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Small House Color

Tiny bath - red, blue, yellowOne of the most problematic areas people have with their homes is color. Color challenges and confuses us with it power and variety. It's easy to fall in love with color, but like the perfect mate, finding the right color oftens seems just beyond our grasp.

The good news is that color is relatively inexpensive and easy to change. The color table here introduces some of the basics of color theory, as well as a few cultural and psychological components of which you might not be aware.

Below, we discuss the basic colors including primary and secondary hues as well as neutrals. We also cover pink ... an interesting color not only for its endearing girliness, but also for its versatility.

The Primaries


Blue is one of the all-time most popular colors for interior spaces. Both men and women tend to favor it by a substantial margin.

  • Often the color of the sky and sea, blue is soothing, fresh, and cool. It tends to relax us and often inspires a sense of spirituality.
  • For this reason, blue is frequently the first choice for bedrooms.
  • Blue is thought to improve our focus and productivity making many blues a good choice for a child's room where homework is done. It's also an appropriate choice for a home office.
  • Many people choose blue for the perception of cleanliness it conveys making it a long-time favorite for bathrooms.
  • Interestingly, blues tend to suppress appetite. Despite our inherent distrust of blue foods, many people gravitate to blue in the kitchen as part of the color scheme. Combined with white, two of the most popular kitchen schemes are red and blue and blue and yellow. Both schemes have been consistently popular in kitchens for the last century.
  • Blues can seem cold, depressing, or dreary, which can often be balanced with warm undertones, warm pops of color like orange and red, or by selecting a blue that synchs up well with the natural and artificial lighting.

Physiologically, red increases blood pressure and respiration rate. It also makes people lose track of time and stimulates appetite.

  • Red is notable for its punch. It attracts our eye in a way other colors don't. Its heat, especially with orange and yellow undertones, adds warmth to most color combinations.
  • Red is a powerful color. It can easily become overwhelming, so many people who love red use it effectively as an accent color.
  • Earthy reds with lots of brown tend to feel comforting while adding sophistication to otherwise muted schemes. Brick red, cinnabar, and red-browns like mahogany are versatile, too.
  • Red is so eye attractive, it's important to ensure that you use it well. Clean, well-maintained furnishings look gorgeous, but dingy red ... not so much. Bluer reds, however, like crimson can age gracefully. Think vintage oriental carpets with a little patina.
  • More men than women like red, but interestingly women are better able to discriminate among various shades of red.

Associated with the sun, energy, and light, yellow is the color of intellect, curiousity, and extroversion.

  • A child's earliest artistic expression is often a yellow sun with rays. Yellow flowers and comfort foods like cheesy macaroni form the foundation of deep memories and feelings.
  • In nature, yellow can be a warning sign like striped bees and wasps, and because of its reflectivity, it attracts our eye like no other color. Bright, saturated yellow is often used for signage for that reason.
  • In terms of interior color, large swathes of yellow can fatigue the eye and be difficult to live with. Like red, it increases metabolism. Some research indicates that people may become more easily irritated in yellow rooms.
  • Yellow and gold often adds brilliance in rich schemes, especially with saturated dark shades. There is a connotation of wealth when it is used with jewel tones like emerald, sapphire, ruby, and amethyst.
  • Yellows that are easier to live with include paler hues like manila file folders and soft butter.
  • Yellows tending toward green, like chartreuse or acid green, tend to fluctuate in popularity but work particularly well with strong, modern, assertive schemes.
  • Yellow, more than any other color, tends to be loved or disliked intensely.

The Secondaries


From the fresh green of the first spring shoots to brilliant emerald jewel tones, green represents a vast spectrum of natural color. Green is frequently associated with water and tends to represent water, second only to blue. The range of greens runs from the yellow greens to bluer greens including turquoise, teal, and aqua.

  • Green expresses nature, growth, peace, and harmony. It is the most balanced color in the rainbow.
  • Though green is the combination of yellow and blue, because of it's prominence on our beautiful blue and green planet, it's much more common than other colors.
  • It's a profoundly healing color.
  • In interior color schemes, greens can be assertive like chartreuse or neutral like sage greens. Both have a place, however, chartreuse tends to be a punchy color with cyclical popularity. Sage green is very calm, neutral, and easy to live with.
  • Greens work well with all colors to one extent or another.
  • Green has strong earth-healthy connotations from "green-building" to organic food.

According to Leatrice Eiseman, the Pantone color guru, orange is the make-over winner of the last 100 years.

  • Historically, orange was originally an exotic color unappreciated until the advent of the delicious fruit from Asia. It was incorporated into art and the decorative arts for its brilliance and warmth. Appreciated for its playfulness and exuberance, Arts & Crafts designers used it abundantly. Soon it was used widely in fast-food, cheesy logos, and inexpensive plastics. Today, it has been rediscovered and now has a much more sophisticated connotation.
  • Oranges are cheerful, optimistic, and energetic. They are also often perceived as sophisticated and modern. Like other warm colors, it tends to improve appetite. Used in combination with yellow and a bit of green, it becomes an ideal choice for a fresh, modern kitchen.

