Want to feel instantly better? These theories of color psychology in interior design will make everything more happy

Delve into color psychology in interior design and find out how different shades can affect both your mood and your appearance

A bedroom diagonally painted charcoal grey and pink
(Image credit: FADD Studio)

Color psychology in interior design isn't only about how colors affect your mood but also how they can make you look good. We are constantly surrounded by different shades at home and these have a long-lasting effect on the way we think, feel, and even appear.

Think about it – have you ever considered why you feel more relaxed in a cream or beige space? Why does your pink-toned powder room make you look nice? All of this largely comes down to color psychology, and the way light falls on the color and is reflected on our skin.  As per research by the National Library of Medicine, colors affect our minds to a great extent. 

Generally, when it comes to paint ideas, warm colors like red, orange, and yellow are considered hues that evoke feelings of happiness, optimism, and energy. These are ideal for the public spaces in the home like the living room, dining room, or balcony. According to research, red in particular helps increase a person’s appetite.

Cooler shades such as green, blue, and purple are considered calming and soothing and are ideal for bedrooms. Purple in particular is considered to improve creativity.

'The colors you choose to surround yourself with are key to determining how a space will make you feel,' says Ruth Mottershead, creative director at Little Greene. 'Paint colors can have a dramatic impact on the atmosphere of a space, with warm and cooler evoking very different moods. It’s not just about considering the color, but also its subtle undertones, and the colors it will be sitting alongside as either painted surfaces or accessories within the space.'

We spoke to a few experts to help us understand how different paint colors affect us, psychologically and physically. Here's what they had to say.

How different hues relate to color psychology in interior design 

1. Pink can lift moods 

A pink painted bedroom with a bed covered in printed sheets and a chair on the side

(Image credit: Farrow and Ball)

A subtle glow radiates from pink walls, making both people and furnishings look brighter and more flattering. This makes pink bathroom ideas great for ensuring you look your best when getting ready for the day. 

'Pink is a great paint color inspiration for the living room because it’s unexpected yet inviting and warm,' says interior designer Jennifer Morris, founder of JMorris Design. 'The hue lends a richness to the overall tone of the light whether the purpose is to create an intimate vibe for a gathering or to prepare for a relaxing night’s sleep.'

In 1979, psychologist Alexander Schauss published research that proved that pink calms the mind and lessens aggression. This is why pink was used in US prisons for decades. The color, also known as Baker-Miller pink, was used with similar effects in a youth detention center in San Bernardino. 

'Pink evokes the feeling of softness; it is also a color that is intrinsically linked to nature and flowers,' says interior designer Natalie Tredgett. 'Psychologically the color calms us, which is why it is lovely to be in a pink room. What is more, we all look and feel great in a pink room. Now that there are varying shades of pink available, you can create different moods with this hue.'

2. Blue gives a feeling of stability

A blue painted living room with a cream sofa

(Image credit: Benjamin Moore)

'A Travelodge survey of 2,000 U.K. homes looked into how the color of bedrooms impacts quality and duration of sleep,' Jude Stewart, a design writer and author of the book ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color. 'Blue was the clear winner: blue-drenched sleepers clock in an average of seven hours and 52 minutes of nightly shut-eye. Since the hue is associated with the feeling of calmness, it helps people relax better.'

It is also a color of depth and perception. It is seen as an indicator of security, order, stability, and reliability. Plus several colors go with blue, making it a versatile shade to design with. 'In a bedroom warm shades of pink, red, or lilac make you feel safe and cocooned, but cool aqua or blue tones would promote better sleep,' says Suzy Chiazzari, color consultant and holistic designer.  

'Blue is by far, the most loved color in the world,' says Natalie. 'It is associated with uniform and workwear – suits, police, jeans - and has a sense of reliability attached to it. It makes the dwellers feel comforted and calm.' Studies also show that blue helps people focus better.

3. Sage green can create a feeling of tranquillity 

A sage green staircasen wall with white balustrade

This calming, natural shade is much-loved, and plenty of other colors go with green. Green in particular has a soothing impact on a child. Studies have proven that green may improve a child’s reading speed and comprehension. The color helps reduce anxiety and reminds one of the great outdoors. 

The color is also related to responsibility – think hospital scrubs and operation rooms that represent this hue. Green also motivates people and makes them feel they can achieve anything. 

