According to Harris Poll on behalf of Sherwin-Williams,
31 percent of Americans identify it as their favorite color.
It would be quite easy for me to apply terms like passion, lust, bold, love, raw, danger, romance, threat, powerful, anger, hunger, intense, and so on. In many cultures around the world, all of these terms are associated with the color red.
But I stopped and thought about this for a while, and using a helping hand from both Freud’s and Maslow’s works, I settled on a different word to rule them all:
What does that word mean to you when you see it written, or hear it spoken? Think about it for a second.
The word itself is derived from “primalis” in Old English, which was descended from “primus” in Latin, meaning “first importance”. (Primary colors, anyone?)
Ever since I was a little child, I always had the habit of drawing the color wheel with red at the top, followed by all the other colors. No one taught me to illustrate it as such, not explicitly. Perhaps I may have seen some scholastic illustrations on the wall of my art class with red at the top of the wheel, or maybe I subconsciously attributed its primacy to the fact that it’s the first visible wavelength in the color spectrum? Who knows?
Red is the first color of life; according to Bausch + Lomb it is the first color a human baby can sense within a few weeks of birth when its eyes begin to detect color, and we all learn early on in childhood, it is also the color of danger; whether it’s a bleeding finger, red bruises on your skin, or a red stop sign, red is the visceral color, and is impossible to ignore.
- That woman at the party in the red dress? I don’t care who she is or who she isn’t, or how much she talks or doesn’t. I can guarantee you she’ll have the largest share of views of any woman that evening.
- In sports, the color red is used to channel a perception of competitiveness and dominance. Analyses of the 2004 Olympics found that athletes wearing red prevailed more than those wearing blue, particularly in hand-to-hand sports such as wrestling.
- That red sports car blazing past you on the highway? Not only will it immediately grab your attention (even if you don’t care about cars) but you’ll keep an eye out for it for the next few minutes or even hours, much more than a car of any other color.
- Red flashing lights at the train tracks? Definitely got your attention there – being creatures with a string instinct for self-preservation means we’re going to be highly alert to the danger communicated by those signals.
- In their seminal book Basic Color Terms, language researchers Brent Berlin and Paul Kay found that, across the world, in all languages, red is the first color that is explicitly named after black and white. Even if a certain culture doesn’t have a term for colors such as pink or brown or gray, it will have a term for the color red.
- Want to elevate the mood in the room instantaneously? Add a large statement print that has red as its main color.
So let’s talk about what this primal color and its various shades, tints, and tones mean for your interiors as well as what they also mean in other cultures around the world.
CONTEXTUAL & CULTURAL RELEVANCE
The first advice that comes to mind when thinking about applying this color is to consider cultural context first, and then room purpose, second. I don’t talk about the color red with the same terms with American clients as I do with say, the Chinese, who consider red a very lucky and happy color, so much so that its use has even been forbidden at funerals.
Did you know? Practitioners of the Feng Shui line of persuasion believe that painting the doors of their houses red will bring prosperity into the home.
In Japan, the color is used to express emotions and concepts such as passion, bravery, strength, and beauty.
In the West and in many other cultures around the world, red is a color associated with passion and with danger. It gets your blood racing, and it has been shown to heighten your emotions – desirable more in the dining room where you want to open up your guests’ appetite, but less in the bedroom where you want to relax.
You can further tweak its effect by warming it up with yellow or orange. For example, a red rug, with thick pile, mixed with yellow or gold pattern creates a luxurious and rich import for the room, even moreso if you have gold- or brass-colored metal accents throughout the space.
Mixing red with brown gives it a cozier, casual feel – it often reminds people of brick; think of an old fireplace or a converted loft space – and works great with rustic or farmhouse décor.Or try cooling it down with blue or purple: the stability and calm of blue work together to temper red’s heat and energy. Keep in mind that time is perceived to pass more quickly in cooler-colored interiors, and more slowly in warmer-colored environments.
LIVING & ENTERTAINMENT ROOMS
Pay attention to where you’re applying it – to the floor décor, to entire backgrounds and walls, to just the seating furniture, or a just a few accent pieces? One of the things that Professor Edward Gibson and his team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found is that, across cultures – whether its tribes in the Amazon jungle or university students in downtown Boston, humans communicate more efficiently about warm colors when talking about objects, while tending to associate cool colors more with backgrounds. (Source: PNAS)
(credit : unknown)
B Fein Interior Design
Because of its extremely stimulating nature, using pure, bright red across entire walls in living areas may be counterproductive – unless you want your family members or guests to be on edge. If you really want to use red on the living room walls, consider any one of the following options:
- If you’re painting the whole room, then use darker shades, or tone it down with a bit of gray; both options take the edge off of this intense color. According to Dr. Karen Schloss, people generally dislike large things (couches, walls) that are in a saturated red color.