Internationally, after blue, purple is the most popular color. It's complex, mysterious, sophisticated, and associated with vast wealth.

  • Purple is found everywhere in nature from tart berries to the round glistening eggplant. It occurs in an infinite range of hues from the blue purples to those with red undertones. When combined with black, shades include the mysteriousness of deep twilight ... with white, the daintiness of the elegant boudoir.
  • Purple is naturally associated with scent. Think lavender, heliotrope, and pinot noir.
  • There is literally a perfect purple for everyone.
  • Highly symbolic, purples have at different times represented the power of kings, the patina of the ancient grandmother, and the liberation of one's gay cousin.
  • Saturated purple is a dense, dark color that can provide a potent punch of color with great impact.
  • Muted shades of purple are subtle, but very flexible neutrals.

The Neutrals


Pure white is the presence of all color ... at least in terms of light.

  • White communicates perfection, simplicity, and purity.
  • More than any other color, white is perceived as clean. For more than twenty years at the beginning of the 20th century, white was the color of choice for bathrooms and kitchens. White was seen as both hygenic and sterile. As the understanding of germs and viruses progressed, the color white communicated the triumph of science and technology over disease.
  • Variations in white are easily detectable by the human eye so finding the right white can be challenging.
  • Almost all whites have some hint of color. When using white as a background color, a very light tint can tie a color scheme together. However, white without a tint can make even the cleanest furnishings grubby.



Black conveys authority and submissiveness, power and sophistication, simplicity and mystery. A classic color scheme is black with red and white, which becomes one of the all-time power color combinations.

  • Dark colors in general tend to make rooms seem dark and cavelike. If you want the essential cozy room use black and gray with ivory or tan to create a womb-like nest. Add a punch of color to add spice.
  • Generally, even for the most Gothic teen, black walls are usually darker than most people can handle. Painting over dark walls of any kind, especially black, takes way too many coats of paint to make for a fun weekend redecorating.
  • The number of color combinations using black are infinite though some have such strong cultural connotations that they are unlikely appeal to many. Halloween orange and black or the construction site black and bright yellow are two of the most prominent.
  • Black is a great spot color easily used to tie a room together. Using black paint to make old furniture work together is a trick that simplifies a room and updates a space almost magically. It's like great punctuation.
  • Black is often very elegant, and looks modern in almost any setting.
  • Used with whites and brights, it can be modern or traditional.
  • Adding black to any color creates a shade that can warm or cool the black to create a more effective color palette.

Various combinations of white and black results in a spectrum of infinite gray.


  • True gray rarely occurs in nature. Most often you will detect the faintest hints of other color such as mauve, green, or pink.
  • Said to enhance creativity, it's a soothing neutral for offices and studios, especially when it tends to the blue range. A gray flannel suit gray is an authority color used in business settings when professional gravitas is needed.
  • It's also a splendid background color for artwork and furnishings. Gray works well with every color palette by doing little more than moderating its warmth or coolness. (Gray is the color of choice for use as a background in color matching.)
  • Somewhat more casual than black, gray can be extremely stylish. Grays can be professional and no-nonsense, casual and soft, or modern and hard-edged.
  • Gray is versatile and useful in almost any setting.

Brown is a masculine favorite.

  • It conveys a sense of trustworthiness, stability, and loyalty. It reassures the viewer with its sensible shoe approach to the universe.
  • Browns work well where furnishings are worn and can have a patina of age without looking shabby.
  • Browns combine well with all spicy earth tones and are particularly well suited to family or play rooms. and are good for rooms that get a lot of use.
  • Browns encompass a huge range of neutrals.
  • Modernizing brown is often an exercise in uncommon combinations, which can result in sophisticated fresh schemes.



Pink is really the tint of red ... that is, it's red with white added. However, in color, especially in terms of usage and perception, pink is used in vastly different ways than red. As a pastel, it is often seen as a child's color and in Western culture is considered the quintessence of femininity.

  • Pink appears to create a calming, soothing environment.
  • In the last 100 years, pink has been consistently popular but with marked periods of favoritism in interior design.
  • Pink is sweet and dainty, childlike and innocent. It has historically combined well with pale blue for children's rooms, but has also been favored for bathrooms, bedrooms, and to a lesser extent has been popular in kitchens.
  • Pinks vary from light shell pinks to vibrant fuschias and with varying amounts of warm or cool tones to create a vast array of very comfortable color.
  • Many people look particularly good in pink rooms, which accounts to some extent for its popularity.
  • Combined with other colors pink is a terrific foil for modern schemes that may be too somber or serious. Pink adds an element of playfulness.

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