Newsletter: Details from the Pros

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Details From The Pros

Details From The Pros: Leslie HarringtonTHE PSYCHOLOGY OF COLOR

When Leslie Harrington, Ph.D, director of The Color Association, was consulting a young couple about designing their kitchen, she found herself in the middle of a heated debate. The wife was enamored with creating a soft yellow kitchen that would evoke feelings of warmth and happiness.  On the other hand, the husband was adamant about not having anything that resembled the color yellow in the kitchen.

When the husband was unable to immediately express his distaste for the color, Harrington dug deeper, asking her client several probing questions, only to find that years ago the husband was the subject of a cruel childhood prank that involved tainted snow. The wife immediately understood and no longer pressed the issue. Eventually the two managed to settle on a kitchen color that did not stir up such unpleasant memories.

“Color can inspire both a psychological and physiological response that will often vary from person to person,” said Harrington.

Things like gender, the environment as well as our individual life experiences can affect our response to certain colors and determine whether an orange accent wall will transform a bedroom into a lively utopia or a wretched abyss.

Yet, there are some color associations that are universal across gender, social and culture lines. From Princeton to Prague, red is a pump-me-up color, almost always associated with the heart and love. It increases the appetite and gets the blood flowing, while blue is exactly the opposite. It is generally connected to calm and reducing blood pressure.  In the kitchen, white and even stainless steel suggest that the area is clean and functional – exactly what a kitchen should be.

“However, a splash of color can move the kitchen from merely functional and clean to a warm, welcoming and friendly environment.  When someone walks into your kitchen, you want to hear more than the space looks clean. You want to hear something that somehow suggests eating in your kitchen will offer an emotional experience,” continued Harrington.

But jumping into color is not easy for some. Many avoid it for fear of making a huge mistake and others find infusing color into the home downright frightening because of the long-term implications. 

“We have a complex relationship with color.  Picking a color is as complicated as picking a partner. You can simply flirt with a color, date it for a while and then move on to something else or maintain a steady relationship. There are some folks who even marry a color – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with making a long-term commitment to a color. The key is to select hues that blend harmoniously with the rest of the home.”

But if you still think that red and green look great outdoors but shudder at the thought of bringing them into your home, here are a few tips to help you get beyond your color woes:

1. Start small. Don’t paint every wall Pepto Pink or buy the loveseat, sofa and chair in Blazing Blueberry.  Begin by adding a few accessories in your color-to-be. Try a few small pillows, hand towels, area rugs or picture frames to see if you can live with the color on a small scale before jumping into a commitment. This is extremely important if you are experimenting with a new color. Chances are if you are unhappy with the Lime Green throw pillows, an entire room in that color will make you miserable.

2. Research. Flip through all of your favorite magazines. Be sure to take notice of the trends and how different colors may appear in various fabrics. If you find a color you like, don’t just take the publications’ word for it – when colors print to paper they may appear slightly different than they will on your wall. Almost every paint manufacturer can match any color, so to ensure you get exactly what you want, take the page or swatch with you when confirming your choice.

3. Play with various hues. There is no rule that says everything has to match perfectly. There are millions of colors and each color has dozens, maybe even hundreds, of shades.

4. Consult a professional. Especially for large projects. Designers spend years working through color combinations and can provide a great deal of insight that can help you avoid a major misstep.

5. It’s never final. Remember, if you think you’ve made a mistake, you can always change the color, again and again.

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