The function of aesthetics: colour

I talk a lot on the blog about the function of a space, and about how our homes can and should be designed to function for our lives.  Designing spaces to function is the key focus in interior design.  The intent is to take any interior, anaylize how it is meant to be used, and design a layout, fixtures, furniture and finishes to create and optimize that function.  This purpose is often clouded by the dilution of the term ‘interior design’ when it is used to title what is actually ‘decorating’. I’ll save my opinions about that for another post, but where does that leave the look or style of an interior?!

What the HECK, you might say, I care about how my home looks too!  And you should! That’s because how your home looks performs a function that is equal in necessity to all the other functions within a space. The fact that a room might be freakin gorgeous isn’t just a superficial aspect, it has an important purpose.  That purpose is to shape the mood and emotions of the people using the space.

image via: Tristan Auer

We all know our environment effects our mood.   What we hear, feel, smell and of course, see, floods into our brains and creates a visceral, immediate response.  All our senses combine and give us a very specific experience. If our brains are responding to our surroundings in an emotional way, regardless of our intention for it to occur, we have the opportunity to use that to our advantage. So how can we do this? Visually the aspects of a space that make the biggest impact are color, lighting, and volume of space. By manipulating these elements we can have an effect on how someone in the room actually feels.



The psychology of color is a well known topic, and many of us understand that the brain has a response to the myriad of pigments that it is subjected to. We have an emotional reaction to color that we associate strongly with one state of mind or another, but these associations are also subject to an individuals personal experiences.

As a society we have a general association with basic colors, which is manipulated by a persons unique exposure and cultural influence regarding any given color.  There has been plenty of theoretical study linking color to emotions dating back at least 200 years. This has resulted in a general consensus that most people relate certain colors with certain emotions.  So, although we may not have a scientifically proven color association to apply when selecting tint, tones and shades for our spaces, we can be aware of the general consensus.  More importantly, we should consider what colors associations we ourselves have the desired reaction to.

This breakdown gives a general idea of the emotions we associate with different colors. With both positive and negative attributes the WAY in which we apply these colors to interiors can have one effect or the other.  Not selecting the right shade or using too much color can have a negative effect.



That brings us to color appropriateness.  What color do you use where?  When selecting a palette we have to consider if the color is appropriate. Not every color is suitable for every space. If you are streamlining the visual of that interior to induce the most accepted reaction, this is a big consideration.  For example, bedrooms are for sleeping. To create a space that is ideal for restful, relaxed, restorative sleep, you might not select a bright lime green with purple accents.  Not to say this doesn’t happen, but if we are truly designing to effect mood, color suitability is a very important aspect to the overall design.


Images via 1.) Tamara Magel 2.) Lindye Galloway



Once you’ve got your color mood all picked out, now you have to decide where to use it.  The temptation, once your perfect tone is finalized, is to paint with it.  Everywhere. Often times this isn’t necessary. You can control the color in any room by using it in soft finishes (pillow, rugs, bedding, etc) or through furniture, artwork, or even flooring.  While painting the walls in your home’s entry a sunny yellow might be too garish, using an area rug, bench seat or artwork in that shade will still give you a ‘sunny yellow’ toned space without overpowering a small area.

image via: adore mag

Still looking to get that color up on those walls?  You can use paint color to create a focal point that grounds the room, and your moody color gets represented in a bigger way. The easiest way to incorporate this look is to keep it balanced with a neutral color on the rest of the walls, and stick to furniture and fixtures that coordinate back to that main color in matching shades, or stay neutral.

image via: adore mag

If bold wall color is what you’re after DO IT. Just make sure the feel that you get is appropriate for the space.  Dark and moody in a bedroom, or light and bright in a creative or family focused living area works well.  Of course once you have saturated color all over every wall the other elements need to be very carefully selected. Keeping the look monochromatic with the addition of neutrals will reinforce a serene feel, while introducing a complementary color (the color opposite on the color wheel) takes things in a more energetic direction.


As odd as it might seem, the decision to chose a neutral palette for a space is still a choice of color. We have the same intensity of emotional reaction to a neutral as we do to a primary or secondary, or tertiary color.

image via: InForm

Many might title this interior as colorless, but there are warm light browns with gold overtones, rust and deep russet tones, as well as warm whites throughout the room.

When selecting the color palette for your home or just for one room, think about how you would like to feel in that space, and then start exploring colors accordingly.  You might be longing for a moody bedroom for cocooning away, or a serene living room for relaxing and unwinding at the end of the day, or maybe even a bold and bright communal space for family or invigorating activity. Imagine yourself using the room, what is the main feeling you’d like that have while enjoying it?  Color psychology will give you a good idea of colors to consider, but the most important part of making your decision is how the color makes you feel.

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  • Reply
    November 16, 2017 at 2:18 am

    Very interesting! I hadn’t thought too much before about how colours would affect you with interior design, glad to read it here!

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