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Colour me happy

Too many of us play safe when decorating our homes, but favourite colours can boost our wellbeing, writes Judy Hobson

Colour can lift our spirits or calm us down. It's definitely not something we should be frightened of using out homes. Sadly, though, too many of us worry about what other people will think to follow our hearts and choose a colour we really love.

Karen Haller, based in London's Notting Hill, is one of only two applied colour psychologists in the UK. She says: "Don't worry about what other people think, because, if you do, you will lose focus.

"Remember your home is your sanctuary and should love and nurture you. It is not a showroom to make others happy."

The Oxford English Dictionary defines colour as the property possessed by an object of producing different sensations on the eye as a reult of the way it reflects or emits light, and man has been fascinated by the phenomenon for millennia. The particular colours or tones, we prefer, Karen says, depend on our personality and our innate response to them.

"The response can be triggered by a fond memory. You may be in love with terracotta because of a holiday in Italy you enjoyed and that attachment will be unique to you."

Over the years colour symbolism has grown up in different cultures. In China, for example, red is regarded as a very lucky colour while in Ireland it is green that is thought to bring good fortune. 

Karen adds: "All the time we're unconsciously being influenced by associations like this."

Self-confessed colour obsessive Martha Roberts from Chiswick in West London wants to inject more colour into our lives. She is doing this by taking 'shelfies' and showing us the impact they can have.

Martha puts objects with a particular colour theme on to a shelf against a stark black background, takes a picture and then uploads it on to her blog.

She says: "I am doing this to encourage people to start using colour more, not in a massive way ut on a shelf or a mantelpiece and to show them the impact it had.

"Colour is all around us. We need to learn to use it to our advantage. Then we would all feel happier and sleep better."

Martha only began her colour file blog in February, but it has already been shortlisted for an award.

"I eat, sleep and breathe colours," she says. "I'm passionate about it and the effect it can have on us."

Her earliest memory of colour dates from 1972 and her third birthday.

"It is of the purple icing on my birthday cake. I remember thinking it was the most beautiful think I had ever seen and not wanting to share it."

Soon afterwards Martha persuaded her mum to have their front door painted purple and to let her have purple wallpaper in her bedroom.

Purple is the colour of passion. It also reflects sophistication and drama.

"I can," Martha admits, "be a little dramatic at times."

Sydney-born Karen has spent more than 20 years studying how colour affects the way we feel and behave. Big business regularly calls on her expertise when there are plans to build a new office block in the City, open a coffee shop or decorate a children's hospital ward.

Karen says: "We're all influenced by colour. When we are out shopping, the brands we see all use colour to sending out their buy me message and we subconsciously respond."

Our response to red can be traced back to cavemen ancestors who used to sit round a fire for warmth and protection, but red is also the colour of poisonous berries so it is also recognised as a warning sign.

"The key to our response," Karen explains, "is the context we see red in. In the bedroom, for instance, it conveys passion but if someone chooses to dress in fire engine red for a meeting they can come across as aggressive. It is, however, a good colour to wear when you want to boost your energy levels and if you want to get noticed. Men's eyes are attracted to red because it is the colour of lust and passion."

Martha points out that fast food outlets including McDonald's use a lot of red in their logos because it not only raises energy levels but also promotes social engagement.

"This is why it is a good colour to use in your dining room. Red had been shown to stimulate our appetites and get us talking."

Yellow is another energising colour often used in branding. Many self-help book ave yellowon their covers.

Sometimes  yellow can cause people to feel agitated, however, perhaps because of the association with bees and wasps and its use on warning signs.

Soft pink can soothe the mind and be comforting, while light blue can be tranquil/ Turquoise, Karen says, is good for encouraging communication while orange reflects a fun mood. Martha,, who writes a column on colour for Psychologies magazine, regrets that while many of us love colour, we are scared of using it and play safe when we are decorating our homes, often opting for white or magnolia.

"Colour is so important because of its impact on us and the way it makes us feel. This is why it has become such a massive subject for interior and fashion designers as well as big companies who want to sell us things."

Karen believes that when colours are being selected for a new building, whether it is an office or coffee shop, the wellbeing of those who are going to work there should be taken into consideration. She encourages the interior designers she trains to take account of how they want the occupants of the building to feel and behave.

"In your own home," she advises, "trust you intuition and pick colours that bring you joy. A recent survey I came across said that 75 percent of people decorate their homes to please others. That is so sad." 

Martha agrees: "Follow your heart when you're choosing colour to use in your home, if you are nervous of painting you living room aqua, paint the walls white initially and add aqua curtains and throws. then six months later, if you're still in love with the colour, do the whole room aqua."

Commenting on the recent trend for all white interiors, together with white objects, she says: "While this may look as though you're clutter free, it can feel a bit sanitary. To prevent the room looking like a dentist's waiting room, my advice would be to add a touch of colour to that all-white background- a green sofa, some colourful painting on the walls and some coloured glass ornaments on the mantelpiece."

To see Martha's blog and Instagram 'shelfies', log on to

To learn more about Karen, see the website

Do you use lots of colour in your home? do you agree with the colour experts? 

Let us know what you think and share your experiences with us and others. And for more health news, follow us on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, Instagram and YouTube

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