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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…

We respond to color in one of three ways: psychologically, personally or culturally—and there is very little we can do to change those instinctive reactions. Many of us shun the colors of our school uniform well into adulthood. Others return to the same color again and again because, without understanding why, it makes us feel good. And then there are the cultural associations—pink for girls, red for luck, white for mourning—depending on where you are in the world.

One of the three primary colors, red is perhaps the most manipulative color on the wheel. It is associated with extremes of emotion both good and bad—passion and anger, fortune and fury, blood and money, warnings and celebrations.

We roll out the red carpet and if that goes well we might later paint the town red following a red-letter day. But if the award doesn’t come our way, we might see red. Perhaps we are down to our last red cent after buying an outfit for that party. Or maybe the invitation was nothing more than a red herring.

There are more sayings associated with this most volatile of colors than any other. It is the first color of the rainbow, the one that we always see, even when the others are nothing more than a vague shimmering presence—visible mainly because we know they are there.

When it comes to our homes, despite red being the color of passion, it should rarely be used in a bedroom. Probably because it raises energy levels too much and isn’t conducive to a good night’s sleep. There’s a fine line between a night of passion and a blazing row, after all.

Having said that, some red and white stripes in a bedroom can increase self-confidence and bring a fresh summery vibe to the space. Just don’t take it too far. You don’t want to end up in Christian Grey’s red room of pain.

Red is better downstairs as it stimulates conversation, which is why you so often find it in the dining room where it should ensure lively debate around the table. It is not, in fact, the color of appetite—that is orange, of which we’ll reveal more next month.

According to Chinese philosophy red is the color of luck, which is why so many Chinese restaurants are painted in the hue. You enter, assume your appetite is being stimulated, eat loads, pay a huge bill and the owner gets lucky.

It’s not surprising, given all these associations, that red creates a strong first impression. Use it in your hallway if you dare—at least it will get it noticed.

One study found that red increases your competitive edge, but it’s a moot point whether it’s a good idea for a meeting room as you can’t tell if you will beat your opponent or the other way around.

In 2004, psychologists Russell Hill and Robert Barton from Durham University noticed that during the Olympic combat-sports events, athletes were given either a blue or a red kit. They found that those in red were 5 percent more likely to win.

Another study, reported in The Journal of Social Psychology, found that those using red poker chips felt more dominant, which made them more competitive. It worked both ways, as those playing with blue or white chips tended to concede to the reds.

But before you paint the boardroom red, bear in mind there’s a reason that red cars cost more to insure—when we see red, our reactions speed up and become more forceful. But that boost of energy may be short-lived and, crucially, red can reduce your analytical thinking.

So the key to using red in interiors is to keep it as an accent color. A muted red in a monochrome scheme provides a joyful splash of color or when paired with dark blue creates a rustic palette.

Before we leave red, what about its gentle cousin, pink? It may surprise you to know that until the 1940s, when it was changed as part of a US marketing scheme, pink was for boys and not, as it is today, associated with all things girlie.

A June 1918 article in Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department noted, ‘The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.’

Pink is also a calming color. In 2013, it was reported that a Swiss prison had painted around 30 cells pink and that anger levels were reduced within about 15 minutes although inmates were usually held for around two hours.

On that tranquil note, we will leave red. Check back next month to find out all about orange.

Tag us at @momentumtravels with photos of how you’ve used the color red at home.

Photo: Shutterstock

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.


  1. I once bought my then husband a pair f red flannelette pyjamas, He refused to wear them because he said they would keep him awake!!!!

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