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Design Therapy


Changing lives through color.

By Theresa Rolen Long   

A friend and I recently discussed the merit and meaning of work. Most of us have had an existential crisis or two—those sneaky moments that leave us wondering what it is we are doing with our lives and if we’re really making a difference in the world.

“You go into homes and make people’s lives better, happier, and more beautiful,” he said to me, in an admirable tone. His statement took me aback. I’d never heard it put quite that way. But I liked it. And it’s true.

There’s a stereotype attached to the service provided by an interior designer—that it’s for rich people, it’s a luxury. It’s fluff. Well, it is, of course, a service only the very fortunate “first–world” population with shelter and sanitation can even consider. And it’s certainly not rocket science. But the work of a decorator does have meaning. Can the mental, spiritual, and even physical health of a human being be aided and fortified by a well-designed, well-appointed, and well-kept home? Yes.


It’s not just about creating a beautiful dwelling for its own sake. It’s about creating beneficial beauty for those who live there—beauty that improves functionality, quality of life, and even relationships. Beauty that is born through attention to symmetry, scale, function, and pattern. Perhaps the most benefit, however, comes from the use of color. Changing up color in a home is so healthy; it elicits immediate, positive responses from clients—instant gratification!

And there’s a bit of science behind this response. “Chromatherapy” is an ancient form of holistic healing used for thousands of years to treat physical and emotional issues. Our eyes’ reaction to color is almost immediate. Color evokes emotions, as well as encouraging healing. Ayurvedan medicine also believes the seven colors of the rainbow align with the seven energy centers, or chakras, in the human body. Working with each color can help to strengthen any weaknesses within those chakra centers. Psychologists and marketing experts have long known the proven effects color can have on the human mind.

Using color therapy techniques in a home or office will enhance (or diminish) certain qualities and promote positive energy. A home balanced in harmony—through the use of color, scale, and objects—will impact your mental and physical well–being. Here’s how color in the home affects your mind and body.


Violet, indigo and blue calm and purify, and are good for mediation and prayer. They heighten awareness and intuition, relaxation and restoration. Blue is also the color of communication. These work well in intimate spaces like parlors, bedrooms and bathrooms.

Shades of green encourage tolerance and understanding. Green is the center of the color spectrum, promoting feelings of self–centeredness and harmony. It tones work well everywhere (a plant in every room!) but especially in family living areas. Pairing green with other colors achieves balance in any space.

Yellow and orange are best in active areas, such as kitchens, foyers, and hallways. They stimulate activity and creativity, and encourage confidence. Yellow is an alert color—great for studying and planning—while orange is warming, fun, and sociable. These colors are energizing and maybe not the best choices for bedrooms or quiet spaces (so remember this if you need your kids to fall asleep more quickly!).

Red is likewise energetic and emotionally exciting, but it’s tricky. Pick the right tones and apply just the right dose. When used properly, red is magnificent, or even cozy and warm. Red corresponds with the chakra for digestion and stimulates the appetite. This is why it has achieved historical status as a color of choice for dining rooms and restaurants.


Pink is a color most often associated with babies, but there is good explanation for why this color works so well in a nursery. Not only is it soothing and nurturing, but it also encourages unconditional love! Pink jail cells have proven to dissolve anger and reduce violent and aggressive behavior in inmates.

Black and white are considered colors in design as well. Black provides space for reflection and inner searching, while white emphasizes purity, illuminating and clarifying our thoughts. Both work well by promoting the use of other colors within a room.

What we see in our surroundings and environment is continually processed by our subconscious mind. Darkly painted rooms make some feel cozy and relaxed, but others claustrophobic or anxious. Some people prefer the stimulation from bright, bold colors, while others crave soft, earthy neutrals to help them chill out at the end of the day.

If certain areas of your home leave you feeling restless or agitated and you’re not sure why, start by making a few color changes—walls, furnishings, textiles, and accents —and see if you then feel differently. If someone in your family has an illness, color can go a long way in aiding the healing process. Add touches of stimulating color in rooms where you need to feel invigorated, and go for paler, gentler shades in rooms where you need to wind down.

Play color doctor in your own home. For it’s not just about decorating—it’s therapy!


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