How to find your spirit colour
That purple cushion could be having more of an effect on your sense of self than you ever thought possible. Here, we investigate the psychology of colour, and how even a basic understanding can lift the mood of our home and our selves.
You only have to look up at the sky to see the effect that colour has on our mood. Grey clouds have us dreaming of hibernation and hunkering down, while a gleam of yellow sun flips our internal smile switch. Other examples of colour’s huge role on our psychology include how a change of hair colour can make us feel entirely off-kilter, why the shades of a favourite football team’s strip are important beyond the 90–minutes we watch them play, and why, back at school, we bought into those colour-changing mood rings that revealed if we fancied Kevin from maths.
Yet one place where colour has only played a bit part is in our homes. Years of magnolia-itis – that great British love of magnolia walls, followed by Scandinavian minimalism and the recent obsession with stripping back – inspired by Netflix-famous stuff-declutters such as Marie Kondo – has left our design choices feeling muted. Factor in having no idea where to start with a paint-swatch wheel, plus the fear of ‘Will I like it?’ – or worse, ‘Will other people like it?’ – and a nice safe off-white it is. Again.
But an interesting reintroduction back into boldness is through colour psychology. The concept was pioneered by British psychologist Angela Wright, who began to study the mystery of how colour influences our mood back in the 70s. She concluded that it works on two levels: firstly, that each of the 11 basic colours has universal, in-built psychological properties:
RED: Strong, energetic and attention-grabbing – hence its use in traffic lights. Weirdly, it’s been found to stimulate appetite, which is why we see it in fast-food restaurants.
BLUE: The world’s favourite colour is serene, reflective and calm – it can lower blood pressure and steady breathing. Strong blues stimulate thought, softer blues aid concentration, pastel tones can be cold.
YELLOW: The strongest mood-lifter of any colour, yellow can promote liveliness, affect self-esteem and boost how outgoing we feel.
GREEN: Restorative. The colour of balance, harmony and reassurance, hence the soothing power of nature.
PURPLE: Associated with spirituality, creativity and contemplation, as well as luxury and royalty. Beware: overused, it can imply cheapness faster than any other colour.
ORANGE: Fun and energetic, bringing warmth and physical comfort.
PINK: Feminine, playful and nurturing – some prisons even used it to reduce inmates’ aggression. Too much, however, is claustrophobic.
GREY: Neutral. Overdone, it can feel depressing.
BLACK: Sophistication and glamour (particularly with white), but sometimes cold or heavy.
WHITE: Simplicity, purity. Gives a feeling of space and cleanliness, but can be sterile.
BROWN: Earthiness, nature and support. Warmer and softer than black.
The second layer in Wright’s theory is that, within each colour, specific shades are best suited to one of four colour personality types – each of which pairs perfectly with the cool or warm tones we see seasonally in nature. There’s spring (clean, clear colours), summer (delicate, bleached-out tones), autumn (warm, rich, golden) and winter (cold, strong colours, very light or very dark).
Once you’ve decided your seasonal personality – think, deep down, what colours you love and make you feel happy – decorating your home doesn’t mean making a long-term commitment to walls. There are accent colours you can add or switch up during the year via bold cushions and throws, plates and glassware, statement bedlinen, patterned rugs or eye-catching lampshades.
Allowing yourself to be playful with colour won’t just boost your confidence with interior design – it could end up boosting your confidence overall.