Color + Light: 5 Things You Should Know

Color is subjective, meaning it is perceived differently depending on the individual, context, culture, lighting, and much more. The main disclaimer, none of this information is absolute! Information involving color and light will vary slightly in any given situation. However, these are general notes to help when using color and light in design.



1)    Color is subjective based on different cultures. 


Each culture celebrates, utilizes and avoids specific colors for subjective reasons. For example, one color used to celebrate a holiday in one culture could be the color associated with mourning in another. Instead of avoiding the use of color in a space to avoid this conflict, it is better to understand the similarities across cultures. A well-designed space will have colors creating an atmosphere that can speak to many different cultures.


These aspects of color are generally accepted amongst different cultures:

•    A differentiation between warm and cool color tones.

            Warm colors include reds, oranges, and yellows. Cool colors have blue, green, and violet hues.

•    The differentiation between dark and light shades of a specific color.


Similarly, the saturation of a particular hue will change a colors meaning. For example, darker shades are seen as heavier and serious, when lighter colors indicate an opposite scenario of calm or playful.

These colors, whether they’re light, dark, warm, or cold affect human emotion, productivity, and even health. It is especially important to keep these color similarities in mind when designing for a range of different cultures. Instead of avoiding color, incorporating it subtly into the design in a more subdued tone is best. Below is an example of how subtle pops of red add excitement and depth to the space without being overpowering.



2)    We have our own unique color preference and so do homebuyers. 


Starting at a young age, people develop a color preference based on their experiences and colors associated with positive or negative memories. Remember back to your first favorite color; has it changed or stayed the same? Before selling a home, research neutrals to paint the house! Color decisions ultimately impact the sale prices on homes. Currently, lighter neutrals are most preferred. People often view dark colors as more permanent, and this will scare them away from the purchase of a home. Stick to staging the home with accents and accessories such as the front door, shutters, lighting, pillows, rugs, etc. See the same room transform into a sellable space with neutral wall paint:



3) Specific colors and colored lights directly affect human productivity.


Current studies from Rensselaer Institute show the benefit of red in a space intended for productivity.  Red and blue light effect humans, not only mentally, but also physically. People have a circadian rhythm, which is described merely as an internal ‘clock.’ Blue light suppresses natural chemical melatonin, which promotes sleep in the evening. Using blue lighting in a space where individuals work late or through the night, can help them remain alert and promote productivity. The blue light mimics daylight, essentially tricking the body into feeling more awake. Red light, however, has a similar effect, providing feelings of alertness and rejuvenation without suppressing melatonin levels. These effects are beneficial in providing a more productive atmosphere, without interfering with the bodies circadian rhythm.

  1. The main example of blue light’s negative effect is in cell phones and computer screens. Viewing blue light from computer screens for extended periods of time can damage your eyes over time. There are glasses with a yellow film in the lens to shield the eye from this direct blue light. Phones also have a “night” or “sleep” setting where it changes the screen color from blue light to red light to stop the blue light from suppressing melatonin levels before bed.



4)    The density of light from contrasting colors can cause eye fatigue.


Illuminous density is what is reflected in an individual’s eye after the light is reflected off any surface. If luminous densities of two surfaces are competing, eye muscles must work harder to continually adjust between these two different densities. Studies show people are more productive when the eye is not strained to change response between different luminous densities. A simple example of contrasting luminous density that can affect an individual’s productivity is a white paper on a black desk surface. The eye is strained from viewing the white paper on such a contrasting background. See images of a dark work surface compared to a lighter work surface below. The lighter worksurface areas have dark storage and chairs to balance the space, adding drama.



5)    Colors have Neuropsychological effects and easily cause over or understimulation. 


Similar to the luminous density, the human eye is continually seeking a state of consistency in colors and light. Highly saturated colors, elaborate color schemes, or large contrast between colors can all cause overstimulation in a space. For example, at a pediatric center where young children are already anxious, bright colors will overexcite them. While many people attempt to solve this issue with colorless spaces or those of little contrast, an utterly monochromatic space will quickly underwhelm an area. Under-stimulation in a space can occur as often as overstimulation. An under stimulating space has the most negative impacts when related to space for the elderly. They are unable to distinguish form between similar colors and would find it more challenging to navigate an area with little contrast. When trying to create a desirable space with a neutral palette, it is important to add different texture and pattern for interest. The overstimulating image shown below can be rectified by limiting the use of saturated colors and the amount of color.



Here is an example is a well-balanced space that uses a soft and comfortable palette of color with lots of different textures throughout. 





Light and color are what make the world around us visually exciting and engaging. They are such an important part of the way our brains interpret and process our surroundings, it is important that we understand how to use them to their fullest potential. As you move through the places and spaces in your life, try to analyze the use of color and light and you can even try to understand the effect they have on your brain and mood. You will find that they really are the law that governs interior design. 







To learn more about how DAG uses light and color in our interior design projects, contact: 


Brookelyn Boccia






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