The Most Important Overview:
- Colors influence our mental and physical well-being, and we'll reveal how you can enhance this
- With a balanced color scheme, you can create calmness and relaxation
Red, Blue, Green, or maybe Purple?
Whether consciously or not, colors say a lot about us. From the choice of our clothing to our very own four walls, the colors we use to present ourselves are an expression of our deepest emotions and unconscious perceptions. There's even a dedicated science surrounding our relationship with the colors that surround us: the so-called color psychology.
What is Color Psychology?
As the name suggests, color psychology deals with the psychological effects and impacts of individual colors on our mental well-being, our emotions, and our way of seeing the world. In simple terms, perceiving certain colors triggers specific mental patterns or even chemical reactions like the release of dopamine, thus influencing our state of mind or even our actions. This concept has far-reaching implications not only for psychology but also for advertising, entertainment, and even very personal decisions like our interior design.
And often, these decisions and reactions are entirely unconscious. For example, when we see a yellow-black striped insect flying by, we instinctively avoid it as it could be a bee, wasp, or hornet, whose stings (although usually not life-threatening) can be painful. Such warning signals are subconscious and instinctive, and they're also triggered when the insect isn't actually a bee or wasp. We humans have integrated this instinct into our thinking over millennia, and in many cases, it's even cross-cultural and cross-national. Taking the color of bees as an example, warning signs and barriers are often designed with a combination of yellow and black to catch our attention and sharpen our senses for potential danger.
Yet, colors also have subtler and much more nuanced effects on our psyche that go beyond merely recognizing danger. Some colors make us happy, sad, or induce relaxation. Ever since Goethe's Theory of Colors, people have actively explored the effects of different colors on our mood. The color red, for instance, is present in our history of hunting and gathering. Red berries and fruits were necessary for survival and acted as a stimuli for delicious and sugary food. Nowadays, restaurants and food brands use the color red to grab our attention and stimulate our appetite. Examples of this in America include Five Guys, Campbell's, Trader Joe's, and Chick-fil-A.
Other colors can even influence our perception of quality. Green signifies renewal and growth. There are over 100 shades of green, making it a favorite for artists to depict nature, especially spring. Green is associated with being environmentally friendly, fresh, and healthy. The greener salads and peas are, the healthier we perceive them, and it relaxes us. This is also why we use the phrase "everything is in the green zone." Interestingly, green shades in America are associated with wealth. Understandably so, as fans of America know that US dollar bills are green (Greenback).
Colors can also influence our sense of temperature. We even distinguish between so-called "warm" colors (like red and orange) and "cool" colors like blue. Once again, the evolutionary factor likely plays a role here. The attention-enhancing effect of signal colors like red triggers our body to enter the "fight-or-flight" mode. This means our body is preparing to act quickly in case of emergency, which accelerates heart rate and tenses muscles. As a result, literal warmth is generated within our system, similar to shivering in cold weather.
Calmness & Relaxation – The Color Psychology of Your Own 4 Walls
Naturally, at home, we primarily want to calm down and relax, rather than be in a constant state of excitement or alertness. For this purpose, color psychology provides us with a whole range of wonderful colors that we can use to transform our home into an oasis of peace and tranquility:
Pink is a pleasant color for most people and conveys a sense of comfort and compassion. For this reason, pink is also a popular choice for children's clothing. By mixing it with white, pink tones down the aggressive qualities of red. As a result, pink retains the "warm" characteristics of red while still creating a calm and relaxed atmosphere.
Pink that deviates too strongly towards red could put us back into danger mode. So, if you want to relax, it's best to use red accents sparingly or alternatively shift towards more reddish-brown colors. Even pink can be problematic. In fact, it has even more erotic and stimulating undertones than red. For highlights, it's better to opt for brighter complementary colors like white or light gray tones. The key is to maintain a balance and not integrate too many "cool" colors into the already light pink.
What might surprise many: Pink and pinkish tones were originally colors for boys and men, rather than being associated primarily with femininity as they are today. Before they were defined as pink and pinkish tones relatively recently, these color tones were actually just variations of red, to which more masculine qualities were attributed as a signaling color. In contrast, blue, with its calming and subtle qualities, was reserved for women and girls. This perception changed only in the 1940s.
Blue is a highly attractive and soothing color for us humans. In contrast to red, it relaxes us and allows us to breathe. Blue gives us a feeling of security, trust, and stability. That's why banks and many institutions like the police use this color. Mixes with gray and green also have a very calming effect and are, for example, perfect for bedrooms. Some studies in countries like Scotland and Japan even suggest that blue light in street lighting reduces crime and suicide rates. This is probably because, unlike the warm orange/yellow light of most street lamps, blue light doesn't activate our fight-or-flight reflex, which can make us irritable or even aggressive.
