Since ancient times, cultures all over the globe have understood the power of color. Native Americans used colored crystals to heal, while in the Middle East, the color blue was used for protection and in China, red symbolized celebration and luck. More recently, Swiss psychologist Dr. Max Lusher launched his groundbreaking Color Test in the 1940s to measure patients’ psychological states, and today, color therapy is frequently employed in public spaces, though we might not consciously be aware of it. For example, restaurants often incorporate reds and oranges, which stimulate hunger, while hospitals tend to use uplifting yellows or calming greens.
Interior designers are also well aware of the best uses of color—though most tend to look at it from an aesthetic or spatial point of view, not an emotional one. Color therapists, however, see things differently. “Simply put, color is vibrational energy that is absorbed through the eyes and the skin, so the colors you see instantly affect you on a physical, mental, and emotional level,” explains Eleyne Austen Sharp, founder of the Aura House in Rhode Island and a certified color therapist with over 20 years experience. “Each color has positive and negative attributes,” she says, “and though we might not realize it, most of us have actually been practicing some form of color therapy our entire lives. We choose the colors we wear, the colors we eat, our furnishings, wall colors, car colors, even the color of our toothbrush, and all of these choices are meant to make ourselves feel better.” As Sharp reveals, “color therapy is often as simple as wearing red to have more courage, blue to communicate better, or yellow to boost your self-confidence.”
When it comes to using colors for relaxation and stress relief, Sharp recommends focusing on the bathroom and bedroom, both of which act as sanctuaries; the latter in particular is our main refuge. “At the end of the day, the bedroom is where we make our great escape. It is the one room in our home where we begin and end the day’s journey, and the colors of your bedroom help establish your mood for the entire day.” When decorating, says Sharp, many of us will begin with our favorite colors—but if your favorite color is burgundy, for example, that’s too active for the spa-like atmosphere you want to create. Instead, Sharp offers these tips on choosing the best soothing tones:
COOL DOWN: To create inner and outer harmony, soften a bedroom with colors from the cool end of the color spectrum. Certain greens, blues and violets all promote rest and relaxation, including shades like aqua, seafoam and lavender. Avoid bright, bolder, warm colors like red, yellow and orange, which are stimulants and promote activity, not resting; however, you may cool down these warm colors by adding white to orange, for example, to get a softer peach, or adding white to red for a pale pink.
LOOK TO NATURE: To create a more tranquil space, take a cue from nature. Think of the most serene place you have ever visited. Was it the seaside, the mountains, a lovely English garden? Try to recreate that restful feeling through the colors you choose.
STRIVE FOR BALANCE: Once you find your soothing color, don’t go overboard. Monochromatic color schemes may be dramatic, but they can easily be boring and—in the case of blue—even promote depression. To balance a monochromatic-schemed space, choose accessories that reflect your primary color’s contrasting or complementary shade in its palest form. For example, the complementary color for blue is orange, but in a bedroom you would want to stay clear of bright, vivid oranges in favor of a soft peach. (See each color on the next page for more suggestions.) For more on color therapy, visit Sharp’s website (or listen to her radio shows) at www.colortherapyschool.com.
PROPERTIES: The color of spirituality, healing and deep calm, purple is a popular choice for spas and home sanctuaries. When decorating with this shade, look for pastel variations like lavender, orchid, and lilac instead of eggplants or royal purple. An excess of violet may make you feel negative and fearful, so balance purple with soft yellows
HOW TO USE IT: Purples are a natural choice for bedding and bedroom walls, but bathrooms can also benefit from this healing hue. Try adding a pale violet bathmat or shower curtain, or a vase of dried lavender stalks. One stylish—and useful—option is the pod-shaped Zapi Toothbrush Sanitizer by VIOLight, which comes in a lovely purple that stands out on any countertop. www.violight.com
PROPERTIES: The combination of all the colors of light, white symbolizes the Divine in many cultures. The color can make you feel fresh and clean, and help clear the mind and soul. In our busy, over-stimulated world, white can offer a peaceful refuge. Use it wisely, though: All-white bedrooms may be soft and cloudlike, but they can also come off as clinical and make you feel cold and lonely. Choose a warmer palette of cream tones, and temper them by adding soft pink, lavender, or sky blue accents.
HOW TO USE IT: If using white on the walls or for furniture and lamps, go for eggshells and creams to avoid creating an impersonal or institutional feeling in the space. For bedding, we like Area’s smooth, 100-percent-certified organic cotton “Details” sheets, pillowcases and duvet covers, which impart a clean, cloud-like calm, but have stylish, khaki-colored cross-stitching that helps keep them from verging into hospital bed territory. www.arealinenshop.com
PROPERTIES: “Nature’s color” symbolizes harmony, healing, regeneration, refreshment, and freshness, and is both calming and gently uplifting. Choose shades like sage, seafoam, mint, jade, and celery as opposed to hunter or Kelly green. Too much of this color can cause moodiness and obsessive tendencies, so balance greens with a soft pink.
HOW TO USE IT: Versatile green works well for the walls of bedrooms and living spaces; look for lighter shades of eco-friendly paints. In terms of décor, try adding splashes in the form of plants, lampshades, or pillows. In the bathroom, wrap-up after a long soak in a cozy green robe or bath sheet. Gaiam’s absorbent, soft 100 percent Organic Cotton Terry Robe is available in a pretty celadon, and their oversized, sage organic cotton towels are made with low-impact dyes and chlorine-free finishers. www.gaiam.com
PROPERTIES: Evoking the sea and sky, blue is the color of peace, serenity, communication, and truth. In the bedroom, blue inspires tranquility and is ideal for insomniacs, but too much of it—particularly darker shades like indigo—may leave you feeling depressed or claustrophobic. Balance the color with cool, pale orange tones like peach.
HOW TO USE IT: Use blues anywhere in the bedroom and bathroom, from the walls and rugs to towels, sheets and decorative items, but keep it light. West Elm’s organic, 230-thread count Pin-Tuck duvet cover and pillow shams are available in Sea Spray (the color of a calm lake), while the organic matelasse duvet cover and shams come in pale, sky-hued Moonstone. www.westelm.com
PROPERTIES: While earth tones on the warm end of the spectrum, like chocolate browns and reds, are stimulating, those on the cooler side can be grounding, nurturing, and restful. Choose soft hues like bamboo, sand, slate, terra-cotta, and driftwood, all of which have become popular in spas; if reds must be used, choose a muted red-brown hue, and then only use it as an accent. Brown keeps you connected and practical, but too much of the color can leave you feeling stagnant—like “you are stuck in the mud,” says Sharp—so balance earth tones with a soft green sage or seafoam.
HOW TO USE IT: Bamboo, slate, and woods are, of course, perfect for larger design elements like floors, walls, and furniture, but you can also incorporate these nature-inspired tones in smaller, more economical ways. Choose light wood blinds or sand-colored curtains, natural fabric-based rugs and throws, or driftwood-hued vases and candles. Hand crafted in Thailand by Fair Trade artisans, the Healing Home Spa Set features two antioxidant soaps and two terra-cotta-colored ceramic bowls (one filled with a lavender and lemongrass scrub, the other with relaxing plai bath salts), accompanied by a bamboo tray and natural wood-and-bamboo scoops. www.gaiam.com