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Psychology of Colour

I worked with a director years ago who, when tensions were running high (as anyone who has worked in Theatre knows they regularly do!), would always say "Everyone go and look at something green." I did not think about it much at the time, but what he was doing was to encourage us to use colour as a means of affecting our moods.

There have been many studies carried out looking at the influence of colour on our emotions, behaviour, interpretive abilities and even how our senses perceive flavour, temperature and pleasure. There are variants that can change our personal relationships to colours based on previous experiences or different cultural uses of colour, but this article offers a general overview from a Western perspective. Understanding our relationship to colour is an important aspect of interior design, so let us take a look at the basics of how colours can be applied to our advantage:


Lanark from Zoffany

Red is often associated with intense and passionate emotions. In nature it implies the ripest, sweetest fruit and studies have shown that adding red food colouring to red wine to intensify the colour has a positive effect on how we perceive the flavour.

I particularly like to use reds in dining rooms for all of these reasons. I like my dining room to be a area in which to entertain. I want people to enjoy good food, great wine and stimulating conversation. If I can choose a colour palette that will enhance that experience then all the better.


Decadence from Prestigious

There has been an influx of orange tones coming back into fashion in recent years in the form of corals, terracottas, burnt orange and some of the deeper mustards.

The connotations of orange vary quite widely when you look at the natural examples we associate with this warm colour. It is the colour of a sunset, a sweet, juicy orange, crunchy leaves in Autumn. This makes it a great decorating tone year round as it can be seen as both fresh and comforting. It is an energising and uplifting colour that can be used to bring life to any space.

I use oranges a lot within designs that have an ethnic influences, and must admit I enthusiastically welcome the return of terracotta as a top decorating trend. I would use orange as an accent anywhere, but am particularly fond of using it in dining rooms, porches and conservatories.


Lilaea from Harlequin

I find yellow a very enlivening and uplifting colour, but psychological studies have found that most people find the colour ultimately disconcerting. This is likely to be because of its association with danger and poison in nature.

Because yellow has this alerting quality, it makes an excellent accent colour to be used in small amounts to complete a striking and dynamic scheme. If you find that a room is looking a little uninspiring, try adding a few items in yellow into the space and watch it come alive.


Zapara from Harlequin

Natural greens are the shades that are believed to be the most relaxing and restorative of colours. They are shown to reduce stress and in some cases aid our cognitive abilities. For these reasons I particularly like to use natural greens in reading and study areas as well as living rooms and bedrooms.

Acid greens, containing more yellow than blue however, actually have a stimulating affect and have been shown to increase stress levels. I tend to use these tones only as an accent colour (making up to 10% of an overall scheme) as this creates a sense of excitement in the pop of colour without it dominating the space.


Port Isaac from Sanderson

Blue is by far the most common colour used in home decor in Cornwall. This is most likely due to the fact that we are surrounded by coast here and certainly love the stunning blue skies when we get them.

Blue is another restful, calming colour, but it has also been shown to make a space feel colder. If you are thinking of using blues in an already cold room, think about pairing it with some warmer accents like reds or corals.

Much like greens, I like to use blues in spaces of relaxation like living rooms and bedrooms. Blue has proven to increase productivity so is a great choice for a study and is always a natural choice for a bathroom. Never use blue in a dining room however. Likely due to us evolving to avoid eating spoiled food, blue has a detrimental affect on appetite and enjoyment of food. Although this may appeal to some dieters, no one wants to throw a dinner party to find all the guests nonplussed about the food.


Hummingbird from iliv

Purple is a rich, opulent colour commonly associated with royalty, wisdom, imagination and spirituality.

I love pairing purples with blues and of all of the complimentary colour schemes, these are the ones I find most naturally pleasing to my eye. A blue scheme loses any edge of chill when paired with its warmer cousin and it also brings a sense of maturity and grandeur to a design.

Purples work particularly well in fabrics that echo that opulent effect like silks or velvets.

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