- Consider only an accent wall in that color, balanced by red accessories or accents splashed around the room.
- A large, red statement art piece (typically above 54” x 54”) can also serve as an anchor that sets the direction for all other accents and décor; a frame with several different shades and tints of red will work beautifully to tie in other design elements with those colors. (This piece by one of our artists is a favorite.)
Some of you may be thinking, hey Sal what about the red used in entertainment spaces?
Well, red was often used around the turn of the century in performance theaters (and then later, movie theaters) because of its association with richness and gilded luxury. That association still survives today in the dark red seats found in many cinema halls – although you’ll notice the walls generally tend to be black or dark gray / neutral colors.
Researchers have also found associations between color and the perceived quality of sound. In 2015, Dr. Anders Gade, writing in Psychomusicology : Music, Mind, and Brain states: “Our impression of tonal color will also be influenced by the colors we see in the (music) hall. Deep red or brown (wooden) walls will probably “sound” warmer than pale green walls—illuminated with ‘cold’ neon lights.” Anders was describing the color preferences of professional musicians regarding the design of an orchestra hall.
Take time to consider what age groups will be using the space primarily and for what purpose. Older folks, particularly from the Baby Boomers generation, are more likely than Millennials to appreciate a home theater room decked in very dark red color, where they can relax and watch movies or listen to their favorite oldies. Middle-aged or younger folks (including yours truly) are more likely to opt for black or dark walls for a home theater.
Younger people also perceive brighter, intense colors more readily than elderly people; as humans age, the retina receives less light. In fact a “typical 60-year old receives about one-third the retinal illuminance of a 20-year old.” says Dr. Asha Hegde, Asst. Professor at Texas State University.
BREAKFAST & DINING AREAS
Using red in dining rooms has a few distinct advantages.
First, red is a color that tends to enhance hunger; you may have noticed that many restaurants and dining establishments use red strategically to increase the appetite of their patrons. That enhanced heartrate increases hunger and excitement, which then paradoxically is calmed down and reduced through satiety.
In addition, researchers have also found that one effect of red-themed dining rooms is that it gives the perception of more flavorful food as compared to cool-colored dining environments.
In today’s Instagram-everything age and rage, having a deep red color on the dining room walls – coupled with the right lighting - also helps give that rosy, healthy glow to your family and friends when they pose for photos with your Thanksgiving masterpieces.
Did you know? Research has also shown that the heavier the cutlery being used in the dining experience, the greater the perceived quality of the food.
Choosing red for your dining room can come in many configurations; the entire room, or just an accent wall, or half the wall via wainscoting.
For breakfast areas, I suggest clients choose more earthy tints of red or, red with copious amounts of white in between. If your breakfast area is immediately adjacent to the kitchen, using too much red can also be heavy on the eyes and impact the breakfast experience. You want the colors to reflect the purpose of the meal; breakfast is an important part of your day but you want it to be light and energizing, not heavy.
This is a great area of your house to use red in, if you’re primarily passionate about the process and experience of great cooking, as opposed to other purposes such as socializing.
Conveying a sense of crisp freshness and delicious taste about the food prepared in such a kitchen, red also works to pull friends and guests into the area to socialize, if you’re the type of person who loves to talk and laugh while preparing your food. As a bonus, you might even have others volunteering to help with food prep!C Studio Architetti
Because red is such a strong color, you want to moderate its influence by limiting its use to certain elements or object groups, in addition to the shade, tint, and tone used.
For example, using red on one or two accent walls in the kitchen is perfect for giving the color a dominant presence without it being overpowering. Or you could also opt to go wall-to-wall with red kitchen cabinets, with material selection dependent on the style of your interior décor and home; shiny red lacquer with recessed slim handles for modern minimalist, or red-painted wooden cabinets with traditional knobs or pulls if you’re looking for a rustic or farmhouse feel.
Don’t like either of those options? Warm up the kitchen with red floor tiles: try a darker sienna red with ceramic tile, or mix some red into the pattern with another color. Warm up the red with accent lighting that shifts the ambiance towards a warmer and visually lighter experience while retaining the solid presence of red.
