It is the question I am most commonly asked when giving interior decoration advice. You might think that painting kids bedrooms was pretty straight forward, especially when it comes to colour. Pink for girls, blue for boys, right? But the psychology of colour and how it affects our moods, (whether you realise it or not!) is a science; and one that has been around for 3000 years. Whether you are aware of it or not, the colours in your surroundings affect our moods, mental activity, emotional state and behaviour; and should be in the toolbox of everyone decorating for homes, educational settings, care homes and offices.
Ever wondered why restaurants are often painted in strong colours, especially red? Because red raises our blood pressure, just a little and actually makes us hungry. Whereas if you are trying to lose a little weight, invest in some blue plates. An American University has invested in research which shows that we will eat less, from a blue plate!
Colour has the most dramatic effect on the neurologically challenged. Children with autism for instance often experience heightened senses, noises seem louder and smells, stronger. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that they see colours more intensely. Only 10% saw colour as neurotypical children do and only 5% of children with autism saw muted colours. Some deep reds actually move and can appear fluorescent, making some children with autism angry and can even be painful, whilst white is too bright and can cause headaches or pain behind the eyes.
Big companies are using this science all the time, to influence how we feel about them and their products and more and more research is being done on how colours affect how we think and feel. Most of the time, we will not even notice these changes, they are subtle, but they are there and it would be a foolish parent/boss/headteacher, who was not at least be aware of this before decorating. So before you reach for the paint charts, read on…



Red can be used in childrens’ rooms but sparingly. Try combining with more calming colours.

Red, as we have already mentioned, raises the blood pressure, makes your heart beat slightly faster and makes your feel energised. Your brain is programmed to look at red, as it is used widely in nature to represent danger! If you are giving a presentation, red is great for ensuring that all eyes are on you and probably explains why red cars get more tickets than any other colour. So when it comes to decorating kids bedrooms, use with care. Many would feel it was absolutely wrong for a nursery, but it is in fact one of the three colours a new born baby can see, however, it should be used with care for a child of any age. Fine for an accent colour, but keep away from eye-line when your child is in bed.
Mix red with white however, and pink has completely different properties. Pale pink is consistently the favourite colour of autistic children and some of the world’s most dangerous criminals are housed in pink cells as it calms and sooths, like no other colour. It rids the body of aggression and drains energy. So if it works for hardened criminals, it might just work for your teenage daughter?!
Yellow is an interesting one…it’s associations with the sun and laughter are justified, yellow actually increases the levels of serotonin (the feel good chemical) produced. It stimulates creativity and it’s ability to lift your spirits can not be denied so make it an excellent choice for decorating workplaces. Yellow is also good for those with dementia, the lens yellows as we get older so everything takes on a more yellowy hue, making a deep yellow particularly visible. However, babies are known to cry more in a yellow nursery than any other colour, (no one as yet knows why…) so when it comes to decorating kids rooms, use with care and as an accent colour only.
Orange combines the feel good characteristics of yellow, with the attention seeking of red to make the most sociable colour you can get. It is a warm, happy colour that encourages ambition and creativity, perfect for a creative business or a boardroom. If you have a shy child, introducing orange into their room can have a positive influence; it is also an excellent choice for social spaces in care homes.
Peach and coral tones are excellent choices for the elderly too. These reflect well off skin tones and make people look (and therefore feel) better. They also have the added bonus of making us feel warm too.


dementia home seascape mural

Blues are calming and soothing and we have used dark contrast colours.

Blue is the colour of the sky and the sea. Your body will produce calming chemicals on seeing blue and it also focuses the mind. A great colour for kids studying for exams, workers are proven to be more productive in a blue room and weight lifters can lift heavier weights in a blue gym! Be careful on the shades of blue you use when decorating kids bedrooms, too much blue can be cold and unwelcoming. Aim for blues with a green undertone.
Green is the nurturing colour, again, very calming, it brings harmony and peace. It releases energy in a steady way and is a great alternative to pink, where pink is not an option! Green also has positive overtones because of it’s association with conservation and the environment. From a business point of view, it is a colour that evokes trustworthiness and confidence, great for accountants and solicitors. Green is also good for a nervous child who likes reassurance and stability. In some cultures, green is also said to bring money and fertility…you have been warned.
Adolescent girls are most likely to pick purple as their favourite colour, which is good, as it helps the brain to solve problems and work things out. Due to the cost of the pigment in early times, it traditionally denotes wealth and status, however we now know it promotes brain activity and encourages wisdom, so another great colour for the office or boardroom. Resist the temptation to use in excess though; it works best in smaller amounts…
Black and white are not strictly colours at all. Black is what you get in the absence of all colour and white is the combination of all the colours. Both used to denote evil and mourning in different cultures, they have the benefit of going with all the other colours. Both should be used sparingly though, too much white is cold and sterile, making rooms feel like the inside of a fridge, too much black can be oppressive and depressing.
So in summary, choosing colours to decorate is often down to what you like, but knowing the effect if could have on the occupants mood and behaviour is useful and could help you make life just that little bit easier.

This is an update of a blog I first published in February 2012 and includes findings from further studies carried out since then.