The Psychology Of Colour: Combining Colours

In Part II of the Colour Psychology Series we look at how colours are linked in the brain and how we can apply this knowledge to help us choose colours for our home!

In our first lesson in this series, I told you about the way that light interacts with colour and changes how we perceive it. We also briefly touched on the effect of colour on our bodies. In this lesson we will expand on the psychological effect of colour and discuss the properties of colour so that you will feel more confident in how to choose the colour that is right for your space based on your individual needs. Take a moment to look at the following colour combinations and notice what feeling they convey to you?

The Psychology Of Colour Temperature

Temperature can be affected by colour. Studies comparing people in red and blue rooms have shown that those in blue rooms tend to turn the heating up by two degrees, even though the room has the same temperature. Higher brain wave activity has been measured in people in red rooms as well as a faster heartbeat and even sweating. In the blue room, on the other hand, the brain activity scan showed higher alpha and delta waves, brain waves associated with relaxation.

Lesson 1

What is the identity of the space?

Before choosing a colour scheme and paint for the wall it is important to define how you intend to use the space. Is it for relaxing and sleeping or for the family to get together?

Things to consider

  • You may want to choose a colour that makes you calm and relaxed in a room that is very busy.

    Photography by Nikole Ramsay
  • Bright colours might not work in bathrooms or bedrooms if you want them to be a calming place as these may have an arousing effect.

    Terrazzo by DzekDzekDzek
    Source unknown
  • In my opinion, rooms that get less usage, such as hallways or powder rooms are ideal places to experiment with strong colours.

    Source Elle Decoration
    Home of Anna Jacob
  • Strong colours may also be fitting if you want to achieve a more intimate feel in your living or dining room as these are places that are mostly used at night for the family to get together.

    Home of Angela Chrusciaki Blehm
  • Psychology Insight

    Each colour of the rainbow has a different wavelength: violet has the shortest wavelength, at around 380 nanometers, and red has the longest wavelength, at around 700 nanometers. The longer the wavelength, the more arousing and the shorter the wavelength the more relaxing the effect the colour will have on you. This might explain why fast food places often have cold lights over the tables and decor in primary colours. While these colours are inviting initially, they are assumed to also speed up the eating process and lead to a faster turnaround.

Lesson 2

The Art of Combining Colours

Vibrancy Vs. Harmony

Colours sitting opposite to each other on the colour wheel, such as yellow and blue or red and green, are linked in the brain. Because of this link, combining opposite colours increases the intensity of each colour and therefore the vibrancy of the room. If your goal is to achieve harmony, it may be better to use colours that are within the same family, which means that they are next to each other on the colour wheel. A simple tip for anyone experimenting with colour for the first time is to make sure that when using different colours of the same family together that they are all as dark as each other.

  • In the following example the orange leather and light blue Ligne Togo lounge chair make for a more vibrant combination. It works especially well because both colours have the same depth.

    Source Unknown
  • The sage green and rust red of the two sofas in this photo are much closer to one another on the colour wheel and therefore make for a subtler, more harmonious colour combination. Again, both colours have the same depth.

    Sol Atelier Toronto
  • Psychology Insight

    To test this link of opposite colours in your brain, you simply have to stare at a red object for 30 seconds or longer and then close your eyes; your retina will be flooded with green. Genes for the red and green sensitive photopigments are on the X chromosome, which means that men are more likely to be colour deficient.

Tonal Decorating

As much as I have been craving more colour in my daily life lately, I have a lot of respect for colour as I know what a delicate art it can be to use them impactfully. Instead, I’ve often opted for a single colour and have instead created interest by using different shades (lighter or darker versions) of this colour and have used texture to create a deeply layered impression. The two examples below are two different projects by Kelly Wearstler that are excellent examples of tonal decorating.

    Kelly Wearstler Residence
    Santa Monica Proper Hotel designed by Kelly Wearstler

Colour and Architecture

We already covered quite a few examples on how to use colour in our lesson on the psychology of perception, so here’s just a quick recap of how you can use it to influence the architecture of a room.

  • If your walls are short you may want to make them seem higher by painting the coving the same colour as the walls.

    Note Design Studio
  • Similarly, painting the ceiling and coving the same colour will make the walls feel shorter and therefore a large room more cozy. If your room doesn’t have coving you can always bring the colour of the ceiling onto the top of the wall by painting a small strip of approximately 10 cm.

    Designed by Studio Laas
  • Bold colours reduce the size of a room by appearing to bring the wall inwards.

  • You can use colour blocking to draw attention to an architectural feature by using a strong colour on the feature while using a neutral colour on the bordering wall.

    Architects De Vylder Vinck Taillieu
  • The same principle applies to using a bold rug to draw attention to the center of the room, blurring the neutral floor around it and making the room feel larger. Using colour blocking on a single wall, the wall will advance, while the neutral colours around it recede and the room is stretched into the distance.

    Source Unknown

Accent Colours

An accent colour is a single colour used repetitively in minor ways through the room. Accent colours can be natural textures, such as woods or beige linen, or they can be used in an intense manner by adding a cool colour in a warm palette or vice versa. If you are unsure about how to implement an accent colour, a safe rule of thumb to follow is that 60% of the room should consist of the main colour, 30% of the secondary color and 10% of the accent color. Can you identify the accent colour in the following two images?

    Lulu & Georgia
    Photography by Stephen Kent Johnson

Wondering how you can apply the psychology of colour in your space? DM me a photo with a brief description on Instagram — @atelierakuko — and I'll happily send you some suggestions. Free of charge, of course!

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