I love the subject of color and have studied it extensively. Interestingly, when I first studied and practiced interior design, I found myself calling colors “warm” or “cool” as you speak of them–depending on their undertones. I did this for years.
Then I began to study Feng Shui. I won’t get into detail, but suffice to say that traditional Feng Shui is an interior designer’s nightmare…you are supposed to use certain colors (that are significant in traditional Chinese culture) in every room. Ugh.
I understood that people react strongly to colors, but I wasn’t sure why. In preparation of writing my book, Harmonious Environment, I began to study color from the dispassionate scientific point of view. For example, in the 20th century, The Luscher Colour Test revealed that colors stimulate different parts of the autonomic nervous system, affecting metabolic rate and glandular secretions. In the 1950’s, studies showed that yellow and red light raised blood pressure while blue light lowered it. Blue light is now commonly used to treat neonatal jaundice and to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Different colors, pulse rate and respiratory rate; color affects muscular tension, brain activity and the emotions.
Each color has its own vibration; color can be used to bring harmony and balance into your life. The invisible vibrations of color can be used to either relax or stimulate. The color spectrum is made up of seven colors, with thousands of tones, shades and tints in between. The longest wavelengths, or extroverted (yang) colors—red, orange and yellow—are considered the warm, expansive and outgoing colors. The shorter wavelengths, or introverted (yin) colors—blue, indigo and violet—are cool, soothing and introverted. Green is considered neutral.
Picture the pure color spectrum–red, orange and yellow are considered warm; green neutral and blue, indigo and violets, cool. Black is warm, white cool. Add to that each color can become a shade (add black), tint (add white) or tone (black + white=gray=neutral.)
Now it’s all math. Pure green is neutral because it’s made up of equal parts blue + yellow. Add more blue and you have a cool green; add more yellow, warm.
Knowing that, pink cannot be cool–neither can red or orange. Add white to a warm color and it lessens it’s heat; black to a cool color and it warms it.
Here is another example: brown is composed of red, yellow and black and is considered warm, because the intensity of black overwhelms the red and yellow. However, add some white (tint) and the color becomes beige or tan and effectively moves to the center of the spectrum, or the neutral zone. (You have undoubtedly heard of colors like beige and tan being referred to as “neutral” colors. This is why.) But add a pinky undertone to beige and you effectively make it warm again.
When planning the predominate color theme in a room, remember that warm or yang colors—red, orange and yellow—are best used in rooms that are meant for social and physical activity, as these colors stimulate the more physical aspects of life; eating, socializing and exercise. Conversely, cool yin colors—blue, indigo and violet—are ideal in spaces meant for rest or meditation, as these colors invoke feelings of calmness, creativity and inner transformation. Green, which represents balance, health and harmony, is ideal in all rooms.
Color is one aspect of how our homes affect us—there are many things that do. (I’ll save for another time…) How things like color, energy, clutter and so on affect us is the psychology of home (an actual category used in libraries). Understanding these processes—how color works, for example—helps us to create harmony, balance and health in the home.