Mad About . . .

Colour Psychology: Red

4th July 2019
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One of the three primary colours, red is perhaps the most manipulative colour on the wheel. It is associated with extremes of emotion both good and bad – passion and anger, fortune and fury, blood and money, warnings and celebrations.

We roll out the red carpet  on a red letter day and if that goes well we might paint the town red afterwards. But if that award doesn’t come our way, we might see red. Or perhaps we are down to our last red cent after buying an outfit for that party. Maybe the invitation was nothing more than a red herring anyway.



There are more sayings associated with this most volatile of colours than any other.

It is the first colour of the rainbow, the one that we always see, even when the others are nothing more than a vague shimmering presence – visible mainly because we know they are there.

atomic red walls by little greene in the home of sophie robinson

atomic red walls by little greene in the home of sophie robinson

When it comes to our homes, despite red being the colour of passion it should rarely be used in a bedroom. Probably because it raises energy levels too much and isn’t conducive to a good night’s sleep.  There’s a fine line between a night of passion and a blazing row after all.

Having said that, some red and white stripes in a bedroom can increase self-confidence and bring a fresh summery vibe to the space. Just don’t take it too far. You don’t want to end up in Christian Grey’s red room of pain.

Red is better downstairs as it stimulates conversation, which is why you so often find it in the dining room where it should ensure lively debate around the table.

According to Chinese philosophy red is the colour of luck, which is why so many of their restaurants are painted in it. You enter, assume your appetite is being stimulated, eat loads, pay a huge bill, the owner gets lucky.

black and white and pink and red by @nudeandthenovice

black and white and pink and red by @nudeandthenovice

It’s not surprising, given all these associations, that red creates a strong first impression. Use it in your hallway if you dare, at least it will get it noticed.

But before you paint the sitting room red, bear in mind there’s a reason that red cars cost more to insure and that’s because, when we see red, our reactions speed up and become more forceful. But that boost of energy may be short-lived and, crucially, red can reduce your analytical thinking.

So the key to using red in interiors is to keep it to an accent colour. A muted red in a monochrome scheme will provide a cheering splash of colour or paired with dark blue will give a more rustic palette.

pink and green kitchen via the modern house

But before we leave red, what about its gentle cousin, pink? It may surprise you to know that until the 1940s, when it was changed as part of a US marketing scheme, pink was for boys and not, as it is today associated with all things feminine.

In June 1918 an article in Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger colour, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

picture gallery red from farrow and ball (with jitney and schoolhouse white) image by Matthew Willams

Pink is also a calming colour. In 2013, it was reported that a Swiss prison had painted around 30 cells pink and that anger levels were reduced in around 15 minutes although inmates were usually kept in for around two hours.

Basically if you take the associations of red and water them down a bit you get to pink – both literally and metaphorically. So if red is passion pink is tenderness. Pink is contentment and calming rather than provoking.


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  • Nikki Davidson-Bowman 5th July 2019 at 9:42 am

    What a fabulously informative article Kate. I have some red walls in my house and all accidentally in places where we like to have have deep chats. I also work with red threads in my artwork- that is based on Japanese mythology that we are all in some way connected by a red thread and this is linked to our own friendships and relationships. A powerful colour for sure.

  • MADY DEUTSCH 4th July 2019 at 11:43 am

    Here is a link to photos of the red living room of Vogue magazine’s late editor, Diana Vreeland. Enjoy!

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