Cacophony to Calm…Compensating with Color

 Cacophony to Calm…Compensating with Color

Can color “theory” heal?   If healing means balancing, compensating, and otherwise enhancing the quality of a space, object, light source, or even our bodies, then I believe it can.

Our April 17, 2011 Color Muze  on Artistically Speaking Talk Show, “muzed” about how color can be used to adjust our perception of sound, or the lack of it, and thus balance or “heal” an environment through our sense of seeing, and its potential effect on our sense of hearing.  This is an aspect of the phenomenon of “Synesthesia”, or “Unity of the Senses”, as IACC-NA (International Association of Colour Consultants/Designers-North America)  lecturer, Frank H. Mahnke, terms it.  The idea being  that our perception of color can associate with our perception of another sense, such as hearing.

Warm colors (from red to yellow-green on the color wheel), associate with loudness.

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Cool colors (from green to red-violet on the color wheel) associate with quietness.

This is reflected in our language, the way we talk about our environment, or even our feelings, in terms of color. I am not sure I have ever heard anyone refer to a quiet (or cool) red, though anything is possible!  On the contrary, I remember my mother describing feelings of anger as “Seeing red.”

By comparison, people may speak of a  quieting their emotions when they enter a room in which a “cool” blue predominates.

It is interesting to view the two together…(albeit different hues and values of red and blue).

Thus if we wish to compensate for noise problems in a space, we can add more “cooling” colors such as  blues, blue greens, perhaps even a cool blue-violet. Warm to hot colors such a saturated reds, and “hot” oranges or yellows will tend to exacerbate our sense of being in a noisy environment, which can be significant in any setting where concentration is important.

To relieve a “too-quiet” or tomb-like atmosphere in a room, and add energy, warmer (and lighter) colors may be applied, such as yellow-green, golden-yellow, reds, oranges or “hot” purples (red-violets).

It is fascinating, and fun to see the sound associations the Henrich Frieling, Director of the Institute of Color Psychology assigns to a range of colors:

Red– loud, trumpet

Pink – soft, delicate

Orange – loud, major key

Brown – dark, deep minor key

Gold-Yellow – fanfare, major key

Yellow – shrill, major key

Yellow-Green – high-pitched, minor key

Green – muffled when dull, shrill when saturated

Green-Blue – soft

Blue – distant, flute to violin

Ultramarine – dark, deep, more minor key

Violet – sad, deep, minor key

Light-Purple – weak, restrained

Crimson – powerful, stately

It really begs the question…what might a musician, singer, or music therapist have to say about this?  What about Sharry Edwards, pioneer in the study of Human BioAcoustic Biology…might she have a “color link” to her work and theories on healing the body through sound?

Perhaps a subject for another post…

Have you used color to compensate for too much noise, or not enough sound in your own or other spaces? Have you felt the effect of color healing in regards to your, or your Clients’ auditory environment?  What is YOUR experience with Synesthesia, in regards to the relationship of sight to sound, the visual to the audible?

If you feel so inspired, please share your insights with us here.  We love to hear from you.

Remember, we are all seeking the balance in this thing called Life, together.

Here’s wishing you healing wherever you need it most, in your Life right here, right now.  Cheers!

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11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Yes, Debra, compensation is absolutely a good way to describe the way we want to create balance and harmony, with dynamics, as with music! When clients ask for “soft” I don’t say Fire-Engine Red. OK, so that’s extreme. But seriously, thanks for bring this important aspect of color design to light.

    • You are welcome Barbara, and thank you for your comment.
      Synesthesia is such a fascinating concept, and it occurred
      to me that whether you call it balancing, healing, compensating or adjusting, the point is to make the environment more humane, and appropriate to the desired activity that goes on there…the healing quality of all art is paramount, as I experinece it.

  2. Your posts always get me thinking. Thank you. My living room (or is is me,rather?)really needs a pick me up. Duh…flowers.

