The Story of Yellow

yellow in nature

Sunny and mood enhancing, yellow signifies change as winter turns to spring and summer turns to autumn. It is a tricky colour to get right when introducing into an interior design scheme, I’ve recently done some digging into the history and symbolism of yellow while introducing it into a design scheme for a client and offer some suggestions as to  how it might be used to successfully lift and enhance a space.

Yellow in History & Art

One of the first colours used in art, ochre pigment (derived from clay) has been found in cave paintings from 17,300 years ago and in ancient Egypt yellow was used extensively in tomb paintings. It was associated with gold and a small paint box containing orpiment, a deep yellow coloured pigment was found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen. The Romans also used yellow extensively to represent gold and it was found frequently in the murals of Pompeii.

During the Renaissance, yellow became firmly established as the colour of Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus. Goitto’s painting, ‘Kiss of Judas’ depicted him wearing a yellow cloak so it followed that the colour became associated with the negative emotions of envy, jealousy and duplicity.

But Van Gogh gave yellow a more positive spin, writing to his sister from the south of France in 1888: “Now we are having beautiful warm, windless weather that is very beneficial to me. The sun, a light that for lack of a better word I can only call yellow, bright sulfur yellow, pale lemon gold. How beautiful yellow is!”

Colour Associations

Yellow has strong historical and cultural associations in China, where it is the colour of happiness and glory. As the colour of light, yellow is also associated with knowledge and wisdom – if we refer to someone as ‘bright’ we mean sharp and intelligent. It is the colour most associated with optimism and pleasure and in several cultures that practice chromotherapy (using colours to heal) yellow is thought to stimulate the nerves and purify the body.

use yellow sparingly for best results in interior design schemes
via Ishkadesigns

Colour Balance

Colour theorists commonly regard yellow’s complementary colour as indigo or blue-violet and many designers use colour theory as the basis for a room schemes. Turning up the volume of one colour against another, using analogous colours (those next to each other in the colour wheel) for more harmony or bringing in neutrals to calm a scheme.

Colour Psychology

As with every colour, yellow has positive and negative psychological properties. Just the right amount of yellow in a room can make you feel happy, optimistic and confident, too much, or the wrong tone of yellow, can make you feel irrational, anxious and unsettled.

use yellow sparingly in interior design to create an uplifting space
via Romano

How to use Yellow in an Interior Design Scheme

  • Use as an accent colour to lift to a monochrome room scheme – yellow looks great used with black
  • Dial it up or down depending whether the room is north-facing (where the natural light is cool) or south-facing (warm light) to add just the right amount of warmth
  • Use a block of yellow as a feature in a bathroom or kitchen.
  • Balance according to nature – sparingly and with other colours usually found with yellow in a natural setting
  • Contrast with complementary shades of purple and/or blue
  • Create a more harmonious scheme by using alongside greens and oranges
  • Use gold in place of/or alongside yellow in a room scheme – think lighting and accessories
  • Use yellow with a mixture of natural materials for a relaxed look
  • Good colour combinations include citrus yellow against dark inky grey, mustard yellow with cream or ivory, fresh bright yellow alongside a palette of green hues

Check out our Pinterest board for lots of ideas how to successfully use Yellow in an interior design scheme. Happy Designing!