Do you have a living room that makes you feel secure, a bedroom that helps you relax, a kitchen that feels warm and an office where you feel inspired?
After months of lockdown, all of this might seem like too much to ask for, but that doesn’t mean you can’t strive for more where your home is concerned. The environments we inhabit have an enormous impact on our health and happiness, and they're worth your time.
Decoration, colour and the arrangement of your interior space all affect the way we feel about our homes. Different rooms should inspire different responses in us. It is natural and important to use interior design to create boundaries and influence behaviour. If you’re lucky enough to have separate spaces to relax, work, sleep and socialise, this might mean using brighter colours in social spaces like the kitchen and dining room, and deeper colours in the bedroom or living room.
Where do our colour associations come from?
Broadly speaking, psychologists are split between believing we are born with a set of predispositions to certain colours, thanks to the way we’ve evolved; and those who argue that our feelings about colour are learnt through association and repetition.
Within these two camps is a good deal of variance - as well as some overlap. For example, one theory we particularly like holds that our psychological affiliations with particular colours are technically learnt, but they are often rooted in associations we have by virtue of biology.
For example, we experience happiness in the body as a lightness; while feelings like anxiety and depression are experienced as heaviness, which tallies with our perception of light and dark colours. Similarly, warm sunlight is associated with higher energy and improved mood, and people tend to feel positively when presented with warm yellows; whereas the cold blues and purples of winter are associated with depression and reduced energy.
Certainly, it seems colour associations can be created and overwritten. They can be triggered by a significant experience in childhood or because of a strong cultural affinity between particular colours and a particular phenomenon.
The relationship between gender and colour is a good example of a culturally-embedded association. Nowadays, we associate pink with femininity and blue with masculinity, but this would be a totally foreign concept to someone from the 18th century.
The associations we describe below are chiefly drawn from research by evolutionary psychologists, which means they're universal and instinctive.
Choosing Plants by Colour
Plants are a great way of introducing colour into your space, without worrying too much about colour clashing. Even plants with intricate patterns (like Calatheas) tend not to disrupt your interior design because of the way the eye perceives patterns found in nature.
Across time periods and cultures, red has been used to signify danger and is universally associated with heat. It also draws the eye more than perhaps any other colour (as Coca Cola has profited from). Associated with intensity of emotion, a lot of red can be oppressive in the home. But patches of red can help foster inspiration and shed warmth, making red plants a great addition to the kitchen, study and living room.
Purple has, throughout history, been associated with wealth, status and royalty. In fact, at the turn of the seventeenth century, it was illegal for commoners to wear purple, so strong was the power of purple. A relatively rare colour in nature, purple is associated with singularity and (like its close relation, blue) quiet contemplation, thoughtfulness and solitude. Purple plants thus make good plants to have in the bedroom or in the office.
White plants?! White indoor plants are a rarity, but they do exist! When in bloom, the Vanilla Orchid and flowering Linear Hoya are both great ways of adding white to your plant collection, and this Autumn, we have the Euphorbia Eritrea Variegata, a white-tinted cactus from East Africa.
Culturally associated with peace, purity and spirituality, white can help us feel calm, clean and focused. White plants are a nice addition to your bathroom and kitchen.
Yellow, the colour of the sun and spring flowers is associated with freshness, warmth and lightness. Warm yellows are positive and optimistic, while cold yellows can signal danger (think wasp sting).
The colour green is one of the ways psychologists explain the emotional uplift we feel in nature. Green makes us feel healthy and vital - that's why you see the colour green in hospitals and pharmacies.
You're spoilt for choice when it comes to green plants, but the particular tint that is strongly associated with good health can be found on the leaves of the Calathea orbifolia and the Monkey Mask monstera.