    • Always so good to hear from you EB! Sounds like your LR needs a bit of rhythm and motion! Let us know what you do to achieve that!!! Les fleurs sont tres bien pour ca!!!

  3. Debra, this is an interesting post, here is why: the color Brown! Okay, I live in a rental that my dear landlords lovingly renovated, painted in soft neutrals shades I have no trouble living with, I live vicariously through my clients & don’t want to lift a paintbrush unless to do artwork!
    But I have had two of my roommates in recent months become very depressed/angry while staying here with me. I had a hard time working out why, it’s a pretty sweet set up. That is until I started really processing the room, comfy bed, ample storage, rocker, big window in all ways a cozy space…But the big window has a dark brown sheer curtain (the landlord’s) that ‘matches’ the accent wall in a deep warm brown, I have always, always hated those brown walls, one in each bedroom, yes i have mine disguised by furniture however. So first I took down the brown sheer curtain and replaced it with a vanilla sheer; instant change to the room, I mean instant! It feels so much softer, less weighty.
    I have a gallon of soft gray green paint patiently waiting for me to paint out the brown wall one of these moments too. So even though brown is a popular (i may say overused) color recently; have you had anyone respond to brown in this way before? With anger & depression? I am convinced it’s the color! So I have made it my goal to make that rooms sparkle! And because we live near to a fire station i think i will stay w/cool color. Thoughts?

    • Hi Nancy,
      Thank you for your thoughtful and fascinating comment.
      Did you hear Lori Sawaya’s recent podcast on Synesthesia with Kelly and Rachel? (
      Well, Lori talked about her distaste for chocolate brown bathrooms…and I would have to concur. Of course, it all depends on the hue, tone, value, light in the space, and other materials, furniture, trim colors and objects/accents in it. As I have not specified much darker brown (tans, and other “neutrals” yes, but not much darker brown, such as chocolate-), I really have not seen this kind of response. But I would imagine you are really on to something here, especially since you saw such an immediate change adding the vanilla sheer curtain. I could see that addition instantly adding freshness, lightness, and a buoyancy, that most likely was missing with so much BROWN! I work a lot with browns doing wood grain (faux bois) applications, but in that case, I am layering and manipulating semi-transparent glazes over a base-coat color to create textures, and thus am not dealing with heavy opaqueness.
      Please let us all know how this goes! Thank you again for the comment!

  4. I love brown, but
    for me, in my home – too masculine. I Loved this post. I have Learned something that basically we all knew, some colors are quiet and some colors are loud. This is yet another way to inform our client Why we are suggesting a specific color for a specific room. This kind of knowledge is Valuable, the process is more understandable to the client and they can get more in touch with their choices. It’s still a process. We can inform and open new dialogue that, maybe, they never had before, what a great gift!

  5. Well Debra, you really started something here! As with all colors there are variants. Simply put, yes, Frieling’s associations are fundamental. Then, as you did say, there are what I call “modifiers” of the actual space, lighting, use, and so forth. So of course nothing is “black and white.”

    In paints, when black is part of a formula the result is that you will have a much less color-rich space. In fact, if you consider brown paint colors to be drab and depressing, that could be one reason why. Thus, using full spectrum paint colors that have NO black in their mixes but rather a composite of at least 7 different tints, you get a much more satisfying and enjoyable color experience. Try Ellen Kennon’s “Mocha” (and her other beautiful browns) or EcoHues “Nomad” and you will see what I mean. I would have said the same thing even before I came up with EcoHues, by the way.

    • I am thrilled to provide this platform for discussion, BJ!
      And, I agree with you.
      In my college painting classes, we were trained to paint without using black, for the most part, and to create “blacks” through mixes of other colors…like the Impressionists.
      Why not apply the same to architectural color?
      it is so very wonderful to be in a forum of bright, colorFULL creatives and innovators like all of you commentors. Thank you for this community, and place of learning and growth.

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