Color on the Brain: The Story of Color Psychology & Your Home

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Color on the Brain: The Story of Color Psychology & Your Home

Even if you’re not a complete homebody, the decor and vibe of your living space plays a considerable role in how you feel when you’re there, whether it’s a bright, minimalist apartment on a big city street or a homey, shabby-chic cottage on a country road. Who doesn’t feel more productive in a clean, organized office--rather than one where you have to push aside your kids’ overdue permission slips, five half-finished cups of coffee (plus, who are we kidding, an empty wine glass or three), tax documents from 2011, and that book on decluttering you really keep meaning to read--all to find a spot for your laptop? (Not speaking from personal experience, of course.)


What is color psychology?

Simply, it’s the effect of color on your mental state. The hues in our environment can make us feel a zillion different ways. Depending on the colors around us we can feel cheery, angry, calm, energized, anxious, cozy, stressed, even hungry. They can also make rooms seem larger or smaller. And the psychological effects of different colors can vary widely.

Color psychology has its roots in ancient Chinese and Egyptian “chromotherapy,” a form of alternative medicine that uses color as a method of healing and medicine. Because it’s such an intriguing area of study, in modern times color psychology has been all the rage in the fields of marketing, art, design, and more. Although scientific research in this field is still growing, studies have shown fascinating effects of colors on thought and human behavior. According to the highly influential Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961), “Colors are the mother tongue of the subconscious.” Color’s effect on the brain is unsurprising in light of this truth.

How can I incorporate color psychology into my home design?

So you’re suddenly really interested in using color psychology to transform your home into one that’s more representative of your unique identity, but your first thought is, “I really don’t have the spare time or cash to repaint my walls.” Or, for that matter, “I’m a renter, so I’m not even allowed to paint!” Unfortunately, most landlords won’t accept the argument that a nice shade of light green would be a much more psychologically beneficial color than the dull beige they chose 15 years ago.

Don’t throw in the towel just yet! Incorporating color psychology into your home can be mind-blowingly simple with an option that is:

  • Quick and easy (like, super easy--waaay easier than paint)
  • Removable (we’ve got your back, renters!)
  • Reusable and repositionable (over and over again!)
  • Unique, original and transformative
  • Affordable
  • Health-conscious

With Walls Need Love’s self-adhesive removable wallpaper, all you have to do is choose your design and apply it yourself. Not only can it be used on walls, but you can use it to incorporate color psychology into your space via backsplashes, stairs, cabinets, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. Since it removes totally cleanly, you can change it up anytime to suit your mood and mental state (and, if need be, your landlord’s wishes).

WallsNeedLove’s website lets you sort wallpaper designs by color, so you can easily translate what you’ve just discovered about color psychology into a total home revamp.

If you decide that, say, you want a cool blue feature wall that makes your bedroom a soothing sanctuary, you have all these options available to you. (These turquoise spirals, for instance, would help create a mesmerizing and relaxing environment.) If purple’s more your speed, to transform your living room an ultra-luxe space for entertaining, we’ve got you covered. (These gorgeous and delicate purple-tinged flowers seem ideal for such a space.) And so on. The possibilities are endless for employing color psychology in home design.

How do I choose the right colors for me?

Not sure what color to choose? Totally understandable--this is kind of a new concept! Fortunately, we’re here to break it down for you. Let’s take a look at the color psychology of various hues across the spectrum.

The color psychology of 11 important hues

Effects of red interiors: Red is a power color. It’s the perfect choice for those who are as bold and energetic as the color itself. Like other warm colors, this vibrant shade’s psychology is primarily associated with strong emotions and vigorous energy. As mentioned above, some colors can make you hungry--and red is by far the best color for stimulating the appetite. This makes it a great choice for the kitchen and dining room. Its romantic associations mean it has majorly positive effects in the bedroom. At the same time, wherever you sleep it’s a great idea to choose a less vibrant shade of red, to ensure a peaceful environment that’s conducive to a good night’s rest. Find vibrant red wallpaper options to enliven your space.

