Colour psychology in your life

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I’ve found colour theory surprisingly useful in working out a decoration scheme that suits both of us. I’ve been reading an interesting book on colour psychology recently (review to follow) and I found it utterly fascinating.

Written (back in the 90s) by a psychologist who specialises in colour and has designed everything from interiors to packaging, it is about people’s affinity for colour – not the kind of colours that suit you, as we’re all familiar with re the Colour Me Beautiful idea, but which colours you should surround yourself with in order to be happy, and what your colour choices tell you about your innate character.

I found it hit the nail on the head in my relationship to colour/design/work etc in some key areas in a way that nothing else has ever approached.

I’m familiar, of course, with the idea of matching your clothes to your skin, hair and eye colouring, but I had never thought before of the difference between admiring a colour and having an affinity for it. They are indeed two different things, and the feelings that you get from different colours tell you a great deal about yourself.

For ease of use, the book uses the familiar designations of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter but rather than this meaning your look (whether you have fair hair or dark eyes, etc), it refers to your character traits. What is more important to you, light or space? What shapes do you prefer, circles or ovals? What kind of job should you be in, front-of-house or back-room?

Four colour/shape palettes were shown and I was surprised at the strength of my reactions to them – I LOVED the Summer palette (wavy shapes and cool, greyed-out colours), and liked the Spring palette a lot (circles, in bright colours such as lime green and lemon yellow), but actually shuddered at the Autumn and Winter palettes (respectively, squared-off shapes in shades like mustard, and sharp triangles in primary colours).

After filling in the attached 10-question questionnaire, I came out very firmly as Summer (7) with a Spring subordinate (3).

The descriptions of the Summer personality were bang on: shy, snobbish, rather reserved, likes opals and moonstones and cabochon-cut jewels, prefers oval plates to round ones and likes all the china to match, goes to great efforts at dinner parties, is thought rather boring by many people, enjoys opera and classical music, painstaking and skilled with her hands. That’s a very good description of me.  

A typical Summer, however, is rather a formal person, which I’m not, and here I tend more towards the Spring character – requires a great deal of light, suffers from SAD, is claustrophobic and casual. But the typical Spring also has a sparkling, bubbly personality and makes a good PR person, which is not me at all.

The Autumn personality, it will be no surprise to hear, likes rusty, reddy, mustardy colours, olive greens, brick, stone and wood, and tends to be a person of substance who lives in the country, while Winters are the high-achieving, thrusting, urban ones among us, who like sharp lines, strongly contrasting colours and clean, modern interiors.

It will also come as no surprise to hear that the Scandinavian countries have the highest percentages of Spring and Summer personalities, while Autumn personalities tend to predominate in the African and Asian continents.

When the DH got back from his trip to London, I got him to go through the questionnaire, and to identify what he liked best from the colour palettes and to my surprise, he came out strongly as Spring, with a Winter subordinate (the latter because space is incredibly important to him and he likes monochrome interiors and line drawings).

This was apropos of trying to work out what colours we could compromise on in the house, because our needs are slightly different. Space is the DH’s big thing. He can’t stand the furniture being pushed too close together, or low ceilings, or feeling cramped in any way. When it came to colours, although he could live with any, the only ones he liked (just nine from all the palettes) were all shades of blue and soft green, exactly the colours he wears every day.

For me, light is the crucial thing. I feel completely miserable if I can’t get outside every day, and dark, cosy interiors make me feel totally depressed (I love visiting interiors like this but couldn’t live in one). I am welded to my SAD lightbox all winter and when the days grow short I find it hard to get up or to stay awake. I can visit a lovely country pub and enjoy the fire and the inglenook and the dark, heavy beams, but in my own house, what I want is white, white and more white.

And luckily, our needs, although different, overlap. There is no battle between light and space. We have already decluttered the house considerably and in order to maximise light, we are gradually turning the house as white as we can get it. While he was away, I began to paint over the stonework our window recesses, and the difference it made was just amazing: when he got back, he gave me the nod to carry on and do the rest.

We now intend to paint over almost all of our exposed granite, hang white curtains (again, the difference this makes is striking) and paint all the wooden furniture white or give it a limed finish. Soft furnishings will be pale shades of duck-egg blue, yellow and orange, aqua, and sky blue and pink – all colours that are light, bright and ‘gay’ (in the old sense of the word).

The colour theory idea doesn’t work only for us. On the last girls night in, I also tested four friends. Two came out as Summer with a Spring subordinate (we are very common in Western Europe), one as a strong Autumn and one – a 12-year-old – as a very definite Winter. That made us all laugh, as she is going through a Goth phase, painting wounds all over herself and wearing black, while our Autumn friend, we all know, has a low-ceilinged, oak-beamed house filled with Moroccan ornaments and Berber rugs, and herself wears mostly khaki and rust. I know nothing of friend E’s interior, but it might explain why friend N is always complaining about her exposed stone walls with pink mortar, and keeps the living room lights on all day long…

The book – sadly costing £32 even second-hand – is The Beginner’s Guide to Colour Psychology by Angela Wright. More about it later.


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