The Psychology of Color: Picking a Paint Color

Sarah Robinson

If you’ve ever found it difficult to choose a paint color for your home, you’re not alone. Choosing a color is a big deal since the wrong color choice can have an impact on how you feel when you’re in a room.

Think of color as a form of nonverbal communication. It can instantly set a mood, convey emotions, and even provoke a physiological reaction in people. According to the Institute for Color Research, people make a subconscious judgment about an environment or product within 90 seconds of initial viewing. Between 62% and 90% of that assessment is based on color alone. That’s pretty powerful stuff.

Picking a Color that Represents You

Choosing a color for your room isn’t just about what you think will look good. It’s more about how you want a room to feel. When you’re looking at your space, think about how you want to feel when you’re in there, and how you want others to feel. Do you want to provoke conversations? Do you want the space to be relaxing and cozy? You also want to make sure the colors you choose match your personality and aren’t totally out of left field. After all, your home should be an extension of your style, and it should feel like it is truly your space.

Your Mood and the Room Color

Believe it or not, room color can definitely have an impact on your mood. The right color can instantly make the rooms in your home feel more calm, cheerful, comfortable or dramatic.

It can make a tiny room feel larger or a spacious one feel more intimate, without the time and expense of actually moving walls. This is where you want to get strategic about how you use color in a room—it’s a cool visual trick that you can definitely use to your advantage.

Now that you know a bit more about why color is so important and how it can impact us, it’s time to explore some of the qualities of individual colors themselves. Knowing the psychology behind your favorite hues will help you pick a palette that makes you feel fabulous.

Red

If you want your room to feel energized and ready for socializing, red is a great choice. Red is a stimulating color that is often associated with romance and passion. You can use red as a design tool that heightens the senses—it can increase our respiration and heart rate and make us feel more energized.

That being said, a red room can feel different based on the shade; it can feel contemporary, traditional, rustic or timeless, depending on the shade and context. You can use red on all the walls to make a room feel smaller and more intimate, or do a feature wall as a visual trick to change the proportions of a room.

Pink

Think of pink as a slightly less intense version of red—it gives the excitement of red toned down with the gentleness of white. Pink is a softer color, typically associated with sweetness and romance with a touch of innocence. The color pink definitely gives off some feminine energy but can be balanced out with a bit of brown or gray to create a more neutral tone that promotes calm, stillness, and beauty.

The vibe of your room largely depends on the shade of pink you choose. If you go with something bright like fuchsia, it suggests energy and glamour. However, a softer and more restrained tone like a blush pink or a beige with pink undertones can be quite soothing. Thanks to its wide array of tones, pink makes an excellent accent color and balances well with other colors.

Red and Pink Home Paint

Orange

If you really want to inject some energy into a room, orange is the color for you! Orange is super high energy and instantly adds a sense of fun and playfulness to a space. However, orange can also be quite polarizing; people either love it or hate it.

This color is a favorite of those who like to be known for their creativity and individuality. It’s a great way to add a pop of color since it blends well with neutrals. A bright, true orange can be quite intense and lively, while a more brown-based shade of orange (like a terra cotta or a burnt sienna) acts like more of a calming, cozy influence.

Yellow

Yellow is the go-to color for when you want to create a space that just makes you feel happy. It has the ability to evoke memory and imagination, and can bring you all sorts of warm and fuzzy feelings. Yellow can make you feel joyful, energetic, stimulating, happy, sunny, and uplifting.

Yellow doesn’t have to always be bright and in your face, though. More muted pastels and buttery shades of cream or white work wonderfully as neutrals with just a hint of warmth. Brighter shades work well with neutrals too, making them ideal colors for an accent wall.

Orange and Yellow House Paint Inspiration

Green

If you’re looking to create a space that leaves you feeling peaceful and balanced, try a shade of green. Green can be quite calming, thanks to its connection with nature. It has associations with positive growth, renewal, and good health, and can be quite soothing.

If you want a bright and cheerful room, try a brilliant apple green. For something a little more soothing and muted, a dark olive or forest green is a great option. Sage green is a fabulous neutral shade with gray undertones that balances well with browns and natural wood tones.

Blue

A blue room can truly be an oasis of calm in a busy world. Blue is known as a calming color—it has been shown to slow heartbeat and respiration in people, giving it a calm, sedating effect. Blue is the color to go for when you want your room to leave you feeling calm, cool, and collected. Because of its calming effects, blue also helps us concentrate, which makes it a perfect color for a home office.

Blue is one of the most versatile colors to work with, and you’ll find it easy to pair with other colors. From bright turquoise to toned down pastels, just about any shade of blue will leave you feeling relaxed.

Green and Blue House Paint Inspiration

Purple

If you want to feel regal, purple is your color. Purple has long been associated with royalty, and it still conveys feelings of wealth and abundance. Purple is about much more than just wealth and social stature, though. It’s also a very spiritual color that represents magic, mystery, and imagination.

Purple can be highly dramatic or soft and quiet, depending on the tone or shade you choose. Light lavender-gray walls can create softness in a space and give it a very calming energy. A very dark purple can create a moody feel, while a bright purple can make a room feel like it’s bursting with energy. When you’re working with purple, you don’t have to go overboard—all it takes is a few strategically placed purple accents to create a whole new vibe for your surroundings.

Gray

Gray tends to get a bad rap, thanks to the weather. While a day of gray skies might make things seem dark, moody, and a little sad, there’s so much more to this great color. When used in design, gray can be a very calming, soothing influence. It's a versatile color that adds an element of sophistication to a space. Since it’s naturally more muted on its own, it’s the perfect backdrop for brighter colors—it really makes them pop.

With so many different shades to choose from, you can easily create rooms with drastically different vibes. For example, dove gray is a soft and soothing neutral that pairs well with plums and violets, while charcoal-gray pairs well with deep reds, for a dramatic look. For a more relaxing feel, pair a cloud gray with softer warm neutrals.

Purple and Gray House Paint Inspiration

Brown

Need to create a space that makes you want to slow down and relax? Brown is the color you’re looking for. Brown is a rich, earthy color that instantly gives a room a calm, warm, relaxing feeling. The calming element probably comes from its connection to nature, since it’s the color of natural wood.

It works well as a neutral backdrop to showcase brighter colors, but it also works well as the main color in a space. A rich chocolate color creates a sophisticated look, while a lighter brown can be paired with a bright turquoise or a pale aqua to create a more airy feel. You could also pair it with deeper shades of burgundy or purple to create a more dramatic room or mix several shades of brown together for an extra calm and cozy space.

Brown House Paint Inspiration