The Impact of Color in Interior Design

Palette of colors

In the modern world, we spend a lot of time inside. In fact, researchers estimate the average person will be indoors an amazing 87% of his or her life. We are understanding more and more that the environment around us shapes us in a myriad of ways. That means we have good reason to pay careful attention to the design of the spaces in which we spend so much of our time. They can have a powerful effect on us, for good or ill.

One of the aspects of our environment that we have found has an impact upon us is color. It isn’t just an arbitrary matter of personal taste. Instead, color can affect our mood and even our physiology. It also influences our spatial perception of a room.

In this post, we’re going to briefly explore these significant aspects of color as well as give an overview of some key terms to understand when working with color in interior design.

The Psychology of Color

Psychology of Colors

In 1810, the German poet Goethe published Theory of Colors, in which he explored the connections between certain colors and particular emotional states. In the 1900’s, there was an increasing interest in this topic, which attracted both theoretical speculation and empirical research. In the past few decades, color has been increasingly understood to have an effect upon us that goes beyond our aesthetic preferences.

Indeed, there are color receptors in our eyes that have nothing to do with vision, but are instead connected to the part of our brain that regulates our biological functions through the use of hormones.

One example of this we read a lot about lately is the impact of blue light. It helps signal to our body that it is time to be awake and contributes to a state of mental focus.

Another color that has been shown to have a significant impact upon us is red. This stimulating color can even raise a person’s heart rate and make a room seem warmer than it actually is.

In general, warm colors (like red, yellow, and orange) seem to have a stimulating effect on us, improving our mood and giving energy. On the other hand, cool colors (like blue and green), have a calming and focusing effect. These are important things to keep in mind when thinking about what a space will be used for. We want the color to cooperate, so to speak, with what we are trying to achieve. A bright red bedroom, for instance, is probably not a wise choice.

Color and Space

Downtown Project, Tribeca

One of the other fascinating aspects of color is the way it can affect our perception of the size of a space. Generally speaking, lighter colors are going to make a room feel more open and spacious. On the other hand, darker colors will have the opposite effect.

This is useful information when it comes to interior design. Sometimes we want a room that is overwhelmingly large to feel smaller, closer, and more intimate. Darker colors can help us achieve this effect. On the other hand, a very small room or tight hallway can be given a more airy and spacious feel with light-colored walls and ceilings.

The Dimensions of Color

Understanding the ways that color can affect us is a helpful starting point. Actually putting this knowledge to use in selecting appropriate colors, however, requires knowing something about how color works.

There are three different terms that help us to talk about the complexity of color: hue, value, and intensity. We’ll describe each briefly.


This is the name of a particular color. Color, of course, is really electromagnetic radiation in the part of the spectrum that is visible to human eyes. A particular color, or hue, can be defined technically as a particular frequency in the visible spectrum of light. To put it less technically, a hue is a pure color without tint or shade. (But what are tint and shade? Keep reading.)


Value has to do with the lightness or darkness of a hue. Mixing white with a hue will lighten it, given a tint of the hue. Mixing black with a hue will darken it, producing a shade. When a color is mixed with both white and black (in other words, with gray), this is called a tone.


Finally, intensity, also called chroma, refers to the relative purity of a color. A pure hue has the highest intensity. Intensity is diminished as we add white, black, or gray to the hue.

Keeping these concepts in mind, we can see that one of the things we need to keep in mind when considering the color of a space is the hue. Hues like blue, for instance, can have a calming effect. One of the other things to consider is the value (which is related to intensity). We can choose darker shades to make a room feel smaller and cozier or lighter tints for a more spacious and clean feel.

Hudson Yards Project

Color and Design

Given the impact of color we have explored here, it is no surprise that designers of various kinds are increasingly trying to pay attention to color out of a desire to affect human mood and behavior.

Marketers, for instance, use color to try to shape customers’ perceptions of a company and buying behavior. In internet marketing, to take one example, it has been shown that making buttons red increases the rate at which people click them. In Japan, experiments have been undertaken to use blue light to try to reduce suicides in train stations.

In interior design, those who are responsible for residential, commercial, educational, and other kinds of spaces try to use color as one way to make the environment work better for those who inhabit it.

At PROJECT AZ, we know how to use color not just to delight the eye but to create the ideal environment for living and working. If you’ve been thinking about how you can make your indoor space best promote your quality of life, get in touch with Ahmad to start the conversation about your project.


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