Home & Garden

From bold statements to soothing sentiments, color can evoke emotion

Erin Owen

The exterior of this home on the northeast side of Cedar Rapids was repainted recently. Before it was a light, peach-flesh tone color with a white door. It’s new dark, neutral exterior and chartreuse door make a bold statement. Will everyone like it? No. It’s likely though that everyone will take notice.
Erin Owen The exterior of this home on the northeast side of Cedar Rapids was repainted recently. Before it was a light, peach-flesh tone color with a white door. It’s new dark, neutral exterior and chartreuse door make a bold statement. Will everyone like it? No. It’s likely though that everyone will take notice.

More than any other design element, color evokes an audible response. It’s instinctual and usually intractable.

Maybe you can restrain from blurting out “oh, my” when reacting to a family member’s color choice. But you may find your filter off when out in public.

On a recent walk through the neighborhood with out-of-state relatives, I stopped when I heard my mother-in-law exclaim, “Ewww.” What had she seen? Was it an animal casualty or a cloud of gnats in her face? No. It was just a door.

Oh, and that door was painted chartreuse.

A color that falls between green and yellow, chartreuse has many values. It can be bright or muddy — like a child’s toy or split pea soup. With powerful associations to things we like or dislike, it’s no wonder people have such a positive or negative instinctual response to color.

For colors that have such positive associations, it’s hard to see how a color adjacent to the two could go so wrong. Green represents nature, growth and balance, and yellow radiates joy, optimism and energy.

Just as we associate items with color, there are emotions connected to color. Black makes people feel somber, orange inspires optimism and yellow imparts confidence.

The reactions to color are supported by research from the field of color psychology.

Color psychology studies how hues affect our thoughts, actions and emotions and identifies the meaning behind colors. This is not another thing for which we can thank millennials. Egyptians studied colors’ effects on mood and holistic healing. They found red helped with circulation and stimulated the body and mind. Blue soothed pain. These hold true to this day.

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Red stimulates the appetite. When companies choose colors for their logos and interiors, they consider what the colors represent and how the public will respond to them. Think of all the red used in restaurants — Five Guys, McDonald’s and Dairy Queen.

When we find colors beyond their defined meanings, such as red tile in the bathroom, it can be jarring. Friends of ours removed the alternating red and white tile surrounding the bathtub in their bathroom. The tile reminded her of Chuck E. Cheese. A loud playroom full of children is definitely at odds with a calming bath.

At the other extreme, some people put their favorite color everywhere regardless of emotional impact or meaning.

My husband’s grandmother loves red, and she uses it throughout her home.

It’s most striking in the bathroom, which has a red laminate counter. We’ve come to expect to see her in red, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Neutrals have become the standard for new construction. But once a house has become your home, does that white, beige or greige really reflect who you are?

Color is a visual representation of our personalities and a way of letting the world know who we are. Some people are vibrant in saturated jewel tones and others are more reserved in relaxing blues and greens.

Don’t limit yourself to containing color to accent pieces in your home. If it makes you happy, paint your front door your favorite color. Stand by your choice. Go ahead, let the neighbors talk.

• Erin Owen graduated from the interior design program at Kirkwood Community College. She has worked as a commercial and residential interior designer. Comments: erin.n.owen@gmail.com.

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