Unlocking the Power of Color Psychology in Interiors

Color is Everything

Explore how hues affect your interior space

Humans have used Interior design as an art form for centuries to create unique and aesthetically pleasing environments. Whether you’re inventing a living room, kitchen, office, or communal space, color plays a critical role in the design process. We refer to this as color psychology — the study of how colors impact our emotions, behaviors, and overall well-being. Color can influence the way people perceive a space and how they interact within it.

In this blog post, we’ll explore:

What Is Interior Design Color Theory?

In interior design, color theory refers to the rules and guidelines designers follow to leverage color combinations and schemes within a room. Colors harmonize a space to create a cohesive theme or image. It also has psychological impacts on the people within the space.

For decades, marketers and brands have relied on color psychology to produce specific results or reactions from their audiences. Interior designers can take a page from this playbook to evoke reactions or instill specific vibes in their spaces.

The Psychological Effects of Color

Colors can be powerful tools that influence our mood, emotions, and perceptions of quality and ambiance. In literature, marketing, and interior design, we subtly associate different colors with different meanings and emotions.

Let’s break it down by hue:




Cozy (when not overdone)




Money vibes


Images of water and the sky






Down to earth



How Color Theory Impacts Design Choices

Commercial interior designers use color theory in different ways. The ultimate goal is twofold: create a visually appealing aesthetic while also playing to the perceptions of the space’s visitors. To do this, designers have a few options:

Choosing Color Based on the Color Wheel

A mainstay in a designer’s toolkit, the color wheel illustrates how various colors work together (in theory). It’s compromised of all basic colors arranged in a circle in a way that helps designers choose complementing colors.

The three primary colors (red, blue, and yellow) make up the “points” of the color wheel. One spot to the right of each of these colors are secondary colors (green, blue, and purple), which are made by combining primary colors. In the remaining spots are tertiary colors, which are created by combining primary and secondary colors or primary colors in a 2:1 ratio. Complementary colors are those that sit directly opposite each other on the color wheel.

Using the color wheel removes some of the guesswork when choosing colors that naturally look good together.

Choosing Colors Based on Color Schemes

A color scheme emerges when designers develop logical color combinations with the use of a color wheel. Examples of a color scheme include:

  • Monochromatic: Multiple tones are made up of the same color in varying shades.
  • Ombre: Also called analogous, this color scheme uses colors that are next to each other on the color wheel.
  • Triatic: Tones are evenly spaced out on the color wheel.
  • Complementary: Colors are directly opposite each other on the color wheel.
  • Split Complementary: Similar to complementary, this scheme uses opposite colors while splitting one color into two adjacent colors.

Choosing Colors Based on Temperature

Interior designers separate colors into two categories: warm colors and cool colors. Warm tones include reds, oranges, and yellows and work to energize a space. These colors invite light and life and may create feelings of happiness and positivity simply by being present.

Cool tones include blue tones and purples. They bring the energy level down a notch to invite feelings of calmness.

When choosing colors for interior design, it’s important to consider the goals of the space. For multi-family residential communities, for example, you might find a balance of warm and cool tones works best depending on the individual spaces within the complex.

Choosing Color Based on Associations

Color has different meanings in various settings. These meanings can also vary by location and culture.

In the US, we tend to see predictable color schemes in certain places because of the images associated with those places. For example, a women’s gym is likely to feature lots of pink and purple to cater to a feminine audience. Yoga studios are all about instilling balance and harmony in customers, so shades of greens, browns, and blues are common here.

Why Color Theory Matters in Commercial Interior Design

Color theory applies to all design use cases, but its prominence in commercial interior design cannot be understated. Rather than designing to suit one homeowner’s unique tastes, you’re catering to a variety of residents, visitors, and users, each with their own unique tastes, experiences, and perceptions that will affect how they respond to your design.

Designers benefit from color theory best practices because it offers an organized way to choose colors that will enhance the experiences of those who use the space.

Choosing neutral color palettes (such as grays, browns, or tans) is a safe choice. They’re universally appealing, plus you never have to worry about your design becoming stale. However, these color schemes do little to differentiate a space, especially if you’re trying to attract a certain demographic or personality.

Learning more about color theory beyond neutrals can help you to experiment with various color schemes that create the desired outcome.

Applying Color Psychology to Your Next Project

Color trends may come and go, but the psychology of color is lasting. No matter your next design project — whether you’re preparing student housing for Gen Z or creating an upscale living community for Gen X — you can apply color psychology basics to achieve a unique aesthetic that stands out.

Our commercial interior design team can help you achieve your goals by combining color psychology with your facility and its people. Contact us today to learn more!