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Decorating for Mood: Understanding Color Psychology

This article will break down some fundamentals of color psychology and help provide you with information on how to best use color around your home.

This article will break down some fundamentals of color psychology and help provide you with information on how to best use color around your home.

Decorative Uses, Effects, and Psychology of Color

My original profession of choice was interior designer. After some soul searching, I decided my talents in psychology would be a greater help to people. A friend of mine made the comment that I could combine the two—the psychology of color.

As it turns out, color does affect people's moods. So far I have not opened a “psych design studio,” but who knows. What I have done is study the effects of color on emotion and behavior. This article will delve into the colors that get you going, eating, and inspired.

You can read this article one of two ways: 1) straight through, or 2) by going to the color you want information about and reading that section.

In This Article

  1. How to Choose Colors
  2. Yellow
  3. Blue
  4. Red
  5. Pink
  6. Orange
  7. Purple
  8. Green
  9. Brown
  10. Black
  11. Gray
  12. White
Understanding how color can affect your mood should help you decide how you want to decorate your home for your desired effects.

Understanding how color can affect your mood should help you decide how you want to decorate your home for your desired effects.

How to Choose Colors

Mixing colors is an art form. In design, we use the 60/30/10 rule, which means your room should be 60% one color, 30% another color, and 10% an accent color. (This formula also works for events and table setting.)

Rookie Mistakes to Avoid

  • Only One or Two Colors: The biggest rookie room mistake is one color. Many people choose two colors, which makes the room look like a child decorated it. Remember to inject that last color to create a healthy contrast.
  • Too Many Neutrals: Another rookie mistake is going with too many neutral tones. Neutrals are easy on the eyes and tend to get overused in rooms. The best example is the tan rooms of the 2000s. Here you had tan rooms, with a few black picture frames, and then tan furniture. It was a boring era for design.

People are transitioning out of farmhouse decor, which mixes black, white, and gray with wood tones. Many people employing this neutral pallet accent it with a color like navy blue or yellow. The great thing about a neutral pallet is that it can change with the seasons, allowing holiday decorating to be the accent color.

Individualism in interior design is on trend. This push to create a personalized eclectic space has spurred the use of bold color choices. Shades of Green are making a comeback in everything from kitchens to bedrooms.Every color of the rainbow seems to be trending right now. Dark moody blue and black walls are setting the tone for a Victorian revival. Bold oranges, pink, green, and yellow bring artistic statements across the decor landscape.

Bright colors can project a feeling of happiness and playfulness. Muted colors and neutrals create a more serene feeling. Style also plays into the overall effect of the room. Sometimes you have to play with a room to discover its potential. During that process, you should always stand back to see if the room makes you feel a certain way. One trick is to take a picture of the room and see how it looks. Do you need to add color or get rid of a color?

Think About How Certain Colors Make You Feel

As you choose colors for your home think about how those colors make you feel. Don’t pick colors because they are a trend. Your home is about you, how you live, and what you like. If you prefer slate blue, then use it. If you like burnt orange, then go with that. Whatever you decide, your home should evoke feelings of happiness and relaxation.


The color yellow promotes happiness. If you are depressed and looking for a room color, consider yellow. Yellow is also a great choice for kitchens where you spend your mornings.

People who have yellow houses are actually helping themselves lead a happier life. A 2015 study completed at Curtin University in Australia found that brightly colored rooms such as yellow and red are beneficial for studying and learning (AL‐Ayash, A. Green-Armytage, P. Kane, & R. Smith, D. 2015).

As an accent color, yellow can liven up a monochromatic room. Today, you are most likely to see yellow used in gray or white rooms where a pop of color is needed.

Tips: Yellow's contrasting colors include purple, blue, and red. While most people think of yellow in its traditionally bright iterations, many people use pale forms of yellow to create a more serene room that still has that perky side to it.


I have a love-hate relationship with the color blue. Teal/turquoise is actually my favorite color, followed by indigo blue, which is very dramatic.

From a design standpoint, blue should be used carefully as an accent or in rooms in which you do not spend a lot of time. Certain tones of blue spark creativity (University of British Columbia, 2009). Blue is also associated with feelings of calm and relaxation (AL‐Ayash, etal. 2015).

Have you ever heard the someone say “I’m just a little blue today"? Well, certain shades of blue can actually have a negative effect on your mood. For this reason, I never recommend painting any child's room blue. Teenagers need all the joy they can get. Blue is probably not a good color to choose, unless it is in a more electric shade of blue. In an adult bedroom, blue can have a calming effect and promote serenity when mixed with other natural colors. Unless you spend a lot of time in your bedroom, you can paint it any color, because most of us only use our rooms to sleep.

