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SEEING COLORS: INDIGO

Each month, interiors journalist and author Kate Watson-Smyth will be exploring color in all its shades. What each hue means, why we react to it, how to choose the right one for the right room and when that might start to affect what happens in there. What you are about to discover may surprise you…

It might sound obvious, but of the colors in the rainbow, indigo is a combination of what came before and what will follow—blue and violet.

And therein lies the problem. Is it actually a deep dark navy or is it an intense inky purple?

And that’s not the end of it. In some modern depictions of the rainbow, indigo isn’t even there at all.

Take a close look at the Gay Pride flag. There are only six colors visible—indigo has vanished.* It’s the same with the cover artwork for Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

So what happened to indigo?

Apparently Sir Isaac Newton, who first named the colors of the rainbow, actually only saw five. But he also apparently believed in the power of seven as the number of mystical perfection, so he added orange and indigo.

Orange is thought to have remained because it is a secondary color, a mix of two primaries. Indigo is a tertiary as it mixes a primary, blue, with a secondary, violet.


‘This color draws both the alcoholic and the workaholic’


Whether you think it has a place in the rainbow or not, the psychological properties of indigo don’t change. It is the color of magic and ritual, intuition and perception, integrity and sincerity.

On the negative side it can be narrow-minded and intolerant, prone to fanaticism and addiction. This color draws both the alcoholic and the workaholic.

Indigo children are said to possess special, sometimes supernatural, traits according to a concept developed in the 1970s by Nancy Ann Tappe, who studied the links between personality and color.

According to her website, famous indigos include Barack Obama, Chelsea Clinton, Mark Zuckerberg and Eminem.

Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, writing in her book Colors for Your Every Mood, explains that the Yoruba of Nigeria use indigo for the doors of prestigious homes, while ancient Indians and Tibetans used it in prayer scrolls, believing it was the color of The Third Eye and would intensify the power of meditation and intuition.

The English chromatherapist and author of several books on color SGJ Ouseley agreed and wrote in his 1949 book Color Meditations that students and those in pursuit of knowledge would be greatly aided by visualizing a ray of indigo.

Indigo has been an important color in various cultures for thousands of years, as Jenny Balfour-Paul writes in her book, Indigo: Egyptian Mummies to Blue Jeans.

The color comes from the plant indigofera tinctora, which is native to the tropics. Compatible with all natural fibers, it was, says Balfour-Paul, the only source of blue dye but could also be combined with a variety of natural dyes to create a vast range of other shades.

While there are many stories about the invention of blue jeans, there are few about why the denim was dyed this color in the first place.

One theory is that indigo was the best-known natural dye until the end of the 19th century and thus became linked with workwear.

In addition, its ability to bind steadfastly to fabric combined with its dark color made it a practical choice at a time when washing clothes was hard work.

(Jeans came later, when Jacob Davis, a tailor, approached Levi Strauss about his plan to make work trousers stronger by riveting the joints. Davis had bought his cloth from Strauss and thus went to him first.)


‘You need to consider it carefully in a room where you will be spending long periods of time—such as the living room—as it can overwhelm’


Psychological properties and historical anecdotes aside, what about putting indigo on your walls?

When it comes to interiors, indigo will certainly make an impact. But you need to consider it carefully in a room where you will be spending long periods of time—such as the living room—as it can overwhelm. However, it is perfect for that rich gentlemen’s club look or to create a feeling of luxury in a bathroom.

Indigo should be avoided in the kitchen or dining room as it can suppress the appetite. And while blue is the color of communication, indigo is more about the inner self so it doesn’t encourage conversation.

Inky blue is increasingly fashionable in interiors at the moment and when paired with brass—which has also made a comeback in recent years—creates a sense of opulence and luxury.

Instead of using it on the wall, you can consider bringing indigo in via accessories. A rug or accent chair is a good way to bring in a dash of this strong color.

While great with metallics, indigo also works brilliantly with natural linen, wood, wool and leather. Try it also with a rich mustard yellow, emerald green or deep burnt orange for contrast.


*The first Gay Pride flag was designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978. It had eight stripes and included both hot pink and turquoise. Each of the colors had a specific meaning—pink was there for sexuality but was removed due to the unavailability of fabric. The following year both turquoise and indigo were removed and replaced by royal blue.

Photo: Shutterstock

When do you first think of when you see indigo? Share your thoughts with us @momentum.travel.

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