Effect of orange interiorsThis warm, energetic hue evokes thoughts of autumn leaves and pumpkins because of its strong associations with fall and the harvest season. This means it’s linked it to abundance and balance. Like red, it inspires friendliness, but because it’s less bold it’s an ideal choice for a social space like a living room or dining room. It also has links to creativity and youth, so it’s great for children’s spaces like playrooms. You can harness the psychological effects of the color orange to help your kids feel happy and energized. Bring autumn spice to your home with orange wallpapers.

Effects of yellow interiorsLighter shades of yellow in particular are quintessentially bright and cheerful. (After all, there’s no other color more associated with sunshine.) Use yellow in contexts where you want to add brightness, energy, and airiness to your space, such as the kitchen. It’s also a good option for smaller spaces because its lighter hue can make them seem bigger. If you’re unsure about using more bold and intense shades of yellow, you might also consider a paler and less saturated yellow--the color can run the spectrum from mustard to something nearing off-white. Choose yellow wallpapers for a serious dose of sunny uplift.

Effects of green interiors: Associated with nature, and especially lush vegetation, green is another case where evolution has played an obvious role in a color’s psychological effects. After all, our color-psychological associations with green have always been fertile land with plenty of food and water--exactly what we need to survive. It’s no wonder, then, that green symbolizes harmony, relaxation, and safety. Many say green promotes balance between the body and the mind. And unsurprisingly, the color of money is also associated with wealth. Green’s effects vary based on the other shades it’s mixed with. If you’re looking for a more calming effect, choose a less intense blue-green. This is ideal for a peaceful bedroom, or for a bathroom (especially one with a nice bathtub), where it lends a spa-like feel. For a more cheerful and energizing effect, perhaps in the foyer, kitchen, or living room, choose a yellow-green. Green is an excellent choice in many contexts, one that may often be overlooked despite the beneficial effects of this color on the mindLush imagery abounds in this selection of green wallpapers.

Effects of blue interiors: Ask a group of people their favorite color, and you’re likely to find that many of them say blue--almost no one dislikes this color, psychologically most strongly associated with the rich, vibrant appearance of sky and ocean. According to the psychology of color, blue symbolizes calmness as well as creativity and productivity. This makes it an ideal choice for a home office environment, where you’ll want to walk the line between being energized and focused while also avoiding stress. Another common association of blue is masculinity, in contrast to the more feminine pink. But interestingly, blue is so versatile that no one would be surprised to see blue in a completely feminine context. Opposite to the effect of red, blue suppresses appetite. This is a fascinating case of color psychology--the evolutionary reason behind this tendency is that there are virtually no blue foods found in nature. (Taking advantage of this effect, you might consider using blue in your dining room or guest bedroom so visiting guests don’t clean out your whole fridge during their stay!) However, anywhere that you want to promote serenity and peace, you’ll find that blue is an ideal option. No blue skies? No problem: bring them to you with these beautiful blue designs.

Effect of purple interiors: Blue’s redder-tinted cousin has different color-psychological effects, and it has strong historical associations with royalty. Why purple? Fun fact: going back to ancient times, before the creation of synthetic dyes, purple dye was unbelievably expensive to produce. Only members of the royal family could afford to purchase and wear purple fabrics. In the 1800s, a synthetic purple dye was created, making the color and its beneficial effects far more accessible to the masses. However, it’s since held onto its ancient associations. Luckily, today we can pretty much all enjoy purple in many different forms without breaking the bank (or marrying into a royal family). Purple can make any of your rooms feel sophisticated, especially if you choose deeper shades of purple. Choose lighter purples for a mixture of luxury and calm that’ll make any room look like a million bucks, and as a color that will affect the mental state of your guests subtly and positively. Options abound for luxe purple wall designs.

Effect of black interiorsBold, strong, and intense, black is like red: it’s an extremely psychologically powerful color. Black is elegant, sophisticated, and utterly timeless like Audrey Hepburn’s iconic little black dress. Black looks especially great in a room with plenty of natural light. Using black as an accent wall can actually make the rest of the room seem brighter by contrast, and because it recedes visually, can make the room seem bigger as well. Black is also ideal as a contrasting backdrop for bright colors because it’ll really make them pop. Consider a combination of black and white for a more casual choice, with a nevertheless bold and graphic feel. Take advantage of the powerful psychological effects of this color. Take your pick of ultra-timeless black wall patterns to give your wall the LBD it’s been looking for.

