic time period and defeats the purpose of instantly boosting your mood.” In essence, she says there is no one-size-fits-all. “Much of how we associate color and what it means to us is reflected by past experiences or living situations,” she adds.
Karen, too, says colors are all about your mental state of mind. She explains that while darker colors can drain someone’s mood, it really depends on the person. “Dark colors may soothe some people, but if someone’s already in a melancholic or anxious state of mind, the darker tones could sink them into a deeper abyss,” she says. “Overall, you have to think about what the person is currently going through.” To this point, Hafeez notes that, scientifically, cooler tones provide a relaxing and warm effect. “That being said, however, scientifically proven does not mean everyone feels the same about cool tones,” she says. “Certain individuals want their home to feel like a cocoon, using earthy and neutral tones with dark accents. For somebody else, these colors can trigger a bleak feeling and they will stick to warmer tones for the same cocoon effect. And gray has a dull impact because it is neither light nor dark; this results in an unemotional color that could potentially bring down your mood.”
Conversely, someone may have all their walls painted bright colors — like pink, blue, and yellow — or have a lot of colorful accessories. Sfera says her initial thought would be this person is likely bold, fun, friendly, outgoing, likes to take risks, and doesn’t take themselves too seriously. “They also like to experiment and play,” she says. “They literally have a ‘colorful’ personality.” Yet if someone’s home is more subdued, in gray or darker tones, Sfera imagines this person is likely a bit more introspective, deeper, and a bit more serious. “At the same time, they’re sophisticated and timeless,” she says. “There is definitely an elegance that this color palette delivers.”
It’s important to think about the function of each room and what emotion you are looking to channel before landing on a certain shade. “It’s also important to consider the amount of light in the space, along with existing architecture and furniture, as color will intrinsically reflect and interact with its surroundings,” Lin says. “Saturated colors will feel moodier than something pale, which can function similarly to white, but with so much more personality and warmth.”
Test A Small Area Before Fully Committing To A New Color
“While paint is typically the easiest design feature to correct if you’ve gone terribly wrong, it could also be costly to do so — especially if you painted an entire room a bolder or darker color,” Sfera explains. “So I say test, test, test before you fully commit. Try painting one wall the color of your choice and live with it for a couple of days or a week to see how the color makes you feel. If you decide it feels right, take the plunge!”
As far as accessorizing your home with more color, Sfera says it’s much easier to play around and less risky. “But even here, I say slow and steady versus buying everything all at once,” she says. “Start with a colorful piece of art that can inspire other colors in the room, or throw pillows, and go from there. And above all, have fun introducing each new, colorful piece. I call it ‘room candy.’” Additionally, for both paint and furniture/accessories, Sfera recommends utilizing apps, too, like Benjamin Moore’s Color Portfolio app. And for furniture and accessories, she suggests apps like Houzz and Modsy Interior Design.
Always Be Mindful Of Your Mood And Mindset
Sfera says to keep in mind that there’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to color, where you use it, and the mood you want to create or convey. “It’s a personal choice, and often that choice can be inspired by so many factors — your current mood or life stage, a life shift, personal taste, your culture, nostalgia and how you grew up, and so on. “Even the home itself can determine how you choose and play with color: One home can call for a softer, muter palette, while others scream for something more bold, playful, and daring. Whichever route you choose, embrace and have fun with it!”
However, Lin says you must think of colors in terms of the context of the room(s), too. For example, “Yellow is known to elicit elevated spirits and joy, but keep in mind that a yellow wall won’t just be living alone — it will be living in the context of the room and the objects within it,” she explains. “So it’s important to stay true to each color’s natural psychological response while also creating inviting spaces.”
And be cognizant of your mindset, too. “Just as you dress your body, you can dress your home,” Karen says. “But be mindful of your mood fluctuations.” In fact, she suggests having a “healing” room in your house designated as a place to go when you’re feeling down. “Since your home is your safe haven, you can dress your home to heal and to maintain a healthy psyche,” she says. “‘Shelter’ is among Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, so your living space needs to be intact and in place,” she says. “This is especially true these days, since many of us no longer use our homes just to sleep, but to work from and relax in, too.” Before, people were more on autopilot when it came to the way their homes were designed, she believes. “But we need to create an alignment between our internal and external worlds — how we feel and how our surroundings make us feel,” she says. When it comes to our mental health, “it’s visually important and also very important.”