Color can have a powerful effect on the way we feel when we walk into a room. Certain shades can trigger feelings of warmth and comfort, inspire joyful spirits, or establish a soothing ambiance. It all comes down to color theory, which attempts to explain how humans perceive color and how different hues relate to each other. “The basic science of color theory says that each color has its own frequencies that blend with our own personal energies,” says Jessica Shaw, interior design director of architecture and interiors firm Turett Collaborative. “The reason different people prefer different colors is because we all react to visual stimuli in different ways.” There is a vast body of research on how color impacts mood, linking warm shades like red and yellow to feelings of excitement and delight. Conversely, hues from the cooler side of the color wheel, such as blue and green, are associated with calm and relaxation. These responses are often inherently psychological, but they can also be influenced by our cultures and lived experiences. The key is to decorate with accessories and paint-color choices that resonate positively with you and help encourage the mood you want to create. “For an individual to feel joyful and comfortable in their own home, they should start with colors that they typically gravitate toward,” Bove says. Next, consider how the room will be used and by whom. For example, is it a private sanctuary intended for relaxation, or is it a welcoming space equipped for entertaining? Then apply a few principles to help you achieve a room that suits your desired attitude. Here are four ways you can harness color to foster certain moods.
Colors for a happy, energizing mood: Communal spaces where you want to feel cheerful and energized, such as kitchens and entryways, benefit from bright, warm colors. Think yellows, oranges, and reds for wall colors and accessories. Otherwise, Shaw suggests using high-intensity shades that are true to themselves on the color spectrum, not blended or toned down with other colors. “In a recent project, I used orange and green accents, which are complementary colors that excite each other, which brings a refreshing, vibrant mood to the area,” she says.
Colors for a Soothing, Tranquil Mood: Blue and green are often associated with water and nature and help encourage calm and tranquility. Apply these soothing hues in bedrooms, bathrooms, and other spaces that serve as a personal retreat. Balance blue or green with neutrals and limit the palette to just a handful of shades for a quiet, restful effect. As you choose colors, consider the tint. “The more white you add to a color, the more pastel and peaceful it will appear,” Shaw says.
Colors for a Warm, Cozy Mood: To establish a sense of security, Bove recommends neutral tones like brown, tan, or taupe that feel cozy and comforting. If an all-neutral palette seems too bland for you, consider introducing a few subtle colors with brown undertones for added depth. For example, mustard-yellow, muted olive, and muddied mauve can have a similar comforting effect as true brown. These warm, earthy shades work well in living rooms where you often gather together with friends and family. Incorporating a variety of textures and tones enhances the inviting atmosphere.
Colors for a Dreamy, Intimate Mood: Apply shades of black and purple to evoke a sense of mystery and imagination. This is ideal in bedrooms where the majority of your time is spent dreaming. Deep, dramatic shades, such as charcoal or eggplant, envelop the room in a cozy, intimate feeling. Shaw leans toward lighter purples tinged with gray for an airy, subdued atmosphere. “Of all the colors, a pale lavender that is on the edge of gray is a color that I personally associate with calmness and sweet dreams,” Shaw says.