Colour Theory in Interior Design

Colour is one of the most fundamental and influential aspects of interior design. It is key in determining the mood and feel of a space. Yet, it is something that is easily overlooked. When most people design their homes, they gravitate towards the colours they find pleasing, rather than considering their connotations and what the colours do to a room. Colour theory helps to learn how colours can make us feel and how they can work together.

I touched upon the principle of colour theory in my previous post, but I will be explaining it in greater detail in this one. So, scroll down to find out more.

The basics of Colour Theory:

In colour theory, colours are organized on a color wheel and grouped into 3 categories: primary colors, secondary colors and tertiary colors.

(Image credit: https://designcode.io/)

In classical color theory, primary colors (red, yellow and blue) are the three hues that cannot be formed by any combination of other colors. Thus, the defining element of primary colors is that they cannot be created by combining any other pigments on the color wheel. The secondary colours (green, orange and purple) are created by mixing two primary colors together. There are six main tertiary colors on the modern color wheel. As defined by modern color theory, these are yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green & yellow-green. Each tertiary color has a hyphenated name because they are created by mixing one primary and one secondary color together.

What do colours mean?

Red

Red can be associated with anger, but is also associated with importance e.g the red carpet at awards shows and celebrity events. Howewer, this bold colour also indicates danger which is the reason stop lights and signs are red, and that warning labels are often red too. Red can actually have a physical effect on people, raising blood pressure and respiration rates.

In design, red can be a striking and powerful accent color. It can have an overwhelming effect if it’s used too much in designs, especially in its purest form. That being said, dark reds and burgundy tones are more calming and can look regal and luxurious.

Orange

Similar to red, orange is a very vibrant and energetic color. In its muted forms it can be associated with the earth and with autumn. Because of its association with the changing seasons, orange can represent change and movement in general. Orange is also strongly associated with creativity. It’s a youthful color as well, bringing an element of vibrancy and fun.

In interior design, orange commands attention without being as overpowering as red. It’s often considered more friendly and inviting, and less in-your-face.

Yellow

Yellow is often considered the brightest and most energizing of the warm colors as it is associated with happiness and sunshine. It is also associated with hope, as can be seen in some countries when yellow ribbons are displayed by families who have loved ones at war. Similarly to red, yellow can also be associated with danger.

In design, bright yellow can lend a sense of happiness and cheerfulness, however, it can be overwhelming if used in large amounts. Soft yellows also give a more calm feeling of happiness than bright yellows, which can help to create a more relaxing feel. Dark yellows and gold-hued yellows can sometimes look antique and be used in designs where a sense of permanence is desired.

Green

Green is a very down-to-earth color. It can represent new beginnings and growth. It also signifies renewal and abundance. However, it is also synonymous with jealousy and lack of experience. Green has many of the same calming attributes that blue has, but it also incorporates some of the energy of yellow.

In design, green can have a balancing and harmonizing effect, and is very stable. Green is probably one of the easiest colours to design with due to it’s links with the nati=ural world. It feels very welcoming and peaceful when used in an interior space- especially when used with lots of house plants. It’s also appropriate for designs related to wealth, stability and renewal.  Brighter greens are more energizing and vibrant, while olive greens are more representative of the natural world. Dark greens, such as emerald and forest green, are the most stable and representative of affluence.

Blue

Blue is arguably the coolest colour in the spectrum, which is why it is associated with calmness and relaxation. This popular colour is also used extensively to represent spirituality as it has religious connotations in many cultures. Light blues can be refreshing and friendly. Dark blues are more strong and reliable.

The meaning of blue is widely affected depending on the exact shade and hue. In design, the exact shade of blue you select will have a huge impact on how your designs are perceived. Light blues are often relaxed and calming. Bright blues can be used to bring a sense of energy into a room. Dark blues, like navy, are excellent for designs where strength and reliability are important.

Purple

In ancient times, the dyes used for creating purple hues were extracted from snails and were very expensive. Therefore, only royals and the very wealthy could afford them. Purple is a combination of red and blue and takes on some attributes of both. Creativity and imagination are linked to purple too.

In design, dark purples can give a sense wealth and luxury. Light purples, such as lilac, are softer and are associated with spring and romance. Or use it when you want to add a dash of mysticism and spirituality to your home.

Pink

In modern times, it’s impossible to see pink and not think of little girls, cotton candy and brightly colored bubble gum. Pink represents femininity and romance, sensitivity and tenderness. It’s inherently sweet, cute and charming.

Using pink is a quick shortcut to communicating “this is for women” and if you know it’ll appeal to your female target market, then it’s a great choice. For some audiences, though, it can be off-putting and you may want to be more creative in communicating femininity without resorting to clichés. Subtle touches of soft, blush pink can be used to compliment darker colours such as emerald green and navy blue.

Black

Black is the strongest of the neutral colors. On the positive side, Black is commonly associated with power, elegance, and formality. On the negative side, it can symbolise evil, death, and mystery.

In interiors, it is an extremely versatile colour. When used in large amounts, it can create a moody interior. When used as an accent colour, it can create a very bold, modern scheme. It is a really functional colour and can create a lot of contrast against white and other softer colours. Combined with a gold, silver or why not a royal purple, you’ll give your home an air of exclusivity and prestige.

White

White is at the opposite end of the spectrum from black, but like black, it can work well with just about any other color. This colour can symbolise purity, cleanliness, and virtue as well as goodness which is why angels are often depicted in white. It can be very simple, clean and modern.

In design, white is considered a neutral backdrop that lets other colors in a design have a larger voice. It can help to convey cleanliness and simplicity, though, and is popular in minimalist designs. However, when too much white is used in a room, it can feel very clinical so it important to add other colours into the mix too. Together with pastels, it can bring to mind spring and femininity; combined with simple black it becomes classic and minimalistic.

Grey

Grey is a neutral color, generally considered on the cool end of the color spectrum. It is a more mature, responsible color, associated with the gray hair of old age. Its positive connotations include formality and dependability, while the negative side can mean being overly conservative, conventional and lacking in emotion. It’s safe and quite subdued, serious and reserved.

Use grey if you want your home to communicate authority and stability. Light greys can replace white in some designs, and dark greys can replace black. It is often used as a base colour with pops of bolder colours to create a more fun and interesting space.

Brown

Brown is a natural color, associated with the earth and as a result giving a sense of stability and support. Given its link to the earth and nature, brown brings to mind farming and agriculture and other outdoorsy activities. It’s warm and friendly, practical and dependable, and can also represent the old fashioned and well established.

In design, softer shades of brown and creams can be used as an alternative to white. Brown is a warm, neutral color that you can use as a background that conveys warmth and wholesomeness. You can also use brown to give the impression of a well-established heritage and a sense of tradition.

Thanks for sticking with this lengthy post! I hope you now have a better understanding of colour and the connotations it can give to your living spaces. Let me know which are your go-to colours in your home.

Speak soon,

Eve x



One thought on “Colour Theory in Interior Design

  1. Although I ended up working in a different field, I have a degree in interior design so I LOVE color theory. My closet is is even color coded. It was so fun to read this and be taken back to a world that I love and miss. My only creative outlet these days is my wardrobe. lol

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