Here is a NY Times article, looking at whether coloring your rooms and your home in brighter colors can make you happier.

It describes how there is a larger interested in positive psychology, as seen in Harvard’s most popular course being on positive psychology. And it describes the forthcoming book “The Architecture of Happiness,” which talks about how buildings and environment affect our moods. The article also describes the strong new counter-point to the past view of elegance, which used to be white or beige walls.

Reading the article, it sounds like the interior decorators in this article are called in to make everything appear in their style of bright colors. It seems that the interior decorators don’t look particularly at each person, and what bright colors may work for that person, but that they look at their style, and apply it to the house. For example, that bright candystriped bedroom in the photo looks like it could belong in anyone’s home, and is not necessarily personal to that family. Caveat: I could be way wrong, and it could be that each such room is very, very personal to the people that live there.

What would seem wrong to me is having one-size-fits-all approach to bright colors. Maybe I’m reading into the article too much.

Colors are so personal. For example, I know a woman who has a yellow kitchen, and her place is WONDERFUL in yellow! It is just right for her and her family. It feels like her when you stand there: it feels energetic, young, and alive. I know a woman whose kitchen cupboards are eggplant purple – it’s wonderful (and dark as opposed to the bright colors advocated in this article), but it’s wonderful for her and her family! It feels deep and warm and homey. And that’s what make both these homes great: the personal touch, the personal liking of individual color choices and their fit to the homes.

I agree that what you look at every day matters. I agree that your environment has a big influence on you. I don’t believe that 1) other people can tell you that they know what’s best for you (yes, they can suggest, but not top-down tell you), and that 2) what is best for one person’s environment is best for another person’s environment (as long as there is significant variety in recommendations for different people).

One of the biggest points about happiness is that people have more happiness when they feel personal control. So if a decorator were to come in, and tell you that you should like bright colors (and this particular combination of bright colors) better, then that’s the opposite of personal control. Most decorators do personalize everything – just the way I read the article, I got the impression that bright colors were more important to these decorators than making the place fit the personality of the people hiring them. And that couldn’t be so; it wouldn’t make sense; they wouldn’t be in business. Since if not q then not p, then I must have been wrong that the decorators aren’t personalizing their bright color recommendations.


  1. Posted Saturday August 19, 2006 at 12:49 am | Permalink

    I liked the insightful comment that de Boton said: “I think we decorate to get away from what we fear.” The flip side might be what you’re saying, which is to decorate to what you like.

    Color is much more sophisticated that just picking one. You can make a dark color look happy, and a happy color look sad, if you know what you’re doing, and know how to control the environment.

    Having a favorite color might be similar to having a favorite note; having a favorite palette of colors is like having a favorite musical key. The analogy isn’t perfect, but I think one can derive the idea that music in one key or one note itself isn’t very interesting. As a complement to our lives, though, which is what I think de Boton was getting at, the application of color (and space, and light, and everything) can create a wonderfully positive arrangement for tickling our senses and delighting our minds. To think that there’s just one magic color trick that does it is false, in my opinion…I prefer a holistic approach.

  2. Lila
    Posted Saturday August 19, 2006 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    To be honest, I think you may be slightly misreading (or maybe overreading?) the article. Again to be honest, I didn’t read it all that carefully. But it looks like a typical home-section article: There’s this new trend, and here’s who’s promoting it, and here’s what you can do to latch onto it. I don’t think the article author necessarily agrees with the authors of those books so much as is reporting what these home decoration mavens are saying in a fairly non-critical way — which is totally standard for these types of decoration articles.

    If you read another article in the NYT next week on home decoration, it’ll probably be extolling beige as though it’s something everyone would want to do. Another article will tell you how great rock gardens are. A third one will say that suede couches are the hottest thing ever. A fourth one will tell you that you could redo your kitchen with only earth-friendly materials. This is just the style of the article — not that it means that the author thinks everyone *should* do it.

    At least that’s my take.

    But I totally agree with you on the color thing. I would not *want* bright colors on my walls! We recently painted our living room a very muted green and I just *love* it. It replaced a brighter (but also paler, if that makes any sense) mint green that I didn’t like much at all.

  3. Lila
    Posted Saturday August 19, 2006 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    On second look at that article, I take back what I said about it being “fairly non-critical.” I actually think the writer did a good job playing up several criticisms, and quotes critics who make some of the same points you do! Even the headline shows skepticism. So I think you and the article writer may actually be coming from the same place — why knock the article when it agrees with you?

  4. Posted Thursday August 24, 2006 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    We went with four shades of blue with lime green accents and white trim in our new office. The rest of our company went with tan walls and brown trim (ick). We wanted something that stood out, but made us comfortable. We ended up with something we enjoy working in…!

  5. Posted Thursday August 24, 2006 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    THAT LOOKS COOL, CHRIS!!! Very very cool look. I like the wavyness of the lime green! Niiiiiiiiiiiice.

  6. Posted Thursday August 24, 2006 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Lila, I agree with you and rewrote it. :)
    I think initially I just reacted so strongly against the one-size-fits-all that I closed my eyes to the rest of it.

    Dave, I like your distinction about the approach… and that would fit with what so many books say, you can approach a situation with “either fear or love.”

  7. Posted Monday August 28, 2006 at 2:08 am | Permalink

    “Approach a situation with either fear or love” — that’s great!!!

    Chris: DUDE, that’s an AWESOME OFFICE! I love the “Clerks panels” on the wall. Totally awesome!

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] Today’s question is suggested by Chris Harrison! This is such a fun question and it fits with this note about interior design. […]

  2. By » SENIA.COM Summary - August, 2006 on Friday September 1, 2006 at 3:38 am

    […] It looks like I’m getting more into recommendations: * On the Web: funny David Cowan post, great brain resource, love-this-one! Dave Shearon blog, super video of Dancing Matt, a few great articles about the new eight planets!, and a small critique of a a NYT article about one-size-fits-all bright-color interior. * Books: Feynman’s Rainbow and two books I like described by Dave Shearon. * On TV: Josh Ritter on Conan O’Brien . […]