By now, if you are a regular reader ofDesigns in Style,I hope you have come to rely on me for unique insights on the direction of color as well as forecasts for trends in residential and commercial design. Hopefully I have nudged you forward and made you a bit more comfortable in dealing with color. But what I have not done, until now, is give you an insider’s view of the language of color. “Now why should that interest me in the least?” you may well ask. And I would answer: Because a basic understanding of the meanings of color will empower you to better guide your customers.
I am amazed and encouraged by the growing number of flooring retailers who have turned to interior decorators for help. To me, this trend validates the need for someone who is equipped to go beyond flooring specs. Whether they are working with you full time, part time or on a consulting basis, a design pro can give your shoppers complete color coordination for any room-or even the entire home! But for those of you who want (or need) to go it alone, I think you will be very interested in the info that follows. Consider this your introduction to the psychology of color as well as the physiology of color.
First: Remember that creating a beautiful interior space is an emotional undertaking-especially for a home owner. There is an unmistakable mind/body connection when it comes to color. Understanding how it works will serve you well. The author of The Color Answer Book (Capital Books, 2003), Leatrice Eisman, may have said it best: “Our homes are critical to our sense of equilibrium, and color can be an instant equalizer in helping us achieve that ever-important balance in our hectic lives.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Once you begin to understand the “language of color” you will be much better equipped to help your customers find their personal balance. So let’s address some major color groups and see exactly what specific selections represent:
RED:Because it stimulates appetite and increases metabolism, you’ll find plenty of red restaurants, especially fast food eateries. Deep burgundy, meanwhile, is the choice for more formal establishments. So you might want to think twice about a red kitchen or dining room if dieting is on your agenda. It is no accident that red is the choice for stop signs and warning lights; it increases pulse rate, speeds up your breathing, and causes blood pressure to rise. This is why you will seldom see red décor in a medical facility. There are some downsides to true red that you need to keep in mind but there are positives as well. Infants and children, for example, respond well to red, so look for this fun color to work well in nurseries, pre-schools and on the playground.
YELLOW:This is the color of the sunny disposition, the idealist. Intellectuals love yellow. Rooms painted in pale buttery tints tend to be uplifting. This tone also visually expands the space. But beware: yellow can have some negative physiological effects. Babies tend to cry more often and for longer periods of time in yellow rooms, so maybe not the best “generic” color choice for a nursery. In convalescent homes, it can make older folks feel shaky and off balance, because it affects their minor motor movements. This might also contribute to the reasons why it can make seniors feel anxious or even angry. But on a more positive note, in the workplace yellow enhances concentration and speeds metabolism.
BLUE:The No.1 choice of the introspective and educated. Scientists say blue triggers the brain to send off 11 chemical tranquilizers. It is a wonderfully calming color, particularly in pale, pastel tints. It also is conducive to relaxation and sleep. But, sadly enough, blue may be depressing to some. This is why it is scarce in hospitals. However, when you rev up the color intensity and saturation levels-moving more towards the cobalt blues-it pumps people up. Research shows that blue boosts energy levels. An excellent choice for an at-home exercise room. Weight lifters in particular should definitely workout in a blue room.
ORANGE: A warm color someplace between yellow and red on the spectrum. Not a color that everyone loves, but those who do tend to be social and fun loving. In interiors, use orange sparingly. The 75/25% rule would relegate orange to the 25% side of the ratio (see below).
GREEN:A good color for people in transition. Green, of course, is Mother Nature’s preferred color and evokes physiological responses similar to blue (calming, relaxing). There is a universal symbolism attached to Green. And apart form conveying nature and freshness, green in all shades and tints is an excellent choice for both commercial and residential interiors, It’s not just the harmonizing qualities, there is contemporary symbolism associated with “being green” that equates with the color
GRAY:The dictionary defines gray as a color between white and black. This neutral hue-not too light, not too dark--makes it a good choice for home offices. It promotes productivity and stimulates creativity. Many designers are predicting that gray will be a major emerging color this year and into 2009. Its cool undertones are a good fit for the commercial market.
BLACK:A timeless color that engenders a feeling of solidarity and formality. Black is a natural classic but, historically, it is also something of an oxymoron. While it conveys authority and power, it can also imply submission. While it is often associated with evil and death, it can also denote classic design that works well as an accent in any combination. For interiors, use it sparingly, but don’t be reluctant to use it. It helps to “ground” a design and adds some visual weight to interiors. Example: Black leather sofas in a reception area, underscored with white marble flooring would provide an excellent balance without being austere.
WHITE:Pure white in interiors can be distracting. Actually, most so-called whites are very light grays, because they are more comfortable to live with. Think of the harshness of sunlight on fresh snow, for example. It’s almost impossible to look at. Well, using an overdose of pure white in interiors (especially if the rooms have an abundance of natural light) can produce that same uncomfortable glare. You have to tone down the white and then add one or two other colors to the room for visual relief. However, never underestimate the power of this super neutral. It works with any other color, in any context, anywhere. One color plus white renders an almost foolproof color scheme.
PINK: From pastel tints to hot pinks, this derivative of the red family makes one feel prosperous, and even a bit pampered. Spas use pink generously as it is very flattering to all skin tones. It’s also been shown to have a tranquilizing effect on people, which is why jail holding cells often have a shade of pink to calm prisoners. Pink is also used to treat patients suffering from persistent headache disorders, which underscores its tension-releasing capabilities.
BROWN:Solid, reliable brown is the color of the earth and is abundant in nature. Light brown suggests genuineness while dark brown brings to mind woods or leather. Brown is an excellent choice for interiors that are striving to convey reliability and inspire confidence. Brown has become the super-harmonizer for contemporary palettes, combining well with aquatic colors, rose tones, pottery tones and white. Men are more apt to say brown is one of their favorite colors, so feel free to use generously for masculine-oriented interiors.
So there you have it: A brief primer on the major colors and how they can affect people on a deeper level. One last guideline that will help as you determine the color schemes you suggest to your customers: They need to ask whether they prefer their rooms to be predominantly “warm” or “cool.” Warm colors include reds, yellows, oranges and pinks. Cool colors include blues, greens and even light purples. Either way, you need to apply the 75/25 rule. You have to commit to a visual temperature. If its “warm” they’re after, go 75% with warm colors, tempered with 25% cool colors (This can be accomplished via accessories or an accent wall color). This is extremely important or the room will feel stifling and overheated.
Conversely, if they are in love with cool colors, go ahead and use blues or greens to your heart’s content, but warm it up with 25% of a spicy color. Even though cool is “cool”, you don’t want the room to be icy. This 75/25 rule offers a balance that will work well for you every time.
If this color scheme makes sense to you, congratulations! You have successfully completed the Language of Color 101. Of course, the big test comes when you work with your customers. Follow these basic guidelines and they are bound to be very impressed with your ability to guide them through the colorful array of floor coverings…and beyond.