Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky may have been on to something when he said, “Color is a power which directly influences the soul.”
Color theory has fascinated people for thousands of years. Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that colors related to four elements: water, earth, air and fire. Aristotle’s theories prevailed until the 17th century, when English physicist Issac Newton used sunlight and prisms to reveal the seven colors of the rainbow.
Since then, thousands of scholarly articles and books have been written about color’s effect on our moods and daily lives. Color expert Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, and author of The Complete Color Harmony Pantone Edition, notes “Most people don’t think much about color but it has power in our surroundings whether we’re aware of it or not. We just innately know that certain colors are beautiful.”
Emotional response to color is influenced by several factors: whether it’s warm or cool as well as its saturation (intensity) and brightness.
The three primary colors—yellow, red and blue—are fully saturated; they’re strong and vivid. Less saturated colors contain more gray: think olive green versus Kelly green. Bright, less saturated colors, such as violet, are relaxing; saturated hues that aren’t as bright, such as sapphire blue, are energizing. Neutral tones, like beige, ivory, or gray, are calming.
Whether you subscribe to scientifically-based color theory or not, your choices come down to what you like and what makes you feel good.
“I think color is really an individual preference,” says Lara Gibson, Garnet Hill’s senior designer for home. “You can read all about color theory, but your choice is personal.”
Color, especially as found in nature, is an integral element of design at Garnet Hill. Our bedding, home décor, and apparel are inspired by the changing seasons and hues we see around us.
Just driving to work inspires Gibson, who finds winter colors, from bright white to evergreen, grounding. When she’s designing bedding, for example, she’s working with grounding, calming colors. Seasonal palettes—silvers, cool blues and sparkly, luminous colors for winter and vibrant sky blues and foliage greens for spring and summer—resonate.
“We ground our color palettes in blues and neutrals because they’re comforting and appealing, but we bring in other colors like strong reds, yellows, greens and other happy hues to create fresh combinations.”
Gibson likes unexpected color pairings; for example, pairing a warm ochre with pale pink, charcoal gray or pale white. She’s also fascinated by the growing popularity of saturated, electric colors found on our tech devices. “It’s really about how we experience the world,” she says.
To Erin Fortin, senior designer for women’s apparel at Garnet Hill, color is like music—we make our selections according to our moods.
“It’s interesting how sensitive we are to color around us and how it affects us,” she says. “It’s really what your personal power color is that works great with who you are and makes you feel vibrant. Blue is very calming. Green gives you a natural feeling. Black invokes intelligence and authority and is a polished, clean look for any time of year. But it’s what makes you feel good, regardless of trends.”
Consider neutral colors, beyond beige. Eiseman thinks of them in terms of the natural world. “Mother Nature’s most neutral color could be green,” she says. “What’s more gorgeous than green trees set against a beautiful blue sky?” Blue can be a cross-over color, she suggests, because it works with all warm and cool shades.
Most importantly, play with color, even if you’re used to playing it safe with neutrals. Add a pop of color with an accent pillow, throw, or a favorite scarf. Challenge yourself with new color combinations. “Don’t worry about other people’s opinions of your color choices,” says Eiseman. “Learn and observe what really speaks to you. It’ll get you thinking and having fun.”