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A short guide to using colour in the home

According to Professor Iain Stewart (How to Grow a Planet), we have fruit to thank for the colour in our world, or for our ability to see it. It seems that when fruit first appeared on earth sometime after the dinosaurs’ departure, animals, particularly primates, ate it up greedily, not waiting until the fruit was actually ripe. As a result, a lot of fruit was discarded half eaten, before the precious seeds within were ready to be dispersed. Since seed dispersal is crucial for a plant’s survival as a species, the fruit-bearing plants evolved a strategy to stop the waste: they made sure that their fruit would be sweet and juicy and brightly coloured when it was ready to eat. But in order for the primates to see that colour, they had to have eyes that were not colour blind, as most animals’ eyes are. We therefore evolved the ability to see colour, the professor explains, so we’d know when the bananas were ready to eat.

Now that that has been taken care of, we use colour for other purposes, like design. We know that different colours have a different effect on us emotionally. Green is a soothing colour, perhaps because we associate it with the primordial forests where we first noticed it. Children with attention deficit disorder have been found to settle down when green foliage and landscapes are visible. Red, on the other hand, is usually associated with power and dominance, as well as with wealth and success in Asia. Blue evokes coolness and status, yellow is associated with intuition.

Colour in light also affects us. Experiments have shown that people are more alert in rooms where the light is blue tinged, less so when the light has more red in it.

Here is a graphic created by the design firm Design55 to help give a sense of where colours can be used to best effect in the home.

colour-chart-emotion-bathroom-design-Condo.ca
Source: Design55

The warmth or coolness of colour also has an effect on us, even a physiological one. Warm colours like red, orange and yellow have been linked to increased heart rate and blood pressure, while cool greens, blues and purples have the opposite effects. This, some would argue, makes it important to have a good balance of warm and cool colours in a room.

Another important aspect of colour is sometimes called its saturation level—the more intense the colour, the greater the saturation. The effect is not only different visually, with more saturated colours looking in some cases like entirely different colours, but the different saturation level is also thought to have a different effect on the emotions. More saturated colours stimulate, less saturated colours restrain. If intense blue stimulates idealism, paler blue can suggest introversion.

colour-design-decor-style-emotion-intellect-saturated-Condo.ca
Source: Design55

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