I can always tell when a designer has not studied the effects of color, because they paint dining room walls blue. Studies have actually shown that blue is an appetite suppressant. The link between blue and loss of appetite is so conclusive that you will find the color blue used sparingly in food packaging. If you want to lose weight, buy blue plates or put a blue light in your refrigerator. Unless you are on a diet, do not paint your dining room or kitchen walls blue.

Tips: Blue's contrasting colors are yellow, orange, and red. In design today, pale forms of blue are used in industrial farmhouse decor. The more electric blues like the teal and indigo are often used in accents in modern and bohemian design.

Custom Red Island

Custom Red Island


Is red is the color of romance? Some studies do indeed say so. In a bedroom, red can be exciting and romantic. However, red does not promote restful sleep. (Though this can be overcome by turning out all the lights, and then you obviously cannot see the red.) Though it is a great color for studying or learning (AL‐Ayash, A. etal. 2015).

Red also encourages a healthy appetite, making it a great option for kitchens and dining rooms. Have you ever noticed that a majority of restaurant signs are red? Although opinions are mixed on why red is a promoter of healthy appetite, it continues to be a staple in everything from advertising to steak house decor. Using red in kitchens has been common for a long time. Remember the 1950s diners with the red seats? Interestingly enough, it appears to be a trending color for kitchen islands.

Tips: Red's contrasting colors are blue, green, and purple. In design today, red is usually in a room with white and black.


The history of pink is somewhat convoluted. Neither pink nor blue was a gender prescribed color until before World War I. And at that time, pink was designated for boys (Maglaty, J. 2011). That seems a little odd to us today with all the pink and blue baby gender distinction. In the 1880s, it was common for both boys and girls to wear white gowns until the age of six. It wasn't until the 1940s that pink was branded as a "girl" color (Maglaty, J. 2011). Today, it is rare to see men wearing pink in anything other than the occasional neck tie or polo shirt. As a society, we have commandeered the color pink as girly.

Research has shown that the color "Baker-Miller pink" reduces aggression (Genschow,O. Noll,T. Wänke, M. & Gersbach, R., 2014). At one time, pink was used in mental institutions to calm the patients. Prison systems have adopted the practice of painting the walls pink for its calming affect (Genschow. O. etal. 2014). The soothing feelings of pink are not completely understood by science.

It would seem that using pink in a child's room would be a good way to keep things mellow. After all, if they use Baker-Miller pink in a drunk tank, shouldn't it also calm your kids? In theory, yes. Brighter, vibrant pinks are not soothing and should be used sparingly—sorry Barbie.

Tips: Pink's contrasting colors are green, yellow, and blue. Today, pink is often paired with neutrals such as white, black, and brown.


Confession time: although I've always liked orange accessories, I never considered it a primary wall color. Our current home (in the southwest) has an orange fresco kitchen/dining room, however, and I love it. At first, it was a lot of orange. But after a while, I found that the orange was a cheery color to have in this common area of my home. This new love of orange has led to a succulent collection I have in terra cotta pots in the kitchen windows.

Orange is lively and can bring a vital jolt of color into any room. One of the few colors that immediately grabs the brain's attention is orange. That's why it's used for caution signs and in prison uniforms (it makes it easier to see the inmates). I think every room should have an unexpected accent. Orange brings that perfect shock without being too over the top. Like yellow, orange promotes warm feelings.

Tips: Orange's contrasting colors are blue, purple, and green. In design, orange is seen primarily in modern, southwest, and bohemian decor.


Purple was one of several colors that was originally only worn by royalty. Purple's rich history came about due to the expense in dying fabrics the color purple (Melina, R. 2011). Today, we are lucky enough to have access to purple without having a royal title.

The wide range of purples goes from serene lavenders to warm, red-infused purples. The lighter forms of purple are tranquil and calm. The brighter and warmer forms of purple promote healing.

In a room, purple adds drama. Being so close to the color red, purple is also a romantic color. Darker purples are perfect for bedrooms.

Tips: Purple's contrasting colors are yellow, green, and orange. Most of the time, purple is combined with the neutrals white, black, or gray.


According to Teresa M. Kutchma's 2003 study on the effects of color, green is a calming color. It can give a feeling of nature and serenity.