How to Use Color Effectively in Working & Living Spaces

autumn lobby

As a nurse for a corporate company, I visited hundreds of doctor’s offices.  I would notice the art on the walls, the colors of the paint, the style of flooring and the way the office space was laid out, especially in waiting rooms (I spent a lot of time there!).  I’d look around at the people and how they sat in the office.

On a side note, I thought everyone did this, but when I pointed out an intriguing color scheme to a colleague or commented on how the room brought a certain feeling, I was usually given an odd look or dismissive comment.

There were some offices where every color under the sun had been used AND every tint too! There was bright, spring-fused chairs and walls with subtle, muted summer style photographs or art on the walls. There was no cohesiveness in the coloring, as if someone had haphazardly styled the room as an afterthought.

Hear me well, the furniture was nice furniture and probably fairly expensive. The art was tasteful, perhaps a bit underwhelming, but perfectly presentable for a doctor office. Sometimes there would be vivid photography of the outdoors scattered over the walls. It wasn’t the quality of the art or the design or the color scheme, it was the scrambled approach.

On the other hand, I’ve sat in offices with a color scheme so lovely and relaxing, I felt completely relaxed myself. One office was a women’s health office with a soft, rose pink color with cinnamon brown furniture. On the wall, a bit outdated trend-wise, but nonetheless perfectly lovely is a wallpaper running with pink, forest green and other understated colors of the summer palette.

Not only were the colors perfect to create a relaxed, elegant atmosphere, but the magazines are all arranged impeccably (no mess!). There’s a lot of space in the waiting room, with chairs winding around to allow for people to sit in different places without feeling crammed or too close to each other. A few plants add some varying height to the rest of the furniture. The cherry on the top of this soothing atmosphere is the quiet classical music playing throughout the entire office.

I’ve often commented on the relaxed ambiance of the place. “It calms me right down to sit in here for a few minutes, no matter what kind of day I’ve had,” I’ve said to the staff. They smile and I’ve noticed a few give each other looks.  They don’t realize the power of color in their design, but somebody did!

I’m a big believer that color trumps everything. A designer can be on top of trends, but if the color scheme is not appropriate to the person or place, it leaves a jarring feeling. You can’t quite get comfortable. On the other hand, a slightly out dated decor is not a big deal at all when the colors coordinate, just like the women’s health office.

As you begin to grow in understanding color and its powerful influence, you can begin to incorporate it into many facets of your life, both personal and professional.

One of those ways is through setting up your work space or rooms in your home. There are many ways to incorporate a seasonal palette into a room. Plus, you don’t have to re-do a room or spend a lot of  money. A few simple changes, subtractions or additions will help you reflect the mood you want.

I’ll use a doctor’s office waiting room as an example. Going to the doctor brings up emotions ranging from boredom to aggravated anxiety.  I would guess that if we asked most doctors and office managers how they wanted their patients to feel when they saw them, words like “alert,” “calm” and “not anxious” would be their desire.

To create a calm, relaxed and alert atmosphere I’d turn to a summer palette. Summer is understated, calm, relaxed, and even elegant. There are a variety of color themes from a neutral palette of beige and navy to an ultra feminine palette of roses and pinks to the colors of a Caribbean beach- all turquoise waters and off white beaches.

The importance thing is to ensure all the colors- from the chairs to the art to the photographs  have tinted colors. There’s no brights in the summer palette, it’s understated elegance. Another reasons a summer palette is ideal for a doctor’s office is that the summer palette reflects attention to detail, to organization and a sense of behind- the-scenes competence. Summer is a fun season, but a day at the beach or a summer barbeque is pulled off without a problem by the right planning and preparation.

I took these pictures with my phone last week when I was in a medical office building. The main lobby is infused with warm light from two stories of full windows- this helps warm up this autumn room.

An autumn palette is going to be predominately warm with colors that can be described as earthy, abundant, rich, traditional yet not stiff. Colors are warm: rich browns, purples, deep greens, teal, brick red, yellow ochre, deep blue, burnt orange, etc.

Autumn Lobby 2

You may notice the gray in this room, especially in the tile and in accents of the paintings. I noticed this too. Gray is more of a summer color- it’s a cool, in opposition to the warmth of autumn. It works in this office setting because it’s not the dominant color and because of the large infusion of warm light.

Note the white on the walls is not a pure white, but a creamy neutral.

Autumn Lobby 3

The bold colors of the painting and the chunky patterns of the chairs has the strong feeling of autumn, but one is also comfortable to sit down for a while and wait a bit. It’s comfortable enough while holding the weight of being a medical office building. It’s serious, but not demanding.

Note: the patterns of autumn are also bolder. There is not the happy-go-lucky squiggles of spring or the light elegant script of summer. An autumn look has heavier lines and geometric patterns- both scene in the artwork and the chairs in the lobby of the building.

Finally, notice the tree. It too has the dark green, almost teal leaves, adding to the thoughtfulness of the colors and the room. The tree blends in, but doesn’t disappear with the artwork and painting.

This may not be how you’d like your living room or small business to look, but that is an excellent point to consider! We always start with the what. What feelings and emotions do we want to share and how do we want others to feel around us and our home or business?

When entering this building, one sense the sense of professionalism here. It’s an office of well-established medical professionals who know their craft inside and out.

The decor reflects the feeling of professionalism without scaring anyone away. It says, in a sense, we know what we’re doing and we’ll take good care of you. You can trust us.

What do you want your office space or small business website (if you run an online business) to say about you?

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