Red, being a hue that gets your pulse racing, works in your favor if you’re an early-riser and always take a shower in the morning before work. A warm palette may be helpful here; balance the intense reds with gold or beige to maintain the warmth of the space while providing enough visual stimuli.
Red in the bathroom should also be accompanied by strong lighting, in order to fully harness its capacity to provide warmth. Make sure you have ample accent lighting in your bathroom that really brings out the vigor of red – as opposed to task lighting that is more focused on the person using the shower stall or the sink.
Consider using glass or glossy subway tiles with a mix of reds to add punch and shine to a red-themed bathroom.
Alternatively, for a rich, comfy, and luxurious feel for evening retreats, consider shading the color with black to create darker reds, paired with rich browns or mahogany. Red also complements most skin tones quite well so yet another reason to use it in the bathroom but be advised, if it’s a color that you don’t like wearing, then don’t use it on the wall directly in front of your bathroom mirror. If you don’t like it on your skin, you won’t like it next to you when you look in the mirror, either.
Robert Reid, RID
What do you use your bedroom for? I’m guessing primarily for relaxing and / or sleeping. It’s a place of retreat, used to rest, recharge, and rejuvenate.
Just remember that red rejects rendering relaxing rewards. (Say that ten times fast?)
Experts recommend avoiding red in the bedroom and instead opting for more calming or mellow colors. But if you really feel close to the color then consider using it in accessories and trim around your bedroom; little pops of red here and there can work great for you if you’re a morning person. Put those accents somewhere out of sight if possible when you’re lying in bed at night, but they’re readily visible if you’re up and moving about.
If you are a morning person by the way, and your bedroom windows face east, then by all means go crazy with a fire-engine red or a cherry red color all over the walls, or add a large red abstract; the crimson hue, combined with the fresh morning sunlight will work wonders on your morning routine.
Another suggestion would be to try shades of darker red, mixed with a bit of blue to produce rich wine-red or maroon colors. Using dark red shades and tones on your carpet is a great idea because not only does it minimize tracked-dirt, but the darker colors also subtly remind you of the ground and Earth - human beings typically expect darker colors to be lower to the ground because of this association.
Don’t want to re-carpet your whole bedroom? Get a large area rug instead. Darker red colors during the wintertime are great at keeping the room's visuals warm to help fight off the winter blahs.
ENTRYWAYS & FOYERS
First impressions count! The entryway of your home sets the tone for the experience of the rest of your home for your guests. It should reflect the personality and style of the owners – the color, the accessories and trim all say a lot about you. For many folks, muted colors or neutrals work best. But what if you want a strong, gregarious pop of color? Or something that immediately conveys passion and intensity? Well, if you’re using red in the entryway, consider using warmer tints to take the strong edge off of it – you want yourself, your family, and guests to feel more relaxed upon arrival than when en route to your home, and not on high alert as soon as they step in the door – intense red imparts the notion of danger or the command to stop. So use a slightly lighter and warmer tint which, in addition to being a welcoming color, also gives a healthy glow to your guests as they arrive. Amplify the effect with the warmer lighting and strategically-placed mirrors.
Also think of the colors you will have in the rest of the main floor; many designers recommend intense or darker entryway colors to be paired with lighter colors for the living and dining areas immediately adjacent, so as to give the impression of expanding light and space as guests move from the entryway into other areas of your house.
One of the most popular colors in use in gyms across North America (Snap, Goodlife, 24Hour, etc.), red proves its worth when it comes to increasing your pulse and energy levels for all the right reasons. I’m a strong believer in living a healthy lifestyle, which includes regular physical activity.
Having said that, you also need to consider what the primary activity in your home gym is; are you doing cardio? Weight-lifting? Yoga? Red works great for cardio and weight lifting, but not so much for yoga – consider using muted or pastel tones if that will be the primary activity in your home gym. Being an intense color, you can also consider splashing red accents around your gym or only on accent walls instead of doing the entire room in crimson, as too much of the color during an intense workout can also induce aggression.
That wraps up our expanded thoughts on this primal color in domestic interiors!
Questions? Comments? Requests?
Be sure to leave your thoughts or questions below, and don’t forget to share this article with someone who has been thinking about how to use this color in their home! Don't forget to check out our overview on all the colors here: 37 Examples of Color Psychology on Room Interiors