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Paint Primer: Embracing Color

By Lavender February 26, 2009

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The old design proverb is true: Painting your walls a lighter color can make your room look larger. Dark colors tend to make a room feel smaller. Brandi Hagen, Principal Designer at Eminent Interior Design, asks, “But what’s wrong with that? It’s not really making your room smaller, and what’s wrong with a really comfortable, cozy room?”

Perhaps it’s our American sense of Manifest Destiny, demonstrated in our long-suffering interiors, or our unwillingness to part with a style trend hatched in the 1980s. But most interior designers say that convincing clients to step outside of the proverbial white or beige box can be an uphill battle.

Lisa Peck, Principal Designer with Lilu Interiors, relates, “Frequently, I work with clients on more than one project. The first one will be about trying to get them to accept color. And for the second one—they embrace it.”

Embracing wall color is not only advantageous for the flow of your home. It actually can be safer for your health.

Peck recalls, “I had a client back in the ’80s who lived in a house with one of those all-white kitchens. She went to the doctor, and they said, ‘It seems like you have snow blindness!’ So, we came in to add some color.”

The effects of color on our emotional well-being can be absolutely extraordinary, as Frank H. Mahnke and Rudolph Mahnke state in their book Color and Light in Man-made Environments, which warns against overly drab interiors: “[People] subjected to [visual] under-stimulation showed symptoms of restlessness, excessive emotional response, difficulty in concentration, irritation, and, in some cases, a variety of more extreme reactions.”

One of those reactions involved an office worker taking a hammer to a luckless paperweight.

Even though adding wall color can be a do-it-yourself project, Hagen cautions against going it completely alone: “If you’re doing it all yourself, you can still hire a designer to help you with your paint colors. An hour of your designer’s time can sometimes be the cost of a gallon of paint. It is money well-spent.”

Different colors can stimulate different parts of the brain, and a good designer will keep that in mind when selecting paint colors.

According to a recent study conducted at the University of British Columbia, red promotes attention to detail, while blue inspires creativity.

Peck finds red to be a social color that also stimulates the appetite. Therefore, she believes it is a great choice for a dining room. She deems cooler tones to be more calming, and yellows uplifting.

“Depending on what you want people’s experiences to be, and the amount of time you want them to spend in a space, you can use color to evoke that,” Peck explains.

It can be tricky to find the correct shade for certain colors, but rewarding when done well, such as desaturated purples and warm grays.

“In bedrooms in particular, [purple is] very restful, and it can actually help people sleep better,” Peck notes

In choosing a wall color, Hagen, who generally recommends colors found in nature, points out, “Anything you don’t see in the sunset or naturally in the environment—make sure you think about twice, because it’s going to be pretty intense.”

That’s not to say bright colors don’t have their place, but they may serve homeowners better in a backsplash, as an accent color to highlight architectural elements, or in an entryway where people won’t be spending too much time.

Home offices should be tailored to an individual’s behavior traits.

As Hagen remarks, “Bold bright colors are not good ideas in nurseries, but depending on your personality type, it can be a good idea to paint your office that way. But if you’re a high-strung person, it would not be a good idea at all. You would want calm, soothing colors. Shades of green are really good in offices, because people feel calm, and it has a certain amount of a social feel to it as well, especially if you stick towards more of a yellow green.”

It’s probably an overstatement to blame all our personal weaknesses on the wrong paint color, although it certainly holds more water than the Twinkie Defense. But just to be safe, if you feel run down and irritable when you enter a certain room in your home, it may be wise to invest in a gallon of paint…before you reach for the hammer.

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