Monday Inspiration: How We React Emotionally To Colour

My colour psychology series has been one of the most popular on the blog over the last few years and as I’m still running through the spectrum I thought it would be timely to share this post with you again that talks about our emotional reaction to colour and if you like this then come back tomorrow when I am going to be sharing details of a course I did on this a couple of years ago which helps you find your colours according to the seasons. 

Starting off this week with some very calming colours. We had a location shoot in the house last week which lasted six days. That includes a day to paint two rooms – the bathroom and sitting room – and then paint them back again when the shoot was over.

styling by @blackshorestyle
styling by Sally Denning @blackshorestyle

My dark green bathroom (see below) was painted in Hardwick White by Farrow and Ball, which I think is probably a very lovely shade, when it’s not next to my pale pink window frames and cool grey Carrara marble tiles. The sitting room went from its usual chocolate brown to Skylight (also by Farrow & Ball) and also a pretty shade, but one that didn’t work at all with my furniture. The room immediately became cold and, to my eyes, unwelcoming.

You can see both rooms and changes below but the thing that I hadn’t been prepared for was my emotional attachment to the paint colours I live with on a day to day basis.

image by @devolkitchens
image by @devolkitchens

I’ve said before that when decorating a room you need to find the colours you love but also to work out how they make you feel. We react to colour in one, or two, of three ways – culturally (for the Dutch orange can be football, while for the US it might be prison), physically (a gut reaction to a colour that is instinctive – for me it’s primrose yellow that I don’t like) and emotionally. And it’s this latter that I knew intellectually, but wasn’t quite prepared for.

I was basically relaxed about a crew of 18 in the house, with sleeping, working and eating in the loft while our bedroom doubled up as hair, make-up and wardrobe for the bathroom next door, and the library was filled with kit and furniture from the newly emptied sitting room, while those members of the crew not needed on set set up camp at the kitchen table. But I was not prepared for how unrelaxed I would find being in rooms in my own house that were painted in colours that I hadn’t chosen and wouldn’t have chosen once they had all left for the day and we were able to go into the sitting room for evening.

styled by @style_by_lucy for @surfaceview
styled by  Lucy Gough @style_by_lucy for @surfaceview

Thankfully, all is back to normal now and I will be talking about about renting your house out as a location shoot on Thursday’s podcast so drop back then to find out more about how it all works.

So the key lesson (if there is a such a thing) from today’s post is that it really is important, not just to work out what colours you love and want to live in, but how you react to them on an emotional level.

by @agi_at_59 mural by @surfaceview
by @agi_at_59 mural by @surfaceview

Today’s rooms have been chosen for their strong statements but also to give you something to consider. Perhaps a colour that you might not have been considering, or a bold pattern. The first two are both soft greeny grey colours which, personally I find restful.

But, crucially – for me at least – both include elements of black to provide “punctuation” or stop them looking too wishy washy. And, in the case of the top one, the warm ochre shades warm up a colour that might otherwise be cold.

green room by almost_everything_off-ebay
green room by Robyn Donaldson @almost_everything_off-ebay

Then there are two rooms with strong patterns (both by Surface View. The top one is still very restful with the pink flowers to add more drama but the key to this scheme is the juxtaposition with the lime green cabinet. I would never have chosen that, but I love it. For me it works really well and while the room isn’t quite as calm as it would be with a traditional wooden one, it is the very unexpectedness of it that appeals.

A similar mural, this time in pink provides a stunning backdrop to this bedroom. I love that it has been supersized to create an almost Alice in Wonderland feel as it’s so large. It’s also a child’s bedroom, so the strong colours work really well. If it were mine I would have made more of the green to drop it all back down again and create a space that I would find more restful. And that’s the key. How do these rooms make you feel – and remember these are real rooms by real people so bear that in mind when leaving comments and focus on your emotional response.

metro tiles bathroom by @blackard_modernfarmhouse
metro tiles bathroom by @blackard_modernfarmhouse

Green is known to be a restful colour and it connects us to the outside. It can be hard to find the right one for you but when you do you should find that room calming, restful and productive as well.

Finally, before leaving these rooms to show you my own “befores and afters” this gorgeous bathroom which ticks many of my personal boxes, although many of you might react quite differently. Note also the brilliant sliding door which looks vintage as it’s panelled but has a modern feel to it and saves space from the rooms either side of it.

kws bathroom in dark green
madaboutthehouse bathroom in Spruce Things Up by Dowsing & Reynolds

Now here is my bathroom as it usually is – Spruce Things Up by Dowsing & Reynolds, which is a beautiful green. They are currently looking for new paint suppliers so it’s not currently available but they assure me it will be back.

And below in Hardwick White. What a different feel. I know it’s not the best image as I grabbed it on my phone when the crew were out of the way and I wasn’t allowed to show you how they dressed with their own shower gels and towels etc but I was very uncomfortable with the colour next to the tiles. And the pink window isn’t visible but they didn’t get on at all.

madaboutthehouse bathroom in hardwick white
madaboutthehouse bathroom in hardwick white

And my pale blue sitting room. It felt much colder than this image shows but it was more about the sense that none of my furniture belonged in this setting. If I had liked the colour I would have had to buy a new lamp for sure.

madaboutthehouse sitting room in skylight by farrow and ball
madaboutthehouse sitting room in skylight by farrow and ball

Back to normal here. Perhaps it is the familiarity and I know that not everyone likes dark rooms but this makes me feel calm and happy and, most importantly of all, home.

 madaboutthehouse sitting room in fallen plum by atelier ellis
madaboutthehouse sitting room in fallen plum by atelier ellis

What do you think? Do share your best and worst colours below and how they make you feel.



