The Psychology of Color

Understanding cabinet finishes on a deeper level

Some say that different colors have a genuine psychological effect on humans. They believe that it has the ability to evoke certain emotions and completely alter your mood. We even have certain sayings about our feelings that involve color. For example, one might be feeling “blue” if they are sad. If they lack bravery, they might be called a “yellow” coward, and jealousy makes folks “green” with envy. Yes, color is powerful. And it’s also an influential design tool.

Yes, designers and homeowners alike have the power to make certain rooms in the home evoke particular emotions. Are your clients looking to set a tone that’s welcoming, calm and cheerful or are they going for dramatic and opulent? No matter what the emotion might be, there is a color believed to spark that emotion, completely altering your experience in a space.

When choosing a cabinet or furniture finish, understanding which emotions a particular color will evoke will give you and your clients an advantage. Here is a look at today’s most common finish colors and the feelings they evoke, along with some suggestions for using the shades for an emotional advantage.

This craftsman style kitchen by Sustainable Homes in Palo Alto, CA uses a warm brown finish that’s crisp and modern, yet welcoming.  Photos by Michele Lee Willson.

Brown is the color of wood, so in interiors it represents nature and natural materials. A stable color that feels warm and inviting, brown is familiar. Less harsh than black, brown can range from modern and elegant to cozy and safe. If there is already a lot of color in a space, a brown finish can help tone it down or balance it out. Today’s light, natural wood shades are very crisp and modern. Medium-toned brown finishes are inviting. And rich chocolate brown finishes give a sophisticated feel. Most of all, brown signals to the occupants of a room that it’s time to slow down and maybe even relax.

To evoke a particular mood with brown…

  • Pair brown with stronger colors like lime green and orange for a look that’s warm and natural.
  • Blend brown with burgundy for a swanky look.
  • Coordinate brown finishes with pale aqua for a light and airy feel.
  • Used in soft shades such as linen and beige to create warmth.
  • Mix with shades of blue to evoke the light and dreamy feel of the earth and sky.
  • Combine with a feminine color like light purple or pink to add softness to a space.
This grey kitchen by Revision LLC in Minneapolis evokes a sense of glamour that’s comfortable, not ostentatious.

A relatively new color on the finishing leaderboard, grey has taken interiors by storm. Designers love to use grey because it can express just about any feeling their clients wish to evoke. From simple to glamorous, grey is a dependable anchor color. Since grey has the ability to project both calmness and sophistication, it is a formal color yet it can be subtle and serene. The effects of grey very much depend on the shade that’s used. Solid grey symbolizes strength while softer grays offer a more delicate feel. Too much gray can be boring and some shades of grey can be murky and depressing. However, using it as a backdrop for cabinetry and furniture can really make other colors stand out and sing.

To use grey to your emotional advantage…

  • Mix grey with white to create a look that’s calm, crisp, clean, and refreshing.
  • Use grey in shades of driftwood to create a casual beach house feel.
  • Add touches of chartreuse with slate gray to make a stylish statement.
  • Combine cloudy grey and shades of taupe or fawn for a space that’s soft and inviting.
  • Pair dove grey shades with plum and violet shades for a space that’s comfortable and inviting.
  • Blend charcoal grey with shades of red for heart-stopping glamour.
  • Achieve a timeless look with weathered grey, charcoal grey, and slate grey, colors that were popular throughout the Colonial era.
This project by Olympic Kitchens in Toronto is traditional in style, yet the black finish gives it a modern edge.

Throughout history, black has been given a negative connotation. It’s associated with things like death, mourning, widowhood, and generally very serious occasions. However, in today’s interiors, black is a color that’s elegant and bold. Considered to be a neutral, black makes a great background color since most any other color will stand out next to it and really pop. But it’s also a beautiful color in its own right. In fact, we’re seeing a growing trend towards black finishes when it comes to faucets and hardware. It’s really an exciting time for black in the kitchen and bath.

Ideas for creating a stunning space with black include…

  • Mix it with white for the ultimate “tuxedo” combination.
  • Make open-plan spaces feel more intimate and defined with shades of black.
  • Pop a handful of brightly hued accessories into the mix. Citrus shades of dandelion, lime, and orange work beautifully.
  • Use matte or polished black finishes on Euro-style doors to achieve the epitome of modern luxury.
  • Pair black cabinets with a stone backsplash for a more traditional feel.
  • Combine black with turquoise; it can be either soft and welcoming or slick and modern depending on the shades involved.
  • Blended with red, black evokes a bold sense of high energy and drama.
  • Provide a little feminine mystique by mixing black and shades of blush.
  • Create a look that’s timeless and elegant with black and shades of beige or cream.


Crisp. Clean. Light. Bright. All of these can be used to describe this white finished kitchen by Minnesota’s MDS Remodeling LLC .

Much like black, white will pair well with absolutely any color you can think of. Considered to be a refreshing and clean color, white creates an airy appearance. Light bounces off of the color white, creating a space that’s bright and happy.  White symbolizes purity, innocence, and integrity. Kitchens and baths using white feel neat and clean.

To make the most out of a white cabinet finish…

  • Mix white with beige and creamy shades for a classic look that can make a space feel larger.
  • Go with white lacquered finishes for a more modern flair.
  • Use white to make a statement with metals including trending shades of gold and brass.
  • Layer shades of white to add personality and warmth.
  • Choose white as a backdrop for gorgeous rustic tones of red, yellow and burnt umber.

When it comes to using finishes to create an emotion, don’t be afraid to experiment with lighter or darker shades. It’s also interesting to see how a small change in color/door style pairing can have a huge impact when expressing one’s personal style.