Effect of pink interiors: First off: the reflection of light off of pink walls casts a flattering rosy hue that will make you and everyone who visits you look beautiful. That’s one way to directly harness the psychology of color! Beyond that, pink has traditionally girly and feminine associations, and for that reason also has associations with more traditionally feminine characteristics, like softness and compassion. Pink is also often associated with love and romance. Pink is calming--in fact, according to a particular study on color psychology, this shade of pink had "a marked effect on lowering the heart rate, pulse, and respiration as compared to other colors." Knowing this, you may want to harness the soothing qualities of pink for your home. This calming benefit might be especially valuable in your bedroom.  And because of its aforementioned flattering qualities, pink walls in a living room (especially a very soft, pale pink) look high-end and can help take your hosting status to the next level. Make your walls look pretty in pink with our Haute Pink Collection.

Effect of brown interiorsBrown is definitely an underused color outside of the context of wood, but many overlook this color’s psychological benefits and effects. Brown is a natural color with mental associations of solidity, reliability, strength, and safety. Plus, brown contains a mixture of blue, yellow, and red (the three primary colors), so virtually every color can go with it. Brown is an excellent neutral shade with lots of potential applications. Brown walls can be strong and masculine or more sleek and stylish. A light brown hue gives kitchens a warm, earthy feel. Meanwhile, browns with reddish undertones offer a more modern vibe. Our Industrial Textures collection includes brick and wood motifs with an array of brown and other earthy shades.

Effect of gray interiorsSome say gray is reminiscent of cloudy skies and rainy days, but many of us like cloudy skies and rainy days (especially if they’re accompanied by a mug of tea, a warm and cozy nook, and a good book). Like the sound of rain pattering on a roof, gray’s primary color-psychological effect is soothing. Like other neutrals, it can easily be paired with many other, brighter hues to balance out its gentleness. It’s ideal when paired with pops of color, because the contrast in brightness really brings out the other colors, much like black. Light grays tend to be more soothing and traditional. On the other hand, darker grays like charcoal, especially in smaller spaces, are often more dramatic and modern-feeling. Gray is ideal for the bedroom and, like blue, can lend a spa-like feel to the bathroom. Don’t shy away from gray--this underappreciated neutral shade has lots to offer from a color psychology and design perspective. Enjoy the calming effects of gray with one of our hundreds of gray wallpaper options.

Effect of gold interiorsYou might not think this shade is particularly different from yellow, but in fact, it’s got a completely separate color-psychological meaning. This is probably because of the associations it holds in our collective social consciousness--it’s quite literally the color of wealth. While green is the color of paper money, gold is the color of the value behind that money (called the gold standard). It’s the color of rarity, lavish jewelry, and all the most precious items. As for the mentality associated with this hue, gold means wisdom, illumination, and wealth. It’s an excellent choice to incorporate along with reds and greens around the holidays (a totally accessible option when you’re working with removable wallpaper). For a more casual yet undeniably classy option, consider rose gold--it’s a particularly on-trend shade that’s popping up everywhere from sneakers to iPhones. Bring the warm hue of wealth and opulence to your living space.

Color psychology: awesome and totally accessible

Henri Matisse, one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, evoked the ideas behind color psychology when he said, “With color, one obtains an energy that seems to stem from witchcraft.” He was right about the power of color’s energy. What we now understand even better is that the energy he’s referring to is the effect of color psychology. Understanding color psychology can allow us to powerfully influence the spaces we inhabit to make them more conducive to their intended purposes. Whether it’s:

  • warm reds and oranges in the kitchen and dining room to inspire appetite and culinary creativity,
  • cool and soothing greys and pinks to promote rest and reflection in the bedroom,
  • greens and blues that promote a combination of calm, focus, and creativity in the home office or workspace,
  • or purples and golds to give a lavish feel to the living room...

...color psychology has a huge amount to offer those who seek to transform their homes into sanctuaries that express their unique identities. Harnessing the effects of color on the brain can actually make a significant difference in your happiness and in your enjoyment of your home.

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Written by Nina Gunther-Segal


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