Home decor is often viewed as simply a matter of aesthetics -- what looks attractive. But proponents of color psychology believe that the colors you use to decorate your home can have a profound effect on the emotional well-being of you and your family.
''Color is a universal, nonverbal language, and we all intuitively know how to speak it,'' says Leslie Harrington, a color consultant in Old Greenwich, Conn. and a noted expert on the use of color in residential and industrial decor. ''What color you paint your walls isn't just a matter of aesthetics. It's a tool that can be leveraged to affect emotions and behavior.''
If you like the idea of using color to create an emotionally healthy home, color consultants say you should first consider the primary function of each room. Next, pick a predominant color. Although it can't be proven scientifically, color consultants say some hues work better than others at encouraging certain activities. Need ideas? Here's a room-by-room rundown of the colors believed to work best in each of the most important rooms of your home, and the moods they create.
Living room and foyer paint colors. Warm tones like reds, yellows, and oranges, and earth tones like brown and beige often work well in both the living room and foyer, because they're though to stimulate conversation. ''These are colors that encourage people to sit around and talk,'' says Kate Smith, a color consultant in Lorton, Va. ''You feel the warmth, the connection with other people.''
Kitchen paint colors. Color consultants say that if you have fond memories of spending time in the kitchen when you were a kid, it might make sense to recreate the color scheme in your grown-up kitchen. ''If you grew up in a blue-and-white kitchen and have great memories, blue and white may be the best colors for you and your family,'' says Smith.
If there's no particular paint scheme you remember fondly, reds and yellows can be great colors in the kitchen as well as in the living room and foyer. But watch out if you're watching your weight: in addition to stimulating conversation, color consultants say that red may prompt you to eat more, if only subtly. ''If you're on a diet, you might want to keep red out of the kitchen,'' Harrington says, adding that the restaurant industry has long recognized the appetite-stimulating power of red decor.
Dining room paint colors. Because it's stimulating, red decor can be great for a formal dining room. In addition to encouraging conversation, it whets the appetites of your guests. ''If your dining room is red, people may think you are a better cook,'' says Harrington.
Bedroom paint colors. The bedroom is where you go to relax and reconnect with your partner. Cool colors -- blues, greens and lavenders -- can be great choices here, because they are thought to have a calming effect. The darker the hue, the more pronounced the effect is believed to be. ''Reds tend to increase blood pressure and heart rate and stimulate activity,'' says Harrington. ''Blue does just the opposite. That's why we think of it as calming.''
What if your teenager has a few ideas about how to paint his or her bedroom? In the name of family harmony, it probably makes sense to let your teen pick the paint -- within reason. Harrington says she let her own daughter pick a wild paint scheme for her room -- with the proviso that her daughter would repaint it white when she moved out.
Bathroom paint colors. Whites and warm colors have always been popular choices for bathrooms, in large part because they connote cleanliness and purity. But nowadays the bathroom is used not just as a place to wash up, but also as a private retreat for relaxation and rejuvenation. Says Harrington: ''Most people feel comfortable with blues and greens and turquoises because these colors give a sense of being clean and fresh -- and calm.''
But spa colors in the bathroom make sense only if they flatter you. ''When you look in the bathroom mirror, you want to look great,'' says Smith. ''If you would never wear a particular color, don't paint your bathroom that color. That's a recipe for disaster.''
Workout room paint colors. ''Reds and oranges can help you move,'' says Harrington. ''But they can also make you feel hot.'' For this reason, blues and greens may be better choices here. Harrington says that yellow-greens and blue-greens may be the best choices because, in terms of color psychology, they're ''happier.''
Home office paint colors. The name of the game here is productivity: the faster you complete work-related tasks, the more time you'll have to spend enjoying family and friends. And color consultants agree that green can be a great choice for a home office. ''Green is the color of concentration,'' says Harrington. ''It's one of the best colors to be surrounded by for long periods of time.''