Tags : calming colourscolour psychologydeVolfarrow and ballmonday inspirationsurface view
Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. We do react to different to different colors. For that reason i painted my house light green. It looks as if I am in nature and my spirits are high most of the time because of that.

    Your home looks lovely to me

  2. I live in an old timber framed cottage (18th century we think), so the rooms can be quite dark – especially the sitting room. Instead of trying to make it lighter we went with Jewel Beetle by Little Greene – which is a rich, luscious, dark green. I painted 3 walls that colour and the fourth in Portland Stone, also by Little Greene. The only reason we painted the fourth wall a lighter colour was it was the only wall that was full of lovely exposed beams which were stained brown, so we wanted them to stand out. I am in the process of decorating the whole house, so the room is no-where near finished (a wooden floor is being laid this weekend!), but I already love my green, cocoon-like sitting, which will be teamed with heather-colour accessories (maybe?)…. The dining room next door has been painted in the same colours, but the other way round – one wall, green 3 walls Portland Stone, because it is a much lighter room, but I have a massive, almost floor to ceiling cabinet that will be painted a sort of deep, cobalt blue (courtesy of Annie Sloan) – which I will ‘mirror’ slightly in the other rooms. Obsessed with interior decor? Oh yes! Having fun? Oh yes! Love the posts by the way…

    1. It sounds wonderful. I like the idea of mirroring between rooms and have often suggested in a double reception room – when two rooms are knocked together, typically in Victorian houses. One with dark walls and woodwork and an off-white or pale ceiling and then carry the dark woodwork to the next room and paint the walls in the ceiling colour from the first. You can also do a dark ceiling to mirror the walls of the dark room too.

  3. I love the branch mural with the lime green, so punchy! I feel like I might not want to sit directly with it because it’s such a strong statement, but would have room for it in a dining room or hallway. The details of the wall covering are beautiful. I definitely have strong emotional reactions to colour but do t always find it easy to make the right choice for walls. Tips would be appreciated!

  4. With our help my family bought a lovely 1908 house. But they had very little money to have it decorated so went for basic pale colours. The dining room is north facing, painted off white, became a sort of play room with the piano. A waste as little used. Gentle nagging over a 3 year period and they finally trusted me and painted it Stiffkey blue. White ceiling, large window and doors. The 6 year old helped with a paint roller too.
    AMAZING! Very beautiful. They all congregate to this room now and made it the dinning room, where they play the piano, board games and do work at the table. Dinner party guests rarely move to the sitting room after the meal here.

  5. I suppose that it’s not just the emotional response to the colours on the wall, but also their relationship to the other elements in the room, the tiles, the rugs, the light fittings. It’s a good lesson.

  6. This is a great post. Colour is very emotional and when you choose a colour, living inside it can be a big change, and for me it’s for the better. I’m on the hunt for a calming, but dark bedroom colour, as I think I’ve picked a dark blue that’s too ‘hot’. I love the greens you’ve selected, but I’m worried about styling with green. It’d be great see posts on styling with dark, bolder colours as that’s the next biggest concern next to the ‘feeling’ of the room colour.

  7. What amazes me is that they managed to repaint two rooms twice in two days! I need to speak to my decorator!!

  8. The bathroom colour they chose is, in my view, an unfortunate colour for any bathroom. Looks drab and corporate. And corporate does not make sense with painted floorboards.

    I don’t mind the colour they suggested for your sitting room, but certainly NOT with your furniture or rugs. And certainly not for a room in a house for someone who clearly gravitates to warmer colours.

  9. Personally I loved Skylight and would have liked to see the pink chaise in the photo too. It can be so helpful ( esp for amateurs like me with strong opinions🙈) to see the same room & furniture in different colours/ moods. Thank you for this & your daily insights .

  10. I agree that Hardwick White, while a lovely color, makes your bathroom look really bland when matched with your grey tiles. It also completely erases the delineation of your shower space. And of course, that color in your living room is all wrong. Would have required all new furniture for the shoot!
    We painted our living and dining room a soft grey/green which could have been a tiny bit paler. What I love about it is the soothing feeling it provokes and the fact that it blends so nicely with the exterior view with all the green vegetation. I think it is a very natural color which does require some light accessories, especially artwork. And of course, some black punctuation which we achieved with the piano, cabinet knobs, frames, coffee table, curtain rods, and ceiling spotlights.

  11. Painted my 26yr old son’s north facing bedroom charcoal by Neptune which has a dark teal cast . Even painted fitted wardrobes and added gold hardware – I was surprised how cocooning the room is . It was a bold choice but it works . Worst – i now have a phobia of grey and my living room is grey with grey velvet settees which I can’t change . Stumped as to how to change the walls and still keep the furniture ! It’s a big room with a pine floor .

  12. What’s interesting is why the shoot people wanted to change your PERFECT colours. And then, having decided to change them, to pick those two which obviously would not look right. Did they paint the woodwork as well?

  13. I much prefer your colour schemes! Please could you let me know the colours used on the ceiling and floor of the sitting room. Thank you.

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