Standing in front of your local hardware store’s selection of paint color swatches, you might assume one white tone is just as good as another, right? Well, it turns out, there’s a psychology behind your home’s exact color choices. Expert in color psychology, Dr. Zena O’Connor of Design Research Associates investigated people’s responses to color and found that tonal value (a color’s lightness versus its darkness) is just as important as the color itself. “This is because research indicates that tonal value and saturation have just as much impact as hue in interior design,” she says.
Hence, choosing a color for a room isn’t your only consideration when in front of those swatches—you must also think about the color’s exact tone. A dark, vibrant red, for instance, might convey drama to viewers, while a soft, rosy hue feels more welcoming. Not only that, but the combination of color tones (rather than one by itself) is more important to creating the best emotional responses, O’Connor says. “Color combinations—in specific tonal value clusters—definitely have an impact on mood and ambiance.” But what color tones work best together? And where should they be placed in the house to have the most impact? We talked to the experts to find out.
Dark brown sand and bright white tones
To create a space conducive to concentration and study, take typical neutral colors and make them stand out. One way to do this is to choose a bright, bold white and pair it with an earthy dark brown sand color. “Neutral colors are generally accepted to include white, off-white, plus variations of cream, beige, achromatic hues, and varying shades of gray,” O’Connor says. These are traditionally very calming colors, but if you take a bright white and pair it with a dark sand color, the white becomes more of a pop of activity that still keeps the flow of other neutral spaces in a house. “In the most active areas of the home, a clean white base offers a calming constant between spaces,” says Sarah Peterson Major, director of residential design at BHDM Design. “As you move from room to room, the energy of each space shifts but the neutral backdrop acts as a grounding element.”
Take the bright white and dark sand and apply it to a study space, like a home office. The brown sand will ground the space but the bright white adds a sense of “focus and organization,” says Gideon Mendelson, founder and creative director at Mendelson Group. Perhaps keep the walls white and add the earthy tones in through key pieces of furniture. “My favorite way to add color to a space is to move it around the room,” Mendelson says, “introducing it in various places through accessories, throws, furniture, etc. The balance of colors allows your eyes to bounce around the room in a very dynamic way” without being too energizing. It’s an office and not a child’s activity room after all.