Painting Your Home – Creating Mood with Color

Painting and Decorating Your Home? Use Color to Create Mood.

Thinking about painting your home? Color choices for our surroundings have a huge impact on how we feel. Most of us know what colors we are drawn to. It might become apparent by your attraction to that orange t-shirt that gets prematurely worn out by frequent usage, or the realization that you just purchased your fourth red car in a row. Red might even qualify as an obsession to some of you. Color is personal, powerful and important in our lives and influences us in ways we aren’t even aware of. Hue impacts how we feel around it but is also a potent means of expression.

It’s fine to be whimsical and intuitive about our color choices, but when it comes to decorating and home painting, understanding a little more about how color impacts us can help us create the perfect mood for each of your rooms. While intuitive color usage is great, dousing your bedroom with bright yellow or orange might excite your nervous system and keep you awake at night—so read on to find out a little more about color and mood before you rush out to Sherman Williams to shop for your home makeover.

Color and Emotional Properties

Color Wheel HSV ModelThere has been a lot of studies and discourse about color in the past couple of centuries, and much of what you read may seem contradictory. The Russian painter, Wassily Kandinsky wrote about color in his Concerning the Spiritual in Art and assigned certain properties to it, which were similar to this:

  • Yellow: warm, feminine, exciting
  • Red: restless, alive, manly
  • Orange: radiant, healthy, serious
  • Blue: peaceful, spiritual, calm
  • Violet: morbid, extinguished
  • Gray: eternal silence (without hope)
  • Green: peaceful, still and calm

Kandinsky’s color theories had a huge impact on art, but people are now saying that he likely had a condition called synesthesia, which is a confusion of the senses, meaning that he may have had a more idiosyncratic experience of color (perhaps not so universal). Many creatives have this, in fact. It’s possible that other people with the condition might experience color in a similar fashion.

Kandinsky’s gender-assigning of color is also interesting. In the U.S., many of us associate maleness with light blue and femininity with pink, something that may be unique to western civilizations. Certainly, culture also informs how we perceive color and how it makes us feel.

For example: red has very distinct associations in these three countries:

  • India: purity (often used in marriage rituals)
  • U.S.: love, passion and danger
  • South Africa: death and loss

Here’s a fun graphic for some at-a-glance color comparisons by country.

Language is just one aspect of culture that impacts the range of colors we can see (and therefore the emotions we associate with those colors). The more words that exist to describe the hues of color, the greater the variety of colors are seen by the eye. There has been a lot of scientific research in this area. Obviously, the U.S. paint market has a handle on this, given their expansive, if not exhaustive, range of colors (with pseudo-poetic, non-pigment names). That must mean we see LOTS of color here.

You don’t have to be a scientist or color theorist to paint your house and create a harmonious, fun, calm, or otherwise expressive or ambient living space. Promise! Read on for some more interesting facts about color that will sharpen your decorating prowess and hone your paint-selecting skills when it comes time for your creative home projects.

Complementary Colors

Complementary colors are colors that exist directly across from each other on the color wheel. Here are some examples:

  • Orange – blue
  • Green – red
  • Yellow – purple

Complementary colors can coexist with each other, provided they are near-direct complements. When used full strength, they can create excitement through contrast. The further the colors stray from that direct complement, the more wonky they might appear. You can use them to create interesting accents and contrasts, such as a colored door against a wall, or complementary trim in a room. Painted furniture is another example. If you add equal parts of gray to them, they can make for interesting and yet harmonious pairings in your decorating. Pairing complementary tints or shades can also result in an interesting, yet harmonious combination of colors. If you use primary or even secondary pairings, it can make for an ecstatic or fun feel (maybe not ideal for a bedroom). Kids would probably love it for a playroom, but, really, think twice before painting their bedroom walls bright yellow and purple or fuscia as it might keep them up at night.

Color Triads

Color triads are three hues that are 120-degrees apart on a color wheel, or equal distance. Triad colors tend to be pretty intense, even when you subdue them with additions of white or gray. For house painting, they tend to work better when you designate one color as dominant and the other two as accents. Not sure if you’ll be able to pull it off? Buy mini samples and paint a white cardboard box to test them. Of course, you can paint sections of walls, but painting a mini room model (ordinary box) might give you a better overall sense. If you have little ones you can make it into a family project.

Analagous Colors

Analagous colors are great for harmonizing. The closer the colors are to each other, the more graceful the harmony. If you stray too far, you will end up with a mismatch. Of course, adding equal amounts of gray, white, or black to a color is another way to attempt harmonizing (because you are then making the additives the analogous color).

