Color Theory: How Your Interior’s Palette Can Affect Your Mood

June 16, 2014

Color Theory: How Your Interior’s Palette Can Affect Your Mood

There are so many stories about color: Red makes you agitated. Blue calms your nerves. And yellow is the key to brightening your mood. It’s enough to make a person think that “color me happy” isn’t just a saying.

In fact, it isn’t. There’s a psychology behind the way ROY G. BIV affects your emotions — one that also has deep cultural roots. Here’s how some popular colors impact your mood, so you can take them into account when you’re decorating.


Americans associate the color red with a broad spectrum of hot-blooded emotions (e.g. rage, love). In India, it represents sensuality and purity. And in China, it’s revered as the luckiest of colors — signifying joy and good fortune.

This vibrant shade also has a significant affect on our subconscious outside of its cultural associations. According to an interview conducted in Forbes with environmental psychologist Sally Augustin, Ph.D., red affects our perception of a room’s temperature (it makes us think the room is warmer than it actually is) and has been proven to reduce our analytical thinking, making our reactions shorter and more forceful. Pantone’s Color Think Tank suggests that this shade also stimulates the senses and raises blood pressure. This could be one reason why so many cultures use this color to signify strong emotions.

How to incorporate it into your decor: This hot blooded color is best used as an accent shade.


While blue also holds a spot as one of the most universally accepted colors (it’s a go-to for clothing in a variety of cultures), just like red, its significance varies from country to country — sometimes vastly. For instance, in the Ukraine it denotes good health. But ironically, across the globe in Colombia it’s regarded as a funeral color. In America, it represents superiority (hey, first place ribbon), but in China it has historically been the go-to color for peasants.

Psychologically, blue is know for its soothing capabilities. That’s right–this color is cool, calm, and collected. However, according to Augustin, unlike red, blue makes people automatically assume that a room is cooler in temperature than it actually is.

How to incorporate it into your decor: This sweet soother is great in chill out spots like the bedroom and bathroom. However, to create a truly calm and cozy vibe, it’s best to complement with a warmer hue like pink or orange.


Want more information on working with colors in your home decor? Check out


Unfortunately, this is one of the least favored colors on the spectrum. According to MSN Healthy Living, even though psychologically it increases energy and ups your ability to focus, yellow can also cause anxiety. This is ironic considering that it is a color with very positive associations across several cultures. In the United States, yellow is a symbol of joy. In China, it’s a sign of prosperity. And in Britain, it represents high society and honor.

How to incorporate it into your decor: Skip using this saturated shade in relaxing spots like the bedroom and instead combine it with cooler, calmer colors in a room where focus and energy are a top priority, like a home office or study.


While green is the color of money (at least in America), it’s also a shade that’s know to spark creativity, calm nerves, encourage academic performance, and bolster compassion. No wonder it’s used as the go-to hue in many schools.

The positivity continues across several cultures. In China, green represents eternal life and energy. In Nigeria, it’s considered a patriotic hue (it’s one of the two colors of the flag). And in Mexico, it signifies independence.

How to incorporate it into your decor: All of these great reviews means that it’s a color that can up the quality in any room of your house.

Black and White

A room in these two neutrals can read as sleek and sophisticated. On the flip side, though, a palette this simple also runs the risk of coming off as cold and austere. This isn’t surprising, considering the cultural significance these two colors hold. In many nations (United States, Mexico, Colombia) black has a negative connotation, as it’s associated with death or sacrifice. White, on the other hand, represents rebirth and purity.

How to incorporate it into your decor:  These two are fantastic anchor colors (think big furniture pieces like couches or bureaus) that work best when paired with warmer or cooler hues.

A few final tips

Since most interiors aren’t monochromatic, it’s important to keep in mind how pairing hues affects the mood of a room. Pantone’s Color Think Tank warns that placing bright complementary colors next to each other can overwhelm the eye. Break it up with strong neutrals like black and white or something subtler, like tan or grey.

Megan Mostyn-Brown

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