Colors play a vital role in our lives. While their meanings vary according to culture, each color has its own unique language with varying associations. In the West, for instance, yellow is associated with excitement, cheeriness, and warmth, whereas red evokes vitality, strength, and passion.
How you strategically use colors in your living environment can have a considerable impact on your mindset, mood, and overall energy levels. But beyond the cultural connotations, individual color preferences should take priority when you’re configuring your home’s color palette. After all, you’re the one who has to live with it.
New York-based interior designer Elana Kilkenny starts her holistic design process by first exploring her client’s associations with colors, looking at what memories or attachments they may have with different hues. For her, looking at the psychological or emotional response to color takes precedence over fashions or fads. For instance, if one of her clients had a blue bathroom during a particularly unhappy time in childhood, Elana would advise her or him to avoid that particular shade in the same room in adulthood.
Our visual experience of the world is incredibly important, even if it registers on a subconscious level. Becoming consciously aware of your associations and memories of colors can better help you create a holistic home environment.
Think: What mood does the color blue evoke? What memories do you have in the “bluest” space you’ve ever been in? Now get even more specific: What about light blue? Aquamarine? Dark matte blue? Sky grey blue? Choose according to what energy or atmosphere you want to surround yourself with, and in the words of Elana, “Know thyself.”
“You might really love fuchsia, but if your whole room was painted that color, it might be too much for you. You might be better having a pop of that color in art, in throw pillows, or curtains,” she says. For biggest impact in your home, rethink your wall paint – but you also have to work with your home’s architecture and furniture for such a drastic change.
Rachel Cope, co-founder of Calico Wallpaper in Brooklyn, uses neutral colors in her designs to create a sense of interior balance, with an emphasis on blue. “Colors that conjure the feeling of the ocean and being by the sea or water are universally balancing and appeal to both men and women,” she says. She particularly loves sky blue, steel blue, and indigo to create a cooler, calming palette.
Holistic use of color affects not only the way you feel about yourself, but also the way you interact with others. “If you’re in a room that’s bright red, you might feel more heated and intense, or even anxious because the color is so warm,” Rachel says.
Rachel’s experience working at NYU Langone hospital in psychiatry has influenced the way she views and uses color in her wallpaper designs. “A lot of units had rooms that we painted murals on. Patients could sit in the rooms and feel not necessary healed, but their emotions could be brought down to a level where they could feel safe and relaxed,” she continues.
One mural Rachel painted evokes sand, sea, and the sky to help patients heal through the use of calming, peaceful imagery. “There is a universal connection to the open, endless skyline of the sea, the sound of the ocean, and the feeling of sand on your feet. Many patients reported that it felt healing and cathartic. If someone had a hard day, they liked to spend a lot of time in that room,” Rachel says.
“I always keep balance and healing in mind when I am developing color palettes for wallpaper. Homes are sanctuaries and should feel pleasant, balanced, and calming.”
Outside the traditional “calming” blue tones, Rachel says that gold is the most powerful color she’s worked with in interior design. “It’s not something we expected to use, but we use metallic in so many of our collections. Our inverted spaces and Calico wallpaper marbleized collection specifically benefit from the elemental feel of gold, brass, and copper. There’s something about the combination of metal with a cool tone that can be really dramatic and impactful.”
In Los Angeles, celebrity-interior designer Adam Hunter utilizes blue for a sense of sanctuary and balance, oxblood red in kitchens and dining rooms, and greens represented in nature to “subconsciously give off a sense of familiarity in a space.” Like Rachel, he believes in the healing power of color and their enormous impact on our psyche. “The environments and colors that we interact with daily shape our decision-making process, which is certainly true when it comes to healing.”
Whether you’re using color to showcase your individual tastes, calm your mind, or create a little sanctuary, recognizing the holistic, spiritual power of color in your home is the first step.