The Power of Colour in Your Home

Choosing a colour scheme for your rooms can be tricky. We explore the effect different shades have on us and how to pick hues that you’ll enjoy living with.

Orange Living Room

Don’t be afraid to experiment with colour in your home
Image credit: Berkeley Group/Veronica Rodriguez

With more than 2,000 colours of paint in Dulux’s range, and 132 in Farrow & Ball’s, choosing a colour scheme for your home can feel overwhelming. Even if you think your house is going to be predominantly neutral, there are hundreds of beautiful complementary colours available, which don’t have to be bright and bold, such as Violet White, Summer Peach and Slipper Satin – all calm tones while bringing some colour into your home. 

Do Your Homework

The best way to create a colour scheme that suits you is to start with a spot of – pun intended – homework. British colour expert Angela Wright recommends that you ask these five questions about every room in your house.

  1. What colour do you want the room to be, primarily?
  2. What secondary colour do you want the room to be?
  3. Where do you want the point of interest to be? In patterns of wallpaper, curtains or furnishings or in different textures?
  4. Does the room need to feel peaceful or stimulating?
  5. What attitude do you have to the main activity in this room: is it hard work or something you enjoy? (Either of these attitudes might, for example, apply to a kitchen.)

This might sound a bit over the top but, with such an immense array of colours, textures and tones now available in paint, wall covering, materials and furnishings, it is important to have a clear starting point. This will avoid you wandering, in a zombie-like state, through a multitude of stores desperately seeking inspiration.

Balancing Colours

When choosing your primary and secondary colours, you should also consider the balance between hues with a shorter wavelength (typically blue, violet and green) and a longer wavelength (red). Various studies have suggested that entirely pink rooms can be physically draining, so you might do well to balance the pink with a cooler secondary shade of green or blue. Equally, you might regard black as a sexy and sophisticated colour but Angela warns: “Any occupant of a predominantly black bedroom will, eventually, start to feel oppressed and sluggish.”

If you want to be sure your chosen colours complement each other – instead of clashing – check them out on a colour wheel (there are plenty online). Farrow & Ball show colour schemes for their paints so you can easily see what colours go together.  

When placed alongside each other, colours on the opposite sides of the spectrum – for example, orange and blue – benefit from an effect called simultaneous contrast and pack more visual punch.  As Vincent van Gogh, one of the most expressive users of colour ever to pick up a brush, said: “There is no blue without yellow and orange.”

Orange Accessories

Orange accessories add visual interest to the predominantly blue living room
Image credit: Berkeley Group

Following Trends

There is also the significant and complicated business of trends to consider. Colours of the Year schemes are increasingly common. The 2021 palette of Colours of the Year includes Ultimate Grey and Illuminating (Pantone), Brave Ground (a warm earthy tone by Dulux), calming natural greens such as Sap Green (Farrow & Ball), Aegean Teal (Benjamin Moore) and Natural Light (Crown).

Brown Kitchen Cabinets and Black table tops

This kitchen is painted in Dulux’s colour of the year 2021 Brave Ground
Image credit: Dulux

But are people actually using these colours in their homes? An analysis of the most Instagrammed photos of home decor by Livingetc found that the 15 most popular colours in the UK included seven shades of grey. 

It is hard to say how long many Britain’s homes will remain a grey area. Laurie Pressman, vice-president of the Pantone Color Institute, one of the world’s most respected authorities on colour, believes that grey will stay in fashion until we feel more confident about the future. “Colour is its own language, which silently influences us by causing physiological and psychological reactions that take place outside our consciousness awareness,” she says. “We tend to revert to greys at moments of economic and social uncertainty. Psychologically, there is the idea that grey – the colour of granite, rock and stone – is very stable.”

Grey Themed Bedroom

Grey is still a very popular choice for colour schemes
Image credit: Berkeley Group

Colour Associations

Trends come and go – although few interior design gurus expect the 1970s craze for avocado bathrooms to return anytime soon – but many attitudes to colour are hard-wired into us. Since the 1880s, when companies in Germany began surveying people’s colour preferences, blue has consistently been our favourite, usually followed by green. These preferences do not change much between nationalities, genders or age groups. 

Blue Dining Room

We associate blue with calm seas – this room is painted in Aegean Teal, Benjamin Moore’s colour of the year 2021
Image credit: Benjamin Moore UK

Sally Augustin, an American colour psychologist, designer and consultant says: “If you think about it, these preferences make a lot of sense. To our distant ancestors a blue sky signified a good day to hunt and gather, blue is the colour of a watering hole when viewed from a distance and the colour we envisage calm seas as. For our ancestors, green announced the fruitfulness of spring which, for them, wasn’t just a nice change in the weather, it could mark the difference between life and death.” Sally’s home office is primarily green because she believes it stimulates creativity.

Green Dining Room

Green can remind us of nature and also stimulate creativity – this wall is painted in Farrow & Ball’s Sap Green
Image credit:  James Merrell

If you want to make your living room appear bigger, you can make a wall seem a bit further away by painting it light blue. If you have a large kitchen where people tend to gather, green can make it feel convivial but if the kitchen is the room where the family chef masters the culinary arts an optimistic yellow might lighten the atmosphere. 

Colour Considerations

In other words, there are some hard and fast rules when it comes to choosing your colour scheme – but not too many. One is to consider how much natural light there is in a particular space: as a rule of thumb, cool whites suit sunnier rooms, warmer whites are better for shadier spaces. It also pays, as Angela Wright suggests, to ensure that whatever colours you choose are balanced within rooms and across the house. 

Choosing a colour scheme that epitomises the best of contemporary taste might look stunning, but it can have its drawbacks. The use of colour in interior design is constantly re-evaluated. For example, we now regard grey as so posh it is, as one expert put it, “like pouring ‘middle class’ into a can” yet that is heavily influenced by the muted colours of walls in British stately homes, many of which were originally – before decades of dirt took their toll – much brighter and more vivid. 

One of the challenges with deciding on colour schemes is that colour is something we see as much with our mind as with our eyes.  The German artist Josef Albers said once: “If one says red, and there are 50 people listening, it can be expected that there will be 50 reds in their minds.” This is because a bean-sized area of cells in our brains called V4 drives the process that creates colour from the data our eyes receive. Because colour is not universal, but personal, we react viscerally and individually to it, which also explains why advice on the ‘right’ colours for your home can vary so widely.

Sally says you should select a colour scheme that reflects your personality rather than the latest cool design trend. “If you’re an extrovert, you are more likely to enjoy bright, vivid saturated colours,” she says. “But if you’re an introvert, because you’re relatively more efficient at processing visual stimuli, you’re likely to prefer more restrained colours.”

The other concern is that, if your colour scheme is too considered consciously on trend and impersonal, it might not feel like home. As the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky said “Colour is a means of exerting a direct influence on the soul.” In other words, give your soul a treat and choose the colours that feel right for you.

Get more tips on using colour in How to style your new-build home.