The Fear of Color

I am constantly amazed at people's fear of color. I can't tell you how many times, while selecting paint colors for a client's home, I've heard "that's too bright" or "that's too dark" or "I like it, but I could never use it in my home." I ask them why they think it's too bright or too dark or too whatever, and they rarely elicit a response that makes any sense. "It just is," is the usual reply. As a designer, I want to rip my hair out!

Of course I understand that everyone has color likes and dislikes. We make associations through color. I was just in a seminar with a woman who hated the color "ochre" because it reminded her of the chalk used by a teacher she hated in elementary school. And I personally really dislike forest green. On my fifth birthday, I was forced into wearing a very uncomfortable forest green turtleneck. I’ve never really gotten over that experience.

Color likes and dislikes aside, people still seem to be afraid of using even the colors they love when painting their homes. There is this strange perception that "neutral" colors - meaning tan, beige and off white - are safe. That these colors create a "safe" environment. One where we can separate ourselves from the chaos of the outside world. One where emotions are under control. One where we can feel a sense of calm and not be distracted by something as brazen as color.

I recently paged through a copy of a popular home magazine and ran across this quote from a featured homeowner:

"I like color, but not bold color. Color evokes strong emotions, and I want my house to feel calm."

What is it that we are really afraid of? Why this need to feel "safe"?

Perhaps it is not the colors themselves, but the emotions within ourselves that create the most fear. Color is extremely psychologically powerful, and in using it we need to be comfortable enough with ourselves to accept whatever emotion it may evoke. Obviously, color can be used incorrectly and can create many unpleasant emotional responses. But, think about the most beautiful things you have ever seen. Most likely you will imagine something designed by nature.

A rich red rose.

A shimmering turquoise ocean.

A rainbow.

All of these designs have one thing in common: color. Very seldom will your vision of beauty be something beige. Now think about the emotion you feel from those images. A feeling of amazement? A sense of peace? A burst of excitement? If we can translate those feelings into our homes, why not? A beige wall paint can be fine. It IS safe. It goes with almost everything. But it can also be dull and uninspiring. And to me, a color that is dull and uninspiring is anything but safe. I would rather take a leap and try something new because, really, my biggest fear is not color, or even the emotions they may evoke, but rather the idea of living in a world with no color...and no emotion.