How to Use Color to Set the Mood in Your Home

As early as Aristotle, scholars have wondered about color, and what exactly created all those different hues. The Greek philosopher believed that it generated from God, who send heavenly light in white and black, representing the world’s lightness and darkness. Scientist and mathematician Isaac Newton took the theory further in the 1660s indicating that white light actually consisted of seven colors, the same ones in the rainbow, in his work, “Opticks.”

German poet, politician and artist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe furthered the research in his book, “Theory of Colors.” His 1610 treatise on hues looked at not only the science side of color, but its physiological impact. “Colour are light’s suffering and joy,” he said — something today’s home decorators can appreciate since various hues can trigger emotional, cognitive and physical impulses.

green and beige color popping room

Photo credit: Devon Janse van Rensburg/UnSplash

The Impact of Color

“Color has the ability to affect our moods, emotions, and even our thoughts,” said Taylor Barefoot, founder of Snug Sensations, “The science behind this is that colors are wavelengths of light that stimulate our brain cells, which in turn affects our moods and emotions. Different colors stimulate different parts of the brain, which is why we react to them differently.”

Colors play a key role in delivering information nonverbally, and can act as a powerful communication tool, said Andrew Gaugler, an interior designer and the founder of Best of Machinery.

“We, as interior designers, use color psychology schemes to a great extent,” he said. “We determine the kind of atmosphere our clients wish to create and play with colors to achieve the desired look. We need to maintain the right balance between colors to make the space visually appealing.”

But using color psychology is something anyone can do, not just designers. Warm colors like red, orange, and yellow evoke, for example, often show strong emotions of love, happiness, anger and energy, advised Gaugler. Hues like green, blue and purple are categorized as cool colors, which have a calm, soothing effect, symbolizing harmony, peace and stability. 

The first step should be to really look at the room, consider it as a living thing with personality and its own sense of being, according to Beril Yilmaz, a contributor to Garden Furniture Sales. “You should allow the room's personality and character to decide on the color. At the end of the day, it's all about atmosphere.” For example, your bedroom probably should feel calming and relaxing, facilitating sleep. A games room or man cave, can offer a different vibe with more excitement and vibrancy while the kitchen and dining area is best when warm and inviting.

green and white kitchen

Photo credit: Kam Idris/UnSplash

Go beyond the purpose of the room when looking at appropriate color schemes, and consider the type of structure. For example, Yilmaz points out a modern, newly built home is quite different from a 200-year-old building, with high ceilings, large rooms and a shaded kitchen on the house’s side. “Decorating this kitchen you would require subtlety with neutral colors and traditional furniture,” he recommended. In a modern home, though, a sun-dappled kitchen could use more vibrant colors, sharper edges and fun ornaments. “So the type of building, the room, the function and the mood the room gives off all come into play,” said Yilmaz. “Giving the room a personality can help us visualize the colors and textures.”

Another important thing to consider when considering the color of a room is the amount of light present, suggested Barefoot. “Bright colors will appear more intense in a room with lots of natural light, while darker colors will seem more subdued.” So if you want to create a bright and cheerful space, then select light colors such as white, pale blue, or yellow. These colors will reflect the light and make the room feel larger and brighter. But, if you want to create a cozy and intimate space, then opt for dark colors such as navy blue, burgundy or chocolate brown, which will absorb the light and make the room feel smaller and more intimate.

grey and black bathroom

Photo credit: UnSplash

Here’s Some Basic Do’s and Don’t’s

Don’t: Make everything look one-dimensional by using one color and little texture.

“A color scheme can incorporate different shades of the same hue, it doesn't all have to match perfectly, you can coordinate lighter and darker versions of a particular hue,” said Sara Abate Rezvanifar, designer and branding and communication director of the Ambience Design Group

“For each room, you can have one bright color you love, a darker color and a lighter one to give it some variety. At the end of the day, picking colors that feel right to you and create an ambience that you want to be in will always be the right choice.” 

