Choosing Colors, Enhancing Your Life


(The following excerpt from Choosing Colors, Enhancing Your Life by Sally Augustin, Ph.D., recently appeared on To view it in its entirety click on the link below.)

It’s Spring and all over North America people are trudging purposefully to the store to pick out the colors they’ll paint rooms in their homes. All winter they’ve been fantasizing about the perfect shades, but their yen to pick up a brush has been curbed by their inability to open the windows to air out newly painted rooms.

So, now that windows can be opened, what colors should those planning to paint select? What have scientists learned about how our thoughts and behaviors are influenced by the colors we see?

The most important thing to know about colors and our emotional response to them has to do with colors’ saturation and brightness. Saturation is how pure a color is and less saturated colors are more grayish. So, khaki green is less saturated than Kelly green. Brightness is what you’d expect, basically, how light a color seems. Colors that are less saturated but bright, such as a bright sage green, are relaxing and colors that are more saturated and less bright, such as sapphire blues, are more energizing to look at.

It turns out colors are called “warm” (reds, oranges, for example) and “cool” (examples: blues and greens) for a reason. When we’re in a space whose walls are painted warm colors, we feel the temperature there is warmer than we do in the same space when it’s painted cool colors. This makes warm colors good options for a vestibule in a cool climate—the temperature inside the building will seem even more comfortable as people enter from the cold if one is used—or in a room that’s hard to heat, for some reason. Cool colors are good choices in entryways to buildings in warm climates and in rooms that have a tendency to be warm, perhaps because of sunlight flowing into them.

We are drawn to warm colors, such as reds and oranges, so they’re good colors to put at the end of a longish hallway or to use to draw people toward a particular section of a large space.

Putting a light color on a wall makes that wall seem a little further away than it actually is while darker colors on walls make them seem slightly closer than their true position. You can use colors to change the apparent shapes of rooms, for example, pulling in the far walls of a long thin space. You can make places where lots of people will be, such as family rooms, seem larger by painting their walls light colors and boudoirs feel cozier by painting their walls darker colors.

Rigorous research has also revealed the special “powers” of particular colors:

Green Seeing the color green has been linked to more creative thinking—so greens are good options for home offices, art studios, etc.

Red People seeing others in front of red backgrounds generally find those other individuals are more attractive than when they see them silhouetted against other colors, so reds are great for a bedroom wall. Having a red surface in view gives us a burst of strength, so reds are good choices for home weightlifting areas, etc. Seeing red has been linked to impaired analytical reasoning making it a bad option for offices.

Violet People link a grayish violet with sophistication, so it can be a good selection for places where you’re trying to make the “right” impression.

Yellow Using yellow in a home can be problematic. Many, many people dislike the color yellow, so if you have lots of yellow rooms in your home or a yellow front door, you’ll probably need to repaint to get the best price for your home when you sell. An exception: many people use yellow in kitchens—with no negative sales repercussions. Yellows may be accepted in kitchens because warm colors stimulate our appetite.

Blue People are more likely to tell you that blue is their favorite color than any other shade. That makes it a safe choice. Seeing blue also brings thoughts of trustworthiness to mind and that’s nearly always a good thing.

Use color—don’t wimp out and live in a beige world. Humans are more comfortable in spaces with color than in those without. A beige world is under stimulating and that’s stressful.

Stride purposefully into your local home improvement store and color your world!


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