Examples of analogues colors:

  • Yellow – yellow-orange
  • Blue – blue-violet
  • Red – red-orange

Other color combinations exist including tetradic (rectangular), split-complementary (single-base color with two adjacent to its complementary) and a square color scheme (four colors, equidistance on the wheel). These can be fun to play with for color freaks. Freida Kahlo did it very well in her well-documented home, but for most of us, it’s easier to manage color if we limit our choices. Too much color can be disconcerting and distracting. Of course, if that is the effect you want, by all means, go for it.

Calming Colors

Grays and certain ranges of greens are considered by many to be calming. Of course, some intense yellow-greens and even a cadmium green, might have a livelier effect, so choose your greens carefully. Gray is in vogue right now and extensively used in bath and kitchen designs. One of the joys of gray is that you can pair nearly any color with it. Green, not really so, although many greens look great with gray. Gray is a neutral, so some realtors are in love with it. It’s also a good color for a bedroom or study, as it invites rest and contemplation. Pair it with cadmium orange for an industrial look. Of course, for some, gray harkens rainy days and feels depressing. If this is the case for you, avoid it at all costs.

If you are a restless spirit and need to frequently change your environment, gray might become your go-to color, because—here’s the beauty: you can pair it with nearly any-colored accent in the form of vases, photo frames, fabric bins, and other fabric-covered items. Next year, you can completely redo your “look” for very little money. Gray is, along with plain white, one of the most versatile neutrals to paint with, and the range of grays from warm to cool makes for very subtle expressions of color. Yes, when you paint a house, you aren’t simply decorating, you’re expressing yourself in a non-verbal way. And when you approach it as the creative act it is, you’ll enjoy the process all the more.

Harmonious Colors

As mentioned above, color harmonizing can be achieved with a variety of pairings, provided you add gray (toning) or white (tinting) to the colors. Fortunately, most paint providers now have an almost overwhelming variety of paper samples for you to play with. A single color with varying additions of black can produce interesting harmonies (and you can play with the amount of contrast).

Adding different amounts of white to the same color can create visual appeal. Painting wall trim with your base wall color and a 25% addition of white, is a safe way to provide subtle visual interest, while maintaining a color connection to the base color.

Gray neutralizes color but you need to make these combinations using color samples because professional paint colors are mixed/customized using additions of black (shading) or white (not gray). Shading with black, is another way of harmonizing color, incidentally. This makes home decorating a bit trickier than artistic painting/mixing with genuine pigments. Fortunately, due to the popularity of gray, there are lots of hues available on the market to get creative with.

Control Room Size with Color (yes, it’s magic)

Color WheelDarker colors tend to make a room smaller, while lighter colors tend to enlarge it. Maybe you want a room to feel cozy (like a bedroom or romantic living area). Dark blue or navy walls—or a dark green might be just the color to create the effect. Painting a ceiling a contrasting white is a great way to expand the vertical space (or the perception of it) and give some breathing room. Conversely, if your ceiling feels too high, and you’re going for that cozy cave feel, go ahead and paint it dark. Some grays can close in a space, so it’s something to be mindful of if you are about to create a farmhouse-style, gray kitchen.

Color impacts light, which is what gives us a sense of space. Bright and light yellows tend to open up space and yet, darker or mustard yellows can make it feel like the evening is upon us and the light is closing in (could be romantic).

Of course, it’s hard to get an authentic sense of size and space by painting sections of a room or making cardboard models, but one way to test color is simply by observing how you feel in other people’s homes, in businesses, or in other environments you visit. Keep a color journal for future reference when you have that time slot to work on your DIY projects or when you’re ready to hire a painter. You can even take some photos to keep for future reference.

Purchasing an inexpensive artist’s color wheel (like this one made by Color Wheel Company), can help you make some basic decisions when working with color, whether you’re crafting, painting your home, or repainting furniture. While the colors won’t correspond precisely to paint store decorator colors, it will give you a visual from which to work, and you can tuck it in a drawer for future projects. Color Wheel Company even makes one for interior design which has an appealing range of decorator colors.

Creating mood with color is fun, expressive, and elemental to interior design and decorating. The most important thing about painting your home, however, unless you are simply flipping properties, is that it makes you feel good and creates a desirable living space, whatever that mood might be. Don’t be afraid to be creative and feel free to break all the rules. It’s your house. Have a fabulous time designing it.

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