Colors of well-being: Acoustic ceiling color trends and specification

Photo by Anton Grassl Photography/Courtesy Rockfon

By Diana Hart, CSI, IIDA

Colorful ceilings add to a room’s sense of comfort and health. Color helps people feel more connected to themselves, to those around them, and to their surrounding environment. People who feel connected are also happier, more satisfied, and have a greater sense of well-being.

Beyond the modern monolithic look of smooth, white, square panel, drop ceilings, today’s interior ceiling design ideas explore many different styles from bold accents to subtle shades to a signature, custom creation. Choosing colors should be a conscious, specified design decision selected with purpose, function, and meaning.

As the ‘fifth wall’ of a room, the ceiling presents an opportunity to strategically add color, while optimizing acoustics, improving indoor air quality (IAQ), lowering maintenance, and meeting other specified performance attributes.

Color influence and impact

Color plays a vital role in enhancing the architectural form of a room and in influencing a person’s experience inside it. It can spark creativity, increase productivity, or make a room seem bigger or smaller. Color conveys the mood, function, and atmosphere of a room, and assists with navigation through a building or campus.

Subconsciously, color is the first feature people notice on an object or in a space. It immediately prompts a sense of comfort or wariness. It evokes an emotion and signals a purpose. Instinctually, humans and animals are cautious when encountering bright colors in nature. This biological reaction stems from an evolutionary warning system that helps protect against poisonous insects, snakes, plants, and other dangerous creatures or food sources.

On a biological level, greens are reassuring. Where there is green, life-sustaining food and water can be found. Green falls in the middle of the color spectrum and the eye requires little adjustment to see it. This makes it a restful color, indicative of balance and harmony. Some designers choose greens as representative of the balance between mind, body, and emotional self. Interiors using green can help people to relax and thrive.

Red carries numerous meanings, even in the same culture. For example, in African cultures, it can indicate good luck or anger. Similarly, in North America, it can mean anger, danger, courage, desire, heat, or love. Red has been shown to have a physical effect on people, raising the heart rate, which can make one flush, and can activate the fight or flight instinct that occurs in response to a perceived threat. The increased pulse and alertness also can make it feel as if time is passing more quickly. Interiors typically use red colors as an accent feature, rather than across an entire room.

Beige and brown colors also promote a feeling of relaxation, comfort, and safety, where people want to linger. These earth tones are solid, dependable, and grounded, like a tree. A serious, but softer option to a midnight black, brown, and beige shades are associated with supportive, cozy, and warm environments.

Acoustic ceiling panels and suspension systems may be specified in matching colors. Photo courtesy Rockfon

Color in history

Since ancient times, color’s symbolic and ritualistic meaning has been recognized by artists and architects who have tapped its power to evoke emotion, influence perception, and affect behavior. When and where people live shape their perception of the world and this includes their cultural interpretations of color.

During the Roman Empire, purple was reserved for royalty and forbidden for common use. The Western European connotation of purple as a ‘royal’ color associated with virtue, flamboyance, and mystery has remained for millennia after the reason faded from memory. In Japanese and Hindu cultures, purple is representative of wisdom. In First Nation and Indigenous cultures, purple is the color of gratitude.

Purple is the color of mourning in many South American cultures. In North America, mourners dress in black clothes whereas in China they would wear white. Silver tones would be associated with death in Arabic cultures.

In Western European and North American cultures, yellow generally is associated with happiness, joy, and sunshine. It has a relatively long wavelength and is emotionally stimulating. People in rooms with yellow tones often feel more confident, positive, optimistic, and rejuvenated.

Most of the world’s population will pick blue as a favorite color. In addition to being globally preferred, blue is the color most people ascribe to both sky and sea. Lighter tones are credited to mental calmness, serenity, and reflection. For interior designs, blue’s attributes include improved concentration and clarity.

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