Color is a healthy obsession at Cheryl Saban Glass, and we could spend weeks studying its fascinating effects on our moods. Some seem obvious — red for passion, anger or dramatic entrances; yellow as the perky stand-in for sunny skies and smiley faces but rarely the first choice of the fashion crowd. Other associations feel hopelessly out-of-step: pink for girls, blue for boys.
How we regard color is as much personal preference as it is cultural association, but science can give us a deeper understanding of the power of color and our emotional responses to certain hues. That kind of insight is ideal when decorating, because while nothing transforms a space like a fresh coat of paint, nothing is harder than committing to a color at home. How we use color in our interiors is just as important as the shade we choose, so read on to learn which bold or calming colors will bring all the feelings you want for you and your place.
If you’re tempted to play it safe with creams, grays and soft whites, that decision might have surprising (and unintended) consequences. “Use color—don’t opt out and live in a beige world,” advises environmental psychologist Sally Augustin, Ph.D., who explained color’s effect on mood for Psychology Today. “Humans are more comfortable in spaces with color than in those without. A beige world is under-stimulating—and that’s stressful.”
According to Augustin, mastering color is mostly about saturation and brightness. She defines saturation as how “pure” a color is, while brightness relates to how light a color appears. This explains why a light sage green seems relaxing, while a rich jewel tone feels more energizing. Interestingly, grey is said to be a passive color associated with a lack of energy.
Chances are your color selections are based on a few built-in preferences. Specialists have discovered that most of us respond favorably to blue. Soothing, pale shades of blue evoke clarity and infuse a space with a sense of calm, reminiscent of the sea and sky. By contrast, deeply saturated tones, such as sapphire, rouse the senses and summon creativity. That’s one reason why the right blue (such as a French blue) is a creative partner-in-crime and makes an excellent choice for an office or studio, to encourage an easy flow of ideas. And because there is such a familiarity with blue, it’s a color often used liberally throughout the home. It conjures up a clean, fresh sensibility, which makes it a popular choice for bathrooms and laundry areas.
Not too far from blue is purple, a wildly unexpected color with so many variations — from lilac and lavender to soft pigments that almost read as gray. This classically regal color makes a strong impression at home and is often deployed as a complementary accent in its most saturated hues. It can be a cozy, rich color that summons tradition. There can also be a sense of adventure and exoticism with purple — it’s stirring in velvet, looks gorgeous in drapery and as a trim.
We also adore purple on a table for its moody elegance. Our tumblers in hyacinth and aubergine are testaments to this idea: when the light filters through them, the effect is more like jewelry than glassware.
Without question, green pulls us closer to nature and the natural world. Verdant shades are embraced and often found in living rooms. Greens come in a wide variety, with lime and funky neon shades better suited for kids’ spaces and mint greens adding a punchy attitude to mudrooms, built-ins and even entryways. Not long ago, emerald green was an exciting trend in home décor because of the chic sensibility and versatile style it signals: It can work as a graphic (think palm prints) statement or an accent color.
Spicy, exciting, warm and ambitious, red is the choice for dining rooms, living rooms and the occasional risk-taking bedroom. It’s been proven to increase confidence and physical awareness. Some research has noted that athletes feel a competitive edge when wearing red. A bold shade, there are few limits to what red can do, but if you’re interested in a more toned-down experience, try wallpaper with a hint of crimson or a headboard upholstered in ruby. Even cushions with just a touch of red will give the room a lift. And when in doubt, it’s always wise to look to other cultures like India, where gorgeous red prints and layered textiles are de rigueur.
Yellow and Orange
When we think of warm tones, orange and yellow come to mind. Many hues in this spectrum are dynamic and cheerful — their brightness alone makes a strong impact. While they are vibrant, uplifting and positive, introducing them at home is much more complicated than some of the other shades on this list.
Yellow can easily look dull and sickly; and some shades are even linked to fatigue. The hue can be polarizing, and some research suggests babies cry more frequently, and tempers more easily flare in yellow spaces. We’ve often heard that yellow stimulates appetite, making it a traditional choice for a kitchen or dining room, but designers find that painting just a ceiling in a buttery tone can be enough.
Earthy orange tones bring such classic vibes, be it a Tuscan villa or the conversation pit of a retro living room. Because it can offer a strong counterpoint, designers sometimes opt to paint bookcases or shelves in orange for some unexpected sizzle.
Describing Pantone’s 2019 Color of the Year, Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute said, “with consumers craving human interaction and social connection, the humanizing and heartening qualities displayed by the convivial Pantone Living Coral hit a responsive chord.” Though not quite a pink in the conventional sense, it conveys the many possibilities of this shade, from blush to the now infamous Millennial Pink. We’ve seen blush play a popular role in everything from small upholstered pieces to kitchen utensils. The sweetness and reassurance of pink has also proved to be a decorative match, looking fantastic with brass accents and larger statement furniture.
Arianne Nardo is a Los Angeles-based design editor and lifestyle journalist. She is the former editor-in-chief of Interiors magazine and recently served as the Home & Design editor for Robb Report. Today she writes for several digital and print outlets and spends all day thinking about interior design.