You can also try using three main colors and then selecting an accent hues to add interest, suggested Barefoot. “For example, you could paint your walls a light blue and then accessorize with pops of yellow and green. Another way to achieve this would be to paint your walls white and then use blue and green as your accent colors.”

blue accent wall in living room

Photo credit: Houzlook/Pexels

Don’t: Always think you have to paint to use color psychology

You might have colors in certain rooms that don’t facilitate the feeling you want. For example, maybe you have a pulsating yellow color scheme in your bedroom — that doesn’t mean you need to pull out your paintbrush. Simran Kaur, the founder of Room You Love advised that you can mellow out the hue with white bed sheets, gray pillows, some large wall art in pink, blue, white or green for a more calming vibe. You could use some white wall panels to hide some of that yellow or create an accent wall (with wallpaper or a little paint). “Contrasting colors always help with balancing out the color scheme of the room,” she said. “That's the hack.”

Do: Use accessories to up the ante.

Speaking of solutions, accent items can introduce color into a space to brighten up a room, too. “Adding pieces like brightly colored pillows can instantly bring vibrancy into a space,” said Kristina Phillips, an interior designer in New Jersey, who suggested layering in darker and lighter hues within the existing color palette. For example, you can use items like area rugs to add dimension to a space.

“Throw pillows, rugs, and window treatments are a great way to experiment with color and pattern,” agreed Barefoot. “For example, pair a rough fabric with a smooth finish for an unexpected yet stylish look.”

accent pillows on couch

Photo credit: Terje Sollie/Pexels

Do: Use texture to change the impact of colors. 

Texture impacts how people view color and how an object may appear, offered Rezvanifar. Rough textures will absorb more light and make a color appear darker or duller, while smooth or shiny surfaces better reflect light, creating a lighter appearance of the same color. 

“When using color to create visual interest, be sure to consider how different textures will interact with one another,” offered Barefoot. “A matte finish will tone down the vibrancy of color, while a glossy finish will make it pop. Also, consider using metallics to add a touch of luxury to any space.”

Texture plays an important role in balancing a space, agreed Phillips. If the walls are covered in a nubby grasscloth, for example, you can pair it with lacquered sconces and antique brass drapery hardware. “Having a variety of finishes adds depth and interest, and will keep a neutral room from looking flat,” she said

set dining room table with textures

Do: Consider the space’s purpose.

If you are redecorating a bedroom, consider using more calming colors like blue, beige, or lavender, which aid relaxation and sleep, according to Rezvanifar. A living room can use brighter and more energetic colors such as red, orange or yellow that makes the space seem warm, fun and inviting. She offers the following basic suggestions: 

Red: Raises energy levels in a room, so it’s good for home offices or entryways.

Yellow: Evokes happiness and positive energy, making it ideal for kitchens.

Green: Works almost anywhere, as it evokes optimism and nature.

Purple: Often associated with positive feelings, it’s great for a dressing room or hallway.

outdoor patio with red pillows

Photo credit: Peter Goldberg/Pexels

How to use color outdoors

When it comes to outdoor decor, you have many choices, but you should still embrace similar color philosophies to the ones you decorate with indoors. To maximize the area, Gaugler always starts with the color of the walls, floor, and door. “Neutral light shades work best outdoor to make a space look bigger and brighter,” he said. “Remember to keep the floor in hues of grey to give the perfect modern look. I often add spotlights to brighten up dark corners at night and give a cozier vibe.”

You can also opt for colors that complement your home's exterior. “If you have a brick or stucco home, then earth tones are always a good choice,” said Barefoot. “And if you have a wooden deck or patio, then you might want to consider using light and bright colors to achieve a cheerful look.”

Another way to go is to try bringing some of your indoor color scheme outdoors to your porch or patio. “You can add more color through planters, an outdoor rug and some throw cushions,” said Rezvanifar. 

Don’t forget to use some of the best assets of the great outdoors: nature. “Adding a few green planters on either side of the deck can elevate your area,” said Gaugler. “You should keep the pot colors light or in rustic wood to avoid the space from feeling overwhelmed.”

Want to make your home a happier place? Here's another F&H article that can help put you in a good mood.


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