Seeing Colors: Decorating with Red

Decorating with Red

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Red is vital, ambitious, and audacious, a passionate color with intense symbolism. Think of the true love of a red rose, the speed and sex appeal of a racing car, the urgency of a fire engine, the danger of a red alert, the rage of seeing red, or the honor of a red carpet.

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Red, combined with other primary colors, makes a striking modern statement.

The sight of red actually stimulates the body to increase circulation and raise blood pressure. Embarrassment makes us blush, anger turns our faces red, crying makes our eyes bloodshot, excitement makes our cheeks flush – all of which enhances red’s emotional power. It’s energizing and emotional, attention-grabbing and appealing, fiery and feisty.

Red carries powerful psychic weight as well. In Eastern metaphysics, the first chakra (center of physical energy and vitality) is denoted by red. Feng Shui practitioners paint their front doors red to attract prosperity. Red is worn on Chinese New Year for good fortune in the upcoming year, and people exchange lucky money in red envelopes. For 1,000 years, Western artists have used the color to symbolize Christian sacrifice, and red gemstones have been used throughout history to protect in battle, stir sexual desire, and heal wounds and rashes.

Closer to home, red is perfect for making rooms feel richer, warmer, and more intimate, especially in rooms with cold, northern light. Consider the classic colors of Christmas: the green of nature and the energy of red combine to dispel the bleakness of diminished winter light. (The match also feels natural because the colors are “complementary,” or across from each other on the color wheel. For more about color theory, click here.) This is red in its traditional mode, deepened by association with other rich and warm colors. But red is also highly energetic and modern, especially when combined with strong tones like black, white, primary yellow, and blue (think of modern art masters like Mondrian and Matisse). Or it can have a Country or Rustic air; weathered barn red combines beautifully with soft neutrals like gray, cream, or tan, as well as antique shades of mustard, green, and blue.

Red tones tinged with purple suggest opulence, antiquity, and hospitality, explaining the perennial popularity of red and burgundy Oriental rugs. Red in an entry hall is as warm and welcoming as an exuberant hug, while dining rooms accented in red invite long dinners with a sense of intimacy and affection. And red-toned walls, floors, and seating (especially leather) are the perfect complement for wood-paneled offices and libraries. The Victorians, known for their lavish entertaining and lush decorating, used crimson, wine, magenta, and dark pinks throughout their homes.

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Welcoming red and purple tones are perennial favorites for traditional rugs.

Welcoming red and purple tones are perennial favorites for traditional rugs. At the other end of the spectrum is pink, perfect for private rooms like baths and bedrooms and a great secondary color in living and dining rooms. Hot pink and flamingo are vibrant, easy-to-live-with alternatives to red, while soft petal pink tones provide refinement and delicacy. Darker rooms especially benefit from the cheer of lighter reds and pinks, which enliven with subtlety while keeping a light and airy tone.

From the youthful, spring-like flush of rose to the deep, discerning elegance of burgundy, red covers the spectrum of emotion. If the color feels intimidating, try it in small doses as an accent or secondary color. For many people, that’s as much red as they (or their rooms) can handle … and you’ll know soon enough if you crave more.

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