A tried-and-true adage in the sales profession is that people buy for two reasons: to solve problems and to create good feelings. Interior design problems are solved by creating well-planned spaces filled with carefully selected furnishings coupled with balanced light sources that support and enhance the reasons why the users need that space. Color—the most emotional element in the design mix—is the No. 1 way to create good feelings. Color satisfies the intellect as well as the emotions. It satisfies in a way that no other element can.
SOME LIKE IT HOT
Colors that are on the forefront of today’s design scene are a great mix
of neutral livability and punches of fabulous color. This balance has real justification.
Today, many people need the peace and security found in pleasing background colors.
Most of us also crave a splash of bright color to bring excitement, pizzazz and
emotional stimuli into lives that often seem to be filled by the daily grind.
Intense color brings smiles, relief, laughter and even happiness to our poor
overworked, over-stressed brains.
While it is true that peaceful neutralized colors do relieve stress, it is also
true that if all the colors in an interior were soft and relaxing, it would trouble
us greatly. The reason for this is that the human brain cannot function well
with a lack of stimulus. Rather, it needs to be fed in much the same ways as
the body does. Color is brain food. Hence, the balance of large neutralized backgrounds
and punches of exciting color makes perfect sense for today’s world.
THE POWER OF COLOR PHYSICS
To help our clients understand the power of color, a slice of physics and psychology
are potent allies.
Colors are, essentially, electromagnetic wavelengths of the visible light spectrum.
Colors are seen by the naked eye in two ways: as colored light and as reflected
light from a pigmented surface. To explain these concepts:
1. We see color as spectral light, meaning white light broken into colored segments
by passing it through a spectrum. Sunlight passes through raindrops (mini-prisms)
to create the visible light in a rainbow.
These colors are arranged next to each other in adjacent steps of wavelengths
where the red spectral colors are the longest followed by incrementally shorter
wavelengths in the order of orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. The violet
wavelengths are the shortest. One way to remember this is that red light is next
to infrared light (infinitely long) and violet, on the opposite end is next to
ultraviolet (ultra short). Infrared and ultraviolet are invisible to the naked
2. The subtractive, pigmented theory or system of color. This theory holds that
when a dyestuff or coloring agent produces hue in an object such as a textile,
all spectral or colored light is absorbed into the object except for the applied
color, which is reflected back as a colored visible light.
COLOR PSYCHOLOGY WORKS!
The reason why color is so powerful emotionally is because of the pathway color
follows from the eye to areas in the brain. All colored light that enters the
eye is received by the cones and rods at the back of the eye. Researchers have
indicated that it is likely only 80 percent of colored wavelengths enter the
eye, and of this 20 percent go to the master endocrine regulator, which sends
messages to the various parts of the body—the heartbeat increases or slows
down, for example.
When we utilize color in a room, the impact of the color yields responses because
of this eye-brain-decoding. The response of the customer is the key to making
the right choice. When clients express a desire for a certain color, respect
their passion because it will always mean they need that color. A few examples
of what bold color can do in rooms might include the following:
In some rooms, a dash of color is like adding a splash of Tabasco sauce. In other
rooms, the hot colors—vivid and bold—give a sense of total luxury.
In still other rooms, color intensity is a statement of prestige and uniqueness.
Green, deep and slightly neutralized, sets the atmospheric stage for the accent
colors to stand out. For example, a green sofa or green tinted walls give a sense
of stability and naturalness, even if the walls are somewhat intense.
Green is a color that will not grow tiresome because there is so much green in
nature, and in so many shades and varieties that we are accustomed to seeing
them mixed together. As a general rule, let yellow-greens mix with other warm-based
greens—which is the trend we see currently. Blue-based greens are somewhat
off the map right now.
Warm red is the color with the most psychological punch. Used in small or large
amounts, as an accent or an entire wall, it is a powerful tool for life and happiness
in a room. It stimulates the connection of brain neurons (we think sharper and
say more intelligent things around reds and yellows).
In the photographs that accompany this article, we see warm, coral-like red as
a major player, giving the life and pizzazz each room needs. Note also the white/off-white
and black backgrounds or accent pieces that also serve to enliven the red and
intensify its dramatic effect.
The flooring and some of the walls in these photographs are very neutral—natural
woods or beige carpeting. The ability to set the stage with neutral flooring
is a key factor in gearing up for some hot color front and center. Even in the
room where cool gray is used on the wall you can see how coral-red warms the
room and saves it from becoming frigid while still maintaining a feeling of cleanliness
and cool intellect.
STYLE, STYLE, STYLE!
Colors are in style for a brief time, yet with each cycle of popularity customers
find colors they really do love and relate to in positive ways. This is good
news. When a long-term master plan is devised, even if it is verbal, the chances
are good that the scheme will stay appealing to the homeowners for a long period
Much of the reason why certain colors come into style has to do with the establishment
of color trends by nonprofit organizations whose goal is to unify colors for
manufacturers to coordinate their offerings. Color Marketing Group (CMG) does
this regularly, and its 2004 color trends can be found on page 40. Those who
make the predictions about what colors consumers will buy are very experienced
and savvy, and their selections are based on research as well as long experience.
In CMG’s 2004 Consumer Color Directions for the Home Fashion industry,
we see colors such as “Coral Bells,” a lovely warm red; “Cu,” or
elemental copper in its rust-colored, warm red vein; and a green that may need
tempering, “Hyper Green,” a real green in techno-overdrive.
How do we fit color style into the customer’s list of “I wants?” We
do this by exposing them to what’s in style and by explaining how it can
make the room a great place to hang out, visit or to do the work required in
Even when the coolness of a neutral background is desirable, the color style
trends are toward vivid, warm, intense, yet slightly neutralized colors. Red
leads the way with green in second place, vivid blue in third place and a lightened
blue or violet as a major player. And, as a major impact, black accents. Black
gives everything punch! It makes all bright colors become more strident and sharp
and adds a contrast that enlivens. Keep in mind a little black goes a long way
and black is a fashion statement that can evolve into colored rubs or in small
or large uses as the style and mood dictates.
J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at
Brigham Young University. She has authored several books including
Window Treatments, Understanding Fabrics and Interiors: An Introduction,
3rd Ed. Nielson is a regular
correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion,
education and merchandising.