The meanings of the hues in this ancient practice are fascinating.
Choosing a room color is never an easy decision. Do the hues make you happy? Do they work with the size of the room? Do they flatter you? So, yes, you might balk at Feng Shui as yet another consideration in the paint aisle.
But when you follow this guide, you'll end up with colors that fit just right — they'll help your house work exactly as it should, and make you feel right at home. We tapped Laura Benko, holistic Feng Shui expert and author of The Holistic Home: Feng Shui Your Mind, Body, Spirit, Space, and New York-based interior designer Elena Frampton, who's been a Feng Shui hobbyist since she was a teen, for their most thoughtful advice on the subject. Consider this the color primer you've been waiting for — even if you don't think you're the Feng Shui "type."
(PS: Does the home above speak to you? It's a bold Chicago townhouse designed by Steven Gambrel. See more of it here.)
"Color plays an enormous impact in Feng Shui because it has a certain vibrational tone that chi picks up and distributes back out into the environment," says Benko. "The right (or wrong) color choice can have a tremendous impact on your state of mind and how balanced you feel."
"Context is extremely important," Frampton adds. So while it's helpful to know the technical principles, you should also consider how they're going to work in a specific space. And that's where our favorite Feng Shui principle comes into play: There is always a remedy to counterbalance something "wrong."
"This is the most important thing to consider before making color choices." says Benko. "If you are decorating a nursery, for example, most people innately understand that four walls of red are not conducive to a peaceful nights sleep for baby."
"Active rooms like dining rooms and workout rooms benefit more from red, orange and yellow," says Benko.
You might also consider these hues too strong to use for an entire room. So Frampton counts foyers (like this poppy pink one, designed by Jonathan Berger) and hallways as the perfect places to try them. "A hallway should have a dynamic energy — it's circulating people through the space, it's all about movement," she says. "So express that with a dynamic color!"
"One of the biggest mistakes people make is choosing the color red because they've heard that it's a lucky color and it will 'ward off evil,'" says Benko. "While it's true that red is considered auspicious and it also has authoritative associations (walking the red carpet, wearing a red power tie), the bottom line simply comes down to your own personal connection to that color."
"If you hate red, and yet you paint your front door that color because you think it's good Feng Shui, it will create a simmering undercurrent of frustration and unhappiness that boils up every time you come in and out of your home — and that is not good Feng Shui."
"Bedrooms and living rooms tend to meet needs best when they are neutrals, greens, and blues," Benko says.
In Feng Shui, black is not considered the best color for a bedroom or kitchen because it's so heavy. But if you've got your heart set on it, you can counterbalance that with something that brings a sense of lightness.
"In the bedroom, make it work by adding patterns into the mix, or painting only one wall black — the one behind the bed, as a grounding element," Frampton explains. Or add some luminosity, as seen here in a New York City kitchen Frampton designed: "This backsplash has an iridescent quality — as you move, the light catches it. That counteracts that black and softens the whole look."
"A lot of people see white as a neutral, but in Feng Shui it's often perceived as very sharp," says Frampton. "If I'm looking for the fresh crispness of a white, I'll go with a darker white or very light gray instead," she explains, and suggests Benjamin Moore Gray Owl. "It's a super-soft gray that can read as the right kind of white. We use that one all the time."
"Going with an all-neutral theme can be beautiful and elegant," says Benko. "Just remember these two tips: An all-neutral palette feels richer and more balanced if you mix textures, such as a nubby throw, a course jute rug, a smooth stone-topped coffee table and a furry sheepskin rug. Think in layers. Adding in metallics kicks it all up a design notch and delivers a polished feel to the atmosphere."
This bedroom in New Jersey, designed by Frank DelleDonne, hits all the right notes.
Benko would have you remember this first: "Your connection and gut reaction to the color overrides what any ancient claim might be to that color."
However, you don't want to choose only family colors that "reinforce your fears or challenges," she says.
"For example, if you lack motivation and are dwelling in a sea of calming, quieting neutrals, adding some pops of red and fiery tones can enhance your sense of drive and enthusiasm." This red-and-white Hamptons kitchen, designed by Ellen O'Neill, does just that.
"Using color in this way is how this ancient art of placement has been updated from thousands of years ago," Benko says. "Tap into the colors you subconsciously need the most in order to create a more balanced home that supports your goals and desires."
Play with different hues to get the right feel in your space space. For example: yellow. "Most yellows have a sharpness, so they should be carefully used. So rather than pair them with black or white, go with a pale gray, soft beige, or camel," says Frampton. "It will be so much more successful."
Meanwhile, if you're looking at a blue-green pairing in your home, you might react will to bringing in another element — something from the fire or earth family. Which is why this room, designed by Miles Redd, works so well with reds and browns layered in.
"This one goes beyond the vacuum of Feng Shui: Natural and artificial lighting will change the colors you choose significantly, so you have to test a shade before painting," says Frampton.
Even if your dream color looked perfect in the store, and passed all the tests when it comes to your view, your goals, and so on, it can read the wrong way once you're at home. "Sample three colors — the one you love, than one warmer and one cooler. Get a test pot or small sample and paint a 12" square on your wall. Observe it at different times of day before you make your final decision."
"A great aspect of color integration from a holistic feng shui perspective is that when your needs or goals change, you can easily change up your surroundings to support new goals in effortless ways by using artwork, pillows, throws, or rugs," says Benko.
"Keep the following in mind as a guide, but always remember to tap into your own mind, body, spirit needs and goals as well as your own visceral reaction to each color," says Benko.
RED — Acts as a stimulator.
ORANGE — Uplifting color that promotes happiness.
YELLOW/GOLD — Symbolizes power, stimulates health, patience and wisdom.
GREEN — Represents growth and new beginnings, as well as healing and freshness.
BLUES-GREENS — Represent youth, new beginnings and inspire confidence.
DEEPER BLUES — Infuse wisdom and introspection. However, in ancient Chinese culture, this shade is a secondary mourning color.
PURPLE — Inspires spirituality, adventure and prosperity.
BLACK — Contemplative color that encourages reflection and mystery.
WHITE — Cultivates clarity, precision and communication.
GREY — Invites helpfulness and represents a harmonious union of black and white.
BROWN — Offers stability and security.
PINK — Represents love, romance and partnership.