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Conceptual sunrise with a slice of orange and acrylic paint

SEEING COLORS: ORANGE

Over the coming months, 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…

If red is the toddler of the color wheel—all extremes of emotion and mercurial temperament, then orange is your new BFF. The color of companionship and laughter, appetite and intelligence, orange is the feel-good shade—happy, social and extroverted.

Obviously it is a mix of red (see last month) and yellow (coming next), which together create a color that boosts both stamina and energy as well as encouraging feelings of fun and optimism. But be careful, as it can also appear frivolous and, when used in interiors, give the impression that things are not being taken too seriously. So use it sparingly in reception areas and client meeting rooms.

In addition to its fun side, orange is said to be associated with good value, which suddenly puts the EasyJet logo in a new light, doesn’t it? Think also of Homebase and Sainsbury’s in the UK and The Home Depot in the US. Not forgetting TNT shipping and Penguin paperbacks.

This is all the more reason to be wary of using too much orange in a meeting room or hotel, as, while you clearly want to give the impression that your product is good value, it is firmly associated with the budget end of the market. Perhaps that’s why French brand Hermes uses the shade—it wants to persuade us all that it’s more affordable than it seems?

Mind you, it doesn’t matter what the psychologists tell us about the meaning of color, because we all have an immediate cultural and instinctive reaction to it. For Americans, the color orange may make them think of prison. For the Dutch, it’s about the royal family and the national football team. For Hindus, orange (saffron) is a sacred and auspicious shade, whereas in Northern Ireland it is strongly associated with the Protestants, giving it both a religious and political significance that has nothing to do with its psychological links to warmth, happiness and friendliness.

While we can do little about our instinctive reactions to a color, orange is said to decrease feelings of irritation (unless you’re an American criminal, a Dutch republican or an Irish Catholic) which makes it a good color to use in busy rooms or spaces where lots of people congregate as it will encourage them to be well-behaved and cheerful. Therefore, no to meeting rooms and yes to dining rooms, kitchens and break areas.

A few orange chairs outside a meeting room or in the reception area can work to encourage conversation and promote feelings of friendliness. If you work from home, a splash of orange can give you an energy boost—which is healthier than a chocolate biscuit at 4 o’clock every afternoon.

Having said that, it is orange, not red, that is the color of appetite. So be careful if you paint your kitchen in this shade or you may end up piling on the pounds. Likewise if you have too much of it in your office—you may spend more time snacking than working. However, as an accent in a dining room it can work well because, used in moderation, it is said to aid digestion and encourage socializing.

Keep in mind, however, that orange hasn’t really been used in interiors since the 1970s and seems to be inextricably linked to that decade.

Let’s unpack that. Back then the light bulbs were tungsten and gave off a lovely warm glow. The soft reds, browns and oranges that were a feature of that period reacted well to the incandescent light and made our homes look cozy and warm. Throw in natural wood and lots of plants and you have encapsulated that period.

With the move to LEDs and low-energy bulbs with cool blue light, those colors reacted badly and fell out of favor. This is the real reason why we all love gray now—it works well under the modern blue light that we live in.

So while you might not want to paint all four walls orange, it’s the perfect accent color when used in moderation. Pair it with black or charcoal for a less aggressive take on red and black. It’s great with every shade of blue from navy to aqua for a rustic kitchen or cheery bathroom.

If it feels a bit too vibrant for a room in which you want to relax, tone it down to a soft peach or choose a darker burnt orange shade so that it doesn’t overpower. If you want it in the bedroom, keep it to accents or choose a paler shade otherwise you might be too stimulated to sleep.

Orange will also make a room seem warmer than it is so use it in the sitting room and turn down the heating. Which brings us neatly back to the value-for-money aspect of this most vibrant of colors.

What associations does the color orange trigger for you? Let us know with #momentumtravel.

Kate Watson-Smyth
Kate Watson-Smyth (@katewatsonsmyth)

Kate Watson-Smyth has been a journalist for over 25 years, writing for the Financial Times, Daily Mail and The Independent. She runs the UK’s No 1 interiors blog Mad about the House and her first book, Shades of Grey, is out now.

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