Looking for a mood booster? A different room colour could help

Marissa Hermanson

THE WASHINGTON POST – So many of us are struggling with everything that has happened in 2020, and we want – perhaps even need – our dwellings to feel like secure refuges. Six months into the self-isolation brought on by the novel coronavirus, our psyches could definitely use a boost. One way to get that is with the strategic use of colour in your everyday spaces.

“Right now, you have two extremes: the people who seek home as a haven and feel that it’s their safe place, and others who feel that it’s a place that is filled with all kinds of angst,” said Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Colour Institute and Director of the Eiseman Center for Colour Information and Training.

There are colours you can incorporate at home to give you what you need psychologically and emotionally, whether it’s an energising orange, a soothing blue or an optimistic yellow.

With a rainbow of options and countless variations of each shade, it’s hard to know where to start. Here are some basic guidelines on how to use colour in your home to improve your state of mind.


Red adds instant vitality and drama to a room. It’s a statement colour that can stimulate your space and mind.

“It’s the all-energising colour, so you can use it in touches: in a piece of artwork, artefact or pillow,” said Eiseman, who painted her dining room walls in a toned-down red with white wainscoting, but suggests pops of the colour for those who aren’t ready to commit to something so dramatic on walls.

The walls are painted in Behr’s Jojoba, and the trim, wainscoting and ceiling are coated in Broadway. PHOTOS: THE WASHINGTON POST
The walls are painted in Behr’s Smoky White, with the ceiling in the tranquil shade Voyage

Red energises people who feel weak or lethargic, said Carolyn DiCarlo, a New York City-based residential and commercial architectural and interior designer. And using the bold hue in a foyer can give you an invigorating jolt as you walk in the front door.

If you’re not sold on a red-hot crimson or scarlet, opt for a deep cherry or merlot. Brick red or garnet have earthy undertones that are grounding and conjure feelings of stability. And reds with pink or orange undertones, such as coral and rose, promote health and well-being, Eiseman said.

Try: Behr Kalahari Sunset, Sherwin-Williams Fireweed, Sherwin-Williams Red Tomato.


A blend of energising red and happy yellow, orange is a radiant, uplifting colour.

“Some people love it, and some people aren’t sure they’ll be able to use it in their home,” Eiseman said.

Although bright lollipop orange might be hard on the eyes when used in large quantities, earthy variants such as terra cotta, with brown and beige undertones, are easy to incorporate and can evoke feelings of security and strength. In Pantone’s 2021 colour forecast, the organisation featured an entire palette dedicated to its various clay-tinged shades, because they’re inherently earthy yet can create a sense of strength.

“It speaks to people of warmth, and that is what people are seeking,” said Eiseman, who recommends pairing orange with blues and greens to create a space that feels both organic and tranquil. Vibrant orange, which symbolises awakening and courage, can get its point across in smaller doses, DiCarlo said. “It can be inspirational as one colour within a patterned fabric or linens in a child’s room.”

Try: Benjamin Moore Audubon Russet, Benjamin Moore Masada, Behr Maple Glaze.


For people who are feeling lost or depressed, DiCarlo said, yellow can lift spirits. If dandelion or bumblebee yellow feels too bright, try softer, buttery or lemony variations.

Yellow can be beneficial for those who live in areas where weather can be gloomy, such as the Pacific Northwest, or northern regions that experience long falls and winters, Eiseman said. It’s also great for north-facing rooms with low natural light. “It so intrinsically is linked to sunlight,” Eiseman said. “It instantly brightens a room.”

DiCarlo recommends using the colour strategically in small amounts – think pillows or artwork – if you don’t want to commit to it on the walls. A little can go a long way.

Try: Sherwin-Williams Overjoy, Benjamin Moore Filtered Sunlight, Benjamin Moore Pale Moon, Behr Saffron Strands.


Shades of green – ranging from muddy olive to nearly neon – are easy to layer in the home, because we see so many variations of green mixed together in the natural world. Juxtaposing the shades is an easy and organic way to give a space depth.

“It’s planted in the mind that it’s dependable,” Eiseman said of greens, adding that people feel an innate connection to verdant shades because they are so pervasive in the natural world.

DiCarlo recommends green to help with feelings of weakness and lethargy. She said green is especially nice in a sunroom, where it can complement the outdoor surroundings. Or use a timeless, deep shade of green as a wall colour or a decorative accent in the kitchen. Blue-greens evoke tranquility, while brown-tinged greens make us feel rooted. For an energising vibe, consider a yellow-green with sunny undertones.

Try: Behr Royal Orchard, Benjamin Moore Cushing Green, Sherwin-Williams Sea Salt.


From the sky to the water, blue is one of the most ubiquitous colours in nature. Because of this, although it is considered a calming colour, blue is also a fabulous neutral. Classic navy creates a moody backdrop, and a chambray or denim-inspired blue is a casual, timeless shade that can be paired with nearly anything.

If you are experiencing anger or frustration, DiCarlo advises incorporating calming grey-blues that can quiet tempers, either with paint or decorative pieces such as furnishings or artwork. She also recommends soft blues, blue-greens and blue-greys in the bedroom to enhance relaxation. Pair a subtle, soothing shade of blue on the walls with a deep, moody navy bedspread. A serene blue accent wall might also be just what you need to see before nodding off to sleep.

Try: Behr Nocturne Blue, Behr Jean Jacket Blue, Benjamin Moore November Skies, Sherwin-Williams Blissful Blue.


Purple, much like orange, is often overlooked as an option for home decorating, because people struggle with how to incorporate it. But used judiciously, it can enhance a variety of moods, depending on the shade.

Blue-purples are “Zen-like”, while red-purples are “high-energy”, Eiseman said. Muted shades such as lavender and lilac promote happy feelings. Deeper colours such as eggplant and plum can feel regal and luxurious.

Purples with grey or taupe undertones are easy to incorporate in large amounts, such as on walls, DiCarlo said. Use brighter or richer shades, such as violet, for accents, including artwork, pillows and throws. “Rich dark and earthier jewel tones of deep plum and burgundy work best closer to the ground, so possibly use those colours in rugs,” DiCarlo said.

Try: Behr Euphoric Magenta, Benjamin Moore Cabernet, Benjamin Moore Hint of Violet, Sherwin-Williams Joyful Lilac.


Pink, no longer associated solely with the feminine, conjures nurturing feelings. Benjamin Moore chose First Light, a soft pink-beige, as its 2020 Colour of the Year, and Rose Quartz was one of Pantone’s two 2016 colours of the year.

“Pinks just make people feel good,” Eiseman said. For those experiencing grief – whether over losing a job, a friend or family member, or the normalcy of life – soft pinks and peaches can evoke a sense of compassion, DiCarlo said.

Peachy pinks are also beneficial for those experiencing depression, DiCarlo said. Warm, radiant soft pinks, sunny roses and peach tones can help combat feelings of hopelessness.

“We need the caress of the soft pinks surrounding us, reminding us that life doesn’t have to be so hard,” said DiCarlo, who recommends subtle blush tones as a bedroom wall colour. Try bolder pinks in a child’s bedroom or hot pinks as an accent colour in artwork or textiles.

Try: Behr Seaside Villa, Benjamin Moore First Light, Sherwin-Williams Delightful.