'Soft muted tones such as mushroom sage green are gentle and have a soothing effect, which will work particularly well in spaces like bedrooms or dining rooms creating an elegant and comforting feel,' says Ruth. 'For an uplifting but calming scheme, consider warmer, earthier neutrals paired with deeper hues to create a contemporary look.' 

'Colors that promote restoration and a state of active calm are greens in various shades and blues that don’t trend too dark, but you should choose any color you love and dial it down from its loudest shade and that might be the perfect color for you,' says Jude.

'It might be tempting to choose colors that are too sleepy or dark because they promote better sleep. But that choice might make you feel groggy in the mornings when you’re trying to wake up. Consider how a color wears from day into night, sleep into wakefulness,' says Jude.

4. Teal evokes optimism 

Dark blue living room by Neptune

(Image credit: Neptune)

A deeper version of green with a mix of blue, teal is a dark cyan with an imposing presence. It evokes visuals of tropical lagoons, dense jungles, and beautiful dancing peacocks. It is a happy medium, and the best teal paint color that's easy to decorate with. 

The rich yet balanced hue can be uplifting, energetic, and optimistic to work with. The color also signifies trustworthiness and reliability perhaps a perfect antidote to uncertain times, unsettled times.

5. Red can elicit emotions of prestige and dominance

A deep red painted bedroom with a designer cane chair

(Image credit: Utkan Gunerkan)

Red is linked to passion and love. It is a color that provokes strong emotions. The shade, especially in red living rooms can energize the mind and body. In fact, research says that red can increase heart rate too. Due to its long wavelength, it is one of the most visible colors in the color spectrum.

'Cognitive psychologists think red rooms make people working in them more accurate and cautious; so claims a 2009 study in the journal, Science,' says Jude.

Red is also a color that evokes emotions of dominance, power, and prestige. This is a good color to use in home offices or study areas.

6. Purple can inspire sensitivity in children

A purple colored wall with a charcoal grey vase kept in front of it

(Image credit: Mylands)

People often consider purple as a mysterious, spiritual, and imaginative color. Since it's a shade that occurs rarely in nature, it is viewed as intriguing. The hue is a combination of red and blue and is often associated with royalty, and its various shades, there are plenty of colors that go with purple. Purple is great for inspiring sensitivity in children but in a kids' bedroom, you want to limit it to accents.

'Purple supposedly affords sleepers a measly five hours and 56 minutes of sleep nightly,' explains Jude. 'The lesson for interior design buffs seems clear: if your heart beats faster at the thought of violet, keep those sleep-estranging dabs of purple concentrated into accent pieces, not wrapping entire walls.'

Which paint colors are most flattering?

The light reflected off the colors and paint finishes in the house affects the way we look. Deeper hues make us look darker and softer hues, lighter. Of course, this heavily depends on your skin tone, the time of the day, and the quality of indoor light. 

Largely, it is believe that pink can make pale skin look brighter. 'The color pink hints at retro but also continues to be modern. Lights reflecting off pink walls or furniture make pale skin look brighter and more luscious,' says Jennifer.

Similarly, deep blues reflect light in such a way that they happen to flatter every white skin tone. This is perhaps because the color is amply prevalent in nature (sky, ocean, flowers). 

When it comes to green, it can be an uplifting hue but its tone needs to be selected carefully. 'Green is a great indoor color but it needs to be used with a little deliberation as it can make people look sallow unless it’s the right shade. Choose warmer greens instead of pastels or neons to make you appear better,' says Jennifer. 

 “It is true that a teal or green room – painted in colours such as Dulux Heritage Maritime Teal or DH Grass Green – will make a redhead with a lighter skin tone look gorgeous and red or orange spaces make darker complexions truly shine,' says Marianne Shillingford, Creative Director at Dulux

'Colours that are opposite to our predominant natural complexions are the ones that really put us on centre stage in an interior,' says Marianne. 'If you have blue or green eyes, pale skin and dark hair, consider coral and soft blush pinks – like Dulux Heritage Potters Pink – and if you have darker skin and brown eyes practically any rich colour is going to make you look great whilst pale neutrals may make you look washed out.'

Aditi Sharma Maheshwari

Aditi Sharma Maheshwari is an architecture and design journalist with over 10 years of experience. She's worked at some of the leading media houses in India such as Elle Decor, Houzz and Architectural Digest (Condé Nast).  Till recently, she was a freelance writer for publications such as Architectural Digest US, House Beautiful, Stir World, Beautiful Homes India among others. In her spare time, she volunteers at animal shelters and other rescue organizations.