Color by Design

COLOR Symbolism / Associations / Therapy

Welcome to the fifth of a series of short articles about color: Learning about color, choosing colors, living with color, and color around the world. This month: The meanings of individual hues.

Color Symbolism – These are some of the historical meanings of colors around the world:

Sacred to the ancient Chinese / Egyptians / Greeks – only certain people could wear yellow – a sign of power
Traditionally – stands for fun & wisdom
Associated with cheerfulness / even spirit / happiness / brightness
Less tense than reds / oranges
Yellow tints (creams / beiges) are “safe” / easy colors to use – no negative implications
A very easy color to use & incorporate into many color schemes
Too much can be boring…

Historically symbolic because of its boldness & attention-getting nature
Symbolically associated with countries / political movements – China / Russia / Nazi Germany…
The MOST vital / bold color – the pure chroma should be used sparingly & for emphasis
Arouses your senses / stimulates the appetite / attracts attention / increases the heart rate & respiration
Considered hot / dramatic / stimulating – also associated with tension / danger
Red has a large range of tints / shades = pinks to burgundies
Orange is considered more of an earth tone color – sharing many of the same attributes of red but in a much milder form
Orange also has a large range of tints / shades = copper / peach / salmon / terra cotta…

Traditionally has stood for hope / truth / honor
Considered a restful color – soothing / repose / dignity
Overuse can cause gloom / depression “to have the blues…”

Very ancient color – symbol of royalty (very costly to produce as a pigment)
Considered dramatic / regal
Associated with spiritualism / mystery / pride / wisdom
It intimates tension & depression
Projects dignity (royal purple)

Associated with life / nature / spring / hope / envy
Overused in the 1930’s = institutional green
Thought of as restful / calming / peaceful / serenity / constructive
A color that can be worked into almost any scheme (plants)…

To the ancient Greeks, symbolized life – “out of night day was born”
Many cultures consider black to be a color of mourning
Very powerful accent color – can be depressing or overwhelming if used too much
Considered strong / sophisticated
Suggests weight / dignity / formality / solemnity

Also considered a sign of mourning in some Eastern cultures
Sign of purity / innocence / faith / peace & surrender / cleanliness / openness / clarity

Black & White technically not colors (no pigment in either one) – they act like a neutral but technically not neutrals…
Black & White can make other colors crisp

Color Associations (Western Societies) – Reflects some of our deepest feelings about colors:

Red: battle, blood, passion, love, excitement, danger, warning, power, courage, sin, vitality (Historically: royalty & triumph)
Red-Orange: spirit, energy, gaiety, impetuousness, strength, boldness, action
Orange: friendliness, pride, ambition, warmth, relaxation, stimulated appetite

Yellow-Orange: happiness, prosperity, hospitality, optimism, openness
Yellow: sunlight, springtime, optimism, cheerfulness, safety, mild stimulation, mental alertness
Yellow-Green: friendship, sparkle, youth, warmth, restlessness, newness

Green: nature, calmness, freshness, friendliness, stability, proceed, health & well-being
Blue-Green: quietness, reserve, smoothness, faithfulness
Blue: truth, honesty, loyalty, integrity, authority, coolness, relaxation, formality, simplicity, encouraged thought and contemplation, openness, spaciousness

Blue-Violet: tranquility, spiritualism, modesty, reflection, somberness, maturity, aloofness, dignity, fatigue
Violet (Purple): contradiction of warm & cool – tension & ambiguity, disturbing, OR subtlety, sensitivity.
Red-Violet: drama, perplexity, enigma, intrigue, remoteness, tension

Brown: related to pure hue they’re associated with but with lower intensity of response – casual, warm & comforting,
natural, earthy (dirt & soil), friendly, humility, tranquil

Black: strength, seriousness, dignity, formality, emptiness, fear, depression, death, mourning, sophistication, gloom, uncertainty, sorrow, mystery
Grey: Variation of white to black & warm to cool: relationship to stronger element
White: purity, simplicity, cleanliness, joy, hope, innocent, spiritual, enlightenment, delicate, forgiveness, love,
emptiness, boredom, symbolic of modernism

IN GENERAL: Cool / Darks / Grey’s = quiet, meditative, introspective – Warm / Light / Bright = outgoing

Chromo therapy (Color Therapy) – How colors can affect and help us when we need a little health assistance:
Color stimulates the pituitary & pineal glands affecting hormone production.
Mental Hospitals – Depression treated by exposure to red & yellow environment.
Hyperactivity treated by exposure to blue & green environment (lower blood pressure)

Blue: relieves pain of ulcers, back problems, rheumatism, inflammatory disorders, high blood pressure
Green: helps nervous disorders, exhaustion, heart problems, cancer, dieting
Violet: suppresses appetite, helps kidney problems & migraines
Red: aids sexual dysfunction, anemia, bladder infections, skin problems, low blood pressure
Pink: soothes anxiety, withdrawal symptoms. Helpful in institutional interiors (hospitals, prisons, rehab centers).
Orange: stimulates appetite, reduces fatigue, improves general weakness, allergies
Yellow: improves memory, increases blood pressure/pulse rate (less than red), helps depression, muscle cramps, hypoglycemia, gallstones
Black: power color, improves self-confidence, and suppresses appetite
White: Visually creates a glare condition. It constricts the pupil of the eye and gives a foggy quality to vision.
In white rooms, brightness contrast with darker colors will fatigue the eye rapidly (too much contrast too quickly) and the eye cannot adjust fast enough – will be disorienting – one can fall, can get headaches

Future topics of interest …
Color Tips of the Trade
Color and Art
Color around the world

Cynthia Peacock is a professional Interior Designer (member of the American Society of Interior designers, ASID) and Principal of her own design firm, PEACOCK Interior Design, LLC. Cynthia has worked on a wide variety of outstanding projects (residences, offices, hotels, ships) in her 16 year career as an Interior Designer, and finds that color is the constant challenge, joy, and reward. If you are color-challenged, and need gentle guidance, Cynthia may be contacted