Color Psychology: Yellow

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Photo: Andrew Blight

As we’ve discovered in this series about color psychology, choosing colors is a powerful tool in setting the tone, matching the moods, complementing daily activities, and stylistically transforming your space.  And we’ve also discovered that colors have multiple effects that are often brought out when using other colors in tandem with them to subtly change their visual dynamics.

In this installment, let’s talk about yellow. When it comes to moods and psychologically positive vibes, there is none more cheery, upbeat, and optimistic than yellow.  Yellow has that element of innocence and purity that makes it a culturally attractive color in the spectrum.

Think goldilocks. Think “Have a Nice Day” buttons.

Yellow is also a great way to brighten up a room without amping up your electricity bill, too.

But, is that all there is to this sunny, energetic member of the rainbow? Is there a dark side

Moods and effects of yellow

In addition to the bright, cheery quality that yellow can bring, it is similar to red in that it is an extroverted color. It calls attention to itself. It activates memory, and stimulates the mind in general. It inspires action. To bring out a sunnily assertive mood in a space, yellow is ready to go.

Yet, another aspect of yellow that makes it less a candidate for bringing vitality to a space than, say, a red or orange, is that yellow is the most distracting of colors that is processed by the human eye. As such, too much yellow can be a source of pain, as much as it can be a source of cheer in another context. So, when thinking of incorporating yellow into a space, its time to do a little bit of thinking. When it comes to the spectrum of cheery to naked hostility, you want to get it right.

Popular shades of yellow

Yellow sits like the sun in the center of a green/brown/gold/orange spectrum of color.  Colors in the yellow family can range from pale, to bold, to earthy, and with all of the associated effects coming along for the ride.  Here are a few selected shades that make yellow an important color range to consider for interior design plans.

Yellow in the living room

Your living room is a place of welcome, a very common first destination when friends and family are ushered into your home. For that sense of openness, and for a hearty visual welcome, extroverted yellow can have tremendous positive impact. But, as has been stated, if you’re going to overdo a color, yellow is not the one to do it with.

You can still get that welcome with a piece of artwork central to your space that has yellow as a primary tone, for instance. Yellow cushions are another way to bring in the cheer, while keeping the blinding brightness in check.

Yellow and blue rooms are a common choice to get this kind of balance. Stately, and conservative blue or sophisticated, artistic purple tends to rein in the excesses of yellow, without diminishing the friendliness that yellow represents at its best in your living room.  With yellow, thinking about balance and contrast is even more important perhaps than it is for all other tones in the color spectrum.

Yellow in the kitchen

Because yellow activates the senses, stimulates the appetite, and lets the sunlight in, the use of yellow in kitchens is legendary.  This is one of the rooms in the house where brightness is valued the most. The associations it has with preparing and eating food is of course a no-brainer connection when it comes to yellow in the kitchen, too.

Much like you did in the living room, think about how to contrast yellow with other colors while still getting all of the positive benefits the yellow spectrum allows. Sometimes, yellow crockery, yellow countertop appliances, or yellow place settings against a blue kitchen table or kitchen countertop is just enough to accomplish this goal.  Other times, a pale yellow kitchen wall accented with blue tile backsplashes or decorative crockery on the walls  is the right balance. especially when your kitchen gets enough natural light to bring out the best in this combination.

Yellow in the bathroom

The bathroom is a place of privacy, and welcome solitude. Since brighter shades of yellow can be brash and sometimes visually invasive, it’s not often conducive to striking that comfortable, private feeling. If you’re not careful, you can create the effect that the person using your bathroom is in the spotlight! So, when decorating a bathroom with yellow, think about the earthier end of the yellow spectrum; the deep golds, the pale desert yellows, the golden browns.

Another way to utilize  a subtle yellow accent in a bathroom is with brighter shades of sunny yellow in shower curtains, face cloths, hand cloths, and towels. Consider small pieces of art, too: golden fields or rural wheat field themes that denote the spaciousness and solitude of nature. In this way, yellow can be a way to make your bathroom feel cozier, and more comfortable.

Yellow in the bedroom

Much like in your bathroom, your bedroom is a private place, your own home within your home. Yellow can come in handy if you’re looking to make it a brighter space. But, most people like a bedroom to be muted, and restful, rather than screaming for their attention.

Earthy shades of yellow, like an ochre (which is on the border between yellow and orange) or flax, can bring warmth, feelings of security and rest to a place where you most often go when you need it.

Yellow flooring & furnishings options

Natural shades of yellow help you to avoid the garish and obtrusive, and in turn help you to establish the inviting warmth, and cheeriness you’re looking for. Natural white oak flooring in a solid wood or engineered floor are popular touches to adding just that, and to brightening up spaces.  The same goes for yellow birch and ash, which when used with furniture and cabinetry, can add subtlety and style in equal measure.

Natural bamboo floors, which is known for its sustainability and rich blonde tones is another choice to make, which is sort of a green approach to yellow, as it were. When it comes to tile, travertine tile flooring adds a touch of gold to gray to bathrooms, kitchens, and entranceways.

Why decorate with yellow?

Yellow adds warmth and cheer to any room of the house.  Yellow can add a feeling of brightness to rooms that perhaps need a bit of a boost where light is concerned. It is a vital color that stimulates the senses, having a positive effect on appetite. It is the color to use when you’re looking to display an assertive personality in a space, or one that needs a bit of pure, childhood wonder.

When tempered with complementary shades, yellow can add important balance to the atmosphere of your home, cheering up moody blue, making artistic purple more accessible, and generally letting the sun shine in.

Stay tuned for the next installment of our color psychology series: green


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Cate Morgan-Harlow

Cate Morgan-Harlow is an all arounder, writing about how-to, DIY, and design with gusto. She is a shadowy figure with a mysterious past.