How do you feel about the color red? Love it or hate it, one thing is for sure — you can’t easily ignore it. Red is the most emotionally intense color and is often used to provoke a reaction (think of waving a red cape in front of a bull) or to stimulate the senses.
In the wide spectrum of color, red is exciting, energizing and is considered dramatic and powerful. Often used to indicate danger, it’s also the color of passion — or the color of anger, as in “seeing red.” The color red is known to have a physiological effect on humans. It increases excitement and energy. It can even increase our heartbeat, our breathing and raise our blood pressure. In association with yellow and orange, it is thought to provoke hunger, and is often used by food vendors.
Red is not neutral. It is not a good color to wear in negotiations or confrontations. It is the color of revolutionaries and militaries and has always stirred emotions, serving as a powerful symbol throughout human history.
Red in world history and cultures
Red has traditionally been the color of the rich and powerful — used by kings and clergy to signify station and wealth (hence the red carpet treatment for VIPs). Before chemical dyes, creating red was a painstaking and expensive process that required extracting it from the root of the madder plant or squashing it out of kermes bugs. Only royalty or the extremely wealthy could afford to wear the color red.
In different cultures, red has a number of meanings. For instance, in Chinese symbolism, red is the color of good luck and is used for decoration and wedding attire. Money in Chinese society is traditionally given in red packets. Stock market gains in China and other East Asian countries are displayed in red, while losses are displayed in green.
In India, red is associated with one of the most revered goddesses in Hindu mythology — Durga. Her fiery image is enhanced by her red tongue and almost red eyes. The color also stands for purity and is the preferred color for a bride’s garment. Red is visible throughout the wedding, from the bride decked in brilliant hues to the red tikka spot on her forehead that she adorns afterwards as a sign of her commitment. This ties into why red also symbolizes fertility and prosperity.
Decorating styles that use red
There are many styles that use red as the anchor color, and given red’s propensity to stand out, it’s easy to see why it is often at the center of the palette. Many popular styles have infused the color red into their designs, with each finding its own way to stand out.
In Traditional English Country design, the typical red is a burgundy color mixed with dark greens and navy blues, giving the setting a rich and regal tone. Its later cousin, Traditional Victorian, often finds ochre red paired with white or gold for a brighter, more vibrant feel.
Coming across the pond — and, particularly, in Southern California — we find Craftsman-inspired design, with the use of brick reds, orange-reds and earthy hues found mostly in accents. Bright reds, paired with primary hues such as blue and yellow, are the foundations of youthful contemporary styles.
But one of the most obvious places you’ll find red these days — the front door. In China, a door is sometimes painted red before the New Year to bring good luck and happiness. In Ireland, it’s said to ward off evil spirits. The scarlet entry also has deep religious significance for both Catholics and Protestants. For American homeowners, a red door is a sign that the mortgage has been paid off — perhaps it’s to show they have the freedom to paint it such an extraordinary color!
Where to use red
Decorating with red can test the skills of design professionals. The best starting point is in the room itself. How will the room be used? Consider the size of the room. Like all dark, rich colors, red embraces the space of a room. It makes small spaces more dramatic and large spaces feel cozy.
We all know that lighting changes a color’s appearance. So it’s important to think about the number of windows in the room, the time of day the room will be utilized and the mood of the space. Red brings energy and playfulness, but might be too bold if your client is looking for a peaceful retreat.
The dining room or kitchen is a natural choice, as red stimulates the appetite. Because red creates a feeling of comfort, family rooms and powder rooms are other great areas for red. Looking for drama? Add red to hallways and entryways. Need stimulation? Red wakes up a room and stimulates the brain.
The feeling that red creates is greatly influenced by the colors used to accent it. If the room palette tends to be cool and is designed with light and medium blues, choose cooler, pinker versions of red such as Slice of Watermelon DE5068 or Geranium Red DE5089. If the room palette tends to be designed with intense shades of deep navy, teal, etc., choose deeper, intense versions of red such as Deep Crimson DEA152, Spiced Berry DEA149 or Garnet Evening DEA147 to balance the intensity.
Lastly, some words of caution. The sun can fade red exteriors quickly, so be mindful where you use the color. Also, red can be over-stimulating in bedrooms, making it difficult to get to sleep. Extensive use of red in offices can be distracting, making it hard to concentrate for long periods of time.
So why not embrace the most vibrant and emotionally intense color in the spectrum? Show your clients how this historical and revered color can add excitement and drama to their décor.