There’s a psychology to color, the experts say 

My first apartment in the Rondout neighborhood in Kingston was in one of those great old historic buildings with a lot of character and a lot of quirks. If I stood in the highest corner of our apartment and my boyfriend stood in the lowest, we’d both seem the same height. I’m 5’2” and he is 5’9”. Beautiful old windows overlooked the water and let in lots of light. It was bright and sunny with white walls and a tan carpet. For us, it seemed a giant blank canvas. We decided it needed to be painted. 

We picked bright colors and dabbled with different designs. In the end, we thought it looked quite bohemian. 

During our first venture into the world of paints we took missteps and changed our minds quite a few times. For example, we painted our bedroom red. I love red. To this day if I wear a color other than black, it is most likely red. I own a bright red Volvo. If I wear lipstick I always choose red. It feels so vibrant and warm. 


We discovered, however, that red in a bedroom was not restful. We thought it made us feel tense and a bit angry. So we repainted the room a light green. We felt that we slept much better. 

Painting was fun and affordable. We were game for experimentation. We learned a lot in that first apartment, and we continue to love bright colorful homes. We drive admiringly through Tannersville’s multi-colored Main Street. On back roads we are drawn to the houses that chose purple for their exterior. In a world of color, why are there so many white houses? 

So many colors, so many combinations. The hardest part is deciding which ones to use.

Not everyone finds the process enjoyable. Instead of finding color fun and adventurous, they find it stressful and tedious. I know people who have hemmed and hawed, debated and struggled over which color to paint their homes. More often than not, in the end they have painted their homes white. Again. It wasn’t that they wanted white. It was just where they landed when they couldn’t decide on anything else.

Sangi van de Nouweland said that “color is a language some do not speak.” A broker at Coldwell Banker Village Green, Sangi was a professional painter and color consultant for 35 years. Color speaks to her. She speaks its language fluently. For her, color is something that “can make a home sing.” 

She spoke of using colors that work with the home. 

“Contemporary houses might suggest the use of bright colors, whereas a traditional home might need something more subdued, with bright accent pieces,” she said. “Low ceilings might need a color that lifts the space. If a home has decorative trim, you need a color that emphasizes that. Each space will have certain things to emphasize and certain things you might want to hide. A house asks for certain things. The right color can elevate a home to another level.”

What if you don’t speak the lingo? What if you can’t look at a room and see what it is asking for? 

“Some people know they are not a blue or not a green person,” Sangi said, “so right from the start you learn not to look at those colors.” 

She suggested putting swatches on the wall. If those colors work with the light and with the shape of the home, she suggested moving on to getting samples to paint small parts of the wall before committing to painting the entire room. 

Joan Ffolliott agrees. The process begins with figuring out what colors don’t work and taking them out of the equation. Joan is an interior designer and color specialist with a graduate degree and interior design certification from the Rhode Island School of Design. A friend was in need of a color expert. It became her area of competence. She has been working as a color specialist in one way or another ever since. 

When talking to clients, Joan asks them what they want to achieve in the space. What kind of feeling do they hope to promote? Do they want a place with lots of energy or a place that is calm? 

“There is a psychology to color,” she said. “Colors elicit feelings. It is often common sense as to which colors are attached to which emotions.” 

People don’t often step back and think about what feelings they are trying to achieve within a space. “It is a bit like therapy,” Joan explained. “Talking to people about how things make you feel and trying to figure out where they want to be at the end. Interiors say something about us. and it is my job to help my clients express themselves within that space.” 

I remember moving out of that apartment in the Rondout as much as I remember moving in. In order to get our security deposit back, we had to repaint everything white again. I remember the feeling of deleting everything we had created in that space. It was maybe in that moment of removing my colors and my decoration from the apartment that I really felt how much paint and color add to a place. 

All of the emotion and feeling and love was moving out with us. We were leaving a blank canvas for the next residents. 

If I know anything, it’s that I’ll never want to repaint my bright red Volvo a light green. 

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