Color 101: Learn the Underlying Meaning of Your Favorite Shades

Whether at home, in the office or in the natural world, we're surrounded by color. And, whether we're aware of it or not, each color affects us on a deeper, subconscious level. Demystify color's hidden meanings to simplify selecting shades for your home. 

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November 25, 2014
By: Mark McCauley
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Statistically, the world's favorite color — blue is beloved because we're all surrounded by it. We live on this big blue marble consisting of sea and sky. When associated with water, blue represents the soft lapping of waves or the running of a clear mountain stream. As the air we breathe, blue is fresh and vital, reminding us of the clarity of a sunlit day under azure skies.


Associated with life itself, the color green represents newness and rebirth. Think of the trees of the forest: green is photosynthesis, the act of turning light into life. Green also has a whimsical, fun nature and is seen as talkative and stimulating to conversation. 


Red reigns! The color that calls on powerful emotions — either love or hate  — red is the arbiter of our deepest feelings. It's the dynamic motion of flame and the color of the blood that courses through our veins. It's all of the things that mean so much to life itself. Full of ego and emotion, red is the color of our life force.


Purple brings to mind royalty and ancient civilizations. It's the color of the Muse, of soothsayers and prophets. It is clairvoyant and psychic, headstrong and powerful. Yet it also represents the color of sorrow and passion intertwined, as in the Christian sense, with death and resurrection.


Yellow is associated with "higher powers," of things greater than we mere mortals. For the Egyptians, the sun god Ra ruled all; for the ancient Greeks, Apollo's golden chariot blazed across the skies. In modern times, we associate yellow with the sun and relate the color to intellectualism and innocent happiness.
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Orange is warming and uplifting, as in the softer energy found in the last rays of sunset. It relates to our entire lifecycle as the color of fall, symbolic of the end of life. Orange, as clay, has a primitive side as well, reminding us of our antediluvian forefathers.


Gray can feel warm or cool or no temperature at all. It represents "the rock," therefore solidity and support. Gray can seem nondescript, which explains its current reigning popularity as the neutral of choice. The color of the wallflower, gray is also the color of wisdom and longevity.


White is "up in the air," as in fluffy clouds. It has associations of an upward "heavenly" motion and is pure as the driven snow and innocent in nature. White represents cleanliness and the absence of pain and is as inviting as a pure white cotton sheet on which to lay our bodies.


Black is the "forever" color — forever night, forever faithful, forever formal. It's a color that can inspire fear through its association with nothingness but can also feel calming due to its solid, orderly and timeless appeal. Nothing wishy-washy here, adding black to any interior always lends a glamorous look. 


There's an Old World reverence and true depth of emotion about the color gold. With gold, we inherently think of wealth, luxury and desire, yet it also relates to satisfaction and intimacy. Gold is the wedding ring, the ties that bind; it's lifelong love. It is the finest we have to offer and often represents our highest achievements.


Depending upon its strength, pink can make us feel young and joyfully alive or gentle and calm. It's innocent and playful and is often associated with the feminine side of our natures. Pink also represents garishness and a devil-may-care attitude in its hotter intensities.


This high-power blue isn't as restful as its near neighbors on the color wheel. Turquoise is vibrant and spirited enough to represent a kinesthetic, athletic tension, while reminding us of the opulence of the Tokapi Palace and ancient intrigues and mysticism.


The great balancing act of neutral beige allows the other colors to come out and play. Beige is the arbitrator, joining disparate colors together and forming new unions. It's the color of noncolor, the sameness of the desert lulling us into sleep through its unchallenging nature.


Brown is the protector, the Earth Mother to us all. Security and contentment are found in brown. It's the cozy color, enveloping us in strength and allowing for rest and recovery. Brown shelters us from the storms of life.

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