So, let's set the right accents: a light blue or cyan as the base color and complement with a warmer blue with some hints of red for warm highlights. These colors can create attention due to the presence of red and are therefore used in web design for buttons and links to encourage users to click. Therefore, if you want to highlight a piece of furniture or similar, this approach is effective.
If you use a warm blue as the base color, lighter blue and cyan, as well as light gray, cream, and white, work well as accents. Even a contrast with orange can make a visual impact, but keep in mind that orange is again a warning and signaling color.
Did you know: Many ancient cultures likely did not have our current concept of the color blue. While many ancient civilizations had words specifically for the color cyan, the color blue is actually rarely mentioned in old texts and writings. Of course, people back then were already familiar with the color, but they often had no separate name for it. Descriptions of the sea and rain, for example, often referred to the color as a form of black or even copper-colored, as copper can turn green/turquoise and even blue under certain conditions.
Brown can also create a very calming effect in a room when used subtly and with not too many highlights. Brown is a relatively neutral color because, like green, it is very dominant and common in nature, making it already a part of our natural environment. Brown has always been a symbol of safety and tranquility, whether as the color of cave walls or the later stone and wood structures of civilized humans. We're simply accustomed to being surrounded by brown, and so a brown environment relaxes us more than unnaturally bright colors.
For the main color, it's better to opt for light and subtle brown tones, as stones and rocks aren't typically deep brown or amber in color. These more intense tones with hints of red and orange are better suited for attractively placed accents.
Strangely enough, green is a rare color in our living and bedrooms. In other places like doctor's offices, however, green is often used in waiting rooms because, like blue and brown, it has a very calming effect on us. Especially cooler shades of green like mint or mixes with blue and gray create a sense of tranquility.
On the other hand, stronger tones, especially those with components of the signaling colors red and orange, can quickly make us tense again, once more due to evolution. Although green is also as universal as brown in nature, a thicket of plants (with the green of chlorophyll and the slight red of carotenoids) conveyed to our ancestors not just a sense of security like the cozy cave did, but also the potential danger of hidden predators. For dark accents, it's best to use such shades of green sparingly or switch to alternatives like dark gray. If you want to create highlights, white, cream, and light gray tones work well.
We associate yellow with the sun, making it a positive and energetic color that stimulates and motivates us. Yellow also increases our attention and concentration as a signaling color (don't forget about bees). Yellow is therefore suitable especially for rooms like home offices where productivity takes precedence over relaxation. To prevent overstimulation, it's best to use subdued colors and pastel shades here. Bright yellow, with its strong signaling effect, is better suited for logos, and many companies take advantage of this property by using blue contrasts or red as an additional signaling color to enhance this effect.
If you use a subtle yellow as the base color,
brown tones can be used as a contrast. If you prefer a more colorful approach, you can also play with orange, green, and blue-gray accents. However, it's important to maintain a balance so that the room doesn't suddenly feel too warm or cold.
At the end, let's get exotic again. Purple and violet are colors that are likely not found in most households. However, these colors also have a very calming effect, similar to blue. Culturally, we associate these colors with luxury and nobility, and therefore also with a sense of security.
For further calm notes, accents of cream and light gray can be used. Depending on the darkness of the base color, white should be omitted, as beyond pastel tones, it can create a very high contrast that contradicts the calming effect.
If you're feeling adventurous, you can combine purple and violet with their natural complementary color, yellow. To avoid a strong contrast, yellow tones with a hint of red that transition towards orange are suitable for this purpose. However, extreme caution should be exercised due to the signaling effect.
The luxurious character of these colors is not coincidental. Purple and violet were for a long time the most difficult pigments to produce, making them extremely expensive and reserved primarily for the nobility. They were mostly mixed from purple, which in turn was produced only by harvesting certain types of sea snails and was therefore completely unsuitable for mass market use until the invention of synthetic pigments. This is also the reason why violet is the rarest color on national flags worldwide. Today, only 2 countries have flags with this color: Dominica and Nicaragua, both countries that designed their flags in the early and mid-20th century.
Ready, Set, Paint!
For those who now want to get hands-on with these new insights and transform their own living space into a cozy oasis of calm and relaxation for the winter and beyond, we have something special at American Heritage:
- Old Fashioned Milk Paint in many fantastic colors
The Milk Paint is supplied in powder form and is especially suitable for creating amazing textured effects. The advantages of Milk Paint over traditional chalk paints are diverse and extend beyond better environmental compatibility. With over 30 different fantastic American shades, you're sure to find the right color. Alternatively, many beautiful shades can be mixed.
If you want to learn more about the history and benefits of Milk Paints and get some tips for working with the colors, we recommend our blog on the topic: