Color In The Office Environment

Do office workers benefit from the use of color in their environments?

Image: Red Envelope Office_David Wakely

If you ask the workers you will typically get a positive response. If you ask facilities management you may get a negative answer. If you ask the architects and designers you will get a mixed answer.

Why is this?

Every individual has subjective color likes and dislikes. If the office is designed using a workers preferred colors they tend to like their environment. Conversely if they hate a certain color and must work surrounded by it everyday, you know they will find it irritating.

Image: The Art Of Color_Johanes Itten

From a facilities management perspective, the typical objection to color is the extra work it takes to maintain an office with multiple hues. The time required to clean paintbrushes and paint buckets when several colors are involved translate to department costs.

Architects and designers may frown upon applied colors and believe that color should come from the building materials themselves.

I do not disagree at all with this belief. However, budget driven projects will use special materials in public spaces like the Lobby, Conference and Board Rooms. The open office may not have the budget for special materials.

Image: HP Lobby_Sharon Reisdorf

This is where paint and color can come in to make the work place more appealing.

Is there science behind the application of color to office environments?

Frank Mahnke in his book Color Environment and Human Response outlines a solid body of research supporting the value of color. Citing psycho-physiological, neuro physiological, psychosomatic and visual ergonomic factors, color and light can greatly improve a person’s impression of their workplace. We respond to color in a complex way that operates beyond personal preference. Lack of stimulation whether visual or psychological is associated with boredom, and fatigue.

Image: Cafeteria_David Wakely

By consciously varying the light dark contrasts and using a well rounded palette you can imitate the range of colors one would experience in nature. You also increase the chances of creating a pleasing environment that may appeal of a broad group of end users.

There is no specific formula of colors for an office that can be prescribed. Each office needs to be carefully evaluated to determine its optimal palette. There is ample research in cross-disciplinary fields to support the fact that color can play an important role in the office environment.

Color, Environment & Human Response
Frank H. Mahnke


Color Planning for Interiors
Margaret Portillo

Success With Greens

Mother nature does green so well. Why is it a tricky color to get right in interiors?

Image: Stow Lake @ Golden Gate Park_Jerry Levy

Green was my Mother’s favorite color and I was surrounded by it growing up. Two upholstered high back velvet chairs in forest green graced the living room. Each time the color faded, Mother spray painted them. It’s hard to believe she pulled this off, but they looked beautiful to the eye. They were prickly to the touch and uncomfortable to sit on in skirts or shorts. Our kitchen was a green sanctuary with ivy green linoleum counters. Four different wallpaper patterns with green stripes, leaves, and berries were found upstairs and down. Her largest green installation was a custom built floor to ceiling wall-to-wall china cabinet painted Williamsburg green.

In color psychology green is associated with nature. It’s the color that is used to soothe and calm the spirit. Visually it hits right on the surface of the retina, so it neither advances nor recedes. It’s a non-demanding hue.

Image: SFMOMA 75th Year Anniversary Focal Wall_Jerry Levy

So why is challenging to select the perfect green for your environment?

In nature there are blue greens, grey greens, yellow greens in light and dark values and color names reference nature – sage, ivy, fern, apple, forest green and mint.

Image: Painting Diebenkorn Cityscape 1. @ SFMOMA _ColourStudio

Historically many institutional offices, schools and hospitals have been coated top to bottom with green. Cold and lifeless these colors do anything but soothe the user. People frequently select pastel colors for their environment as they feel safer. Green is a hue that is more successful when it has some character and personality.

I live in a house with many greens- olives green, yellow green, historic green and I find that if you select the correct hues, green creates a wonderful backdrop for living. It can be work in traditional interiors as well as contemporary settings.

Image: Martha Stewart Everyday Colors Brochure

Image: Residential Dining Room_David Wakely

Here are some of my favorite greens:

Farrow & Ball Colours
Folly Green_#76
Saxon Green_#80

Dunn Edwards
Stuffed Olive_DE 5529
Watercress_DE 5528

Martin Senour
Chrysanthemum Bud_105-5

Pratt & Lambert Williamsburg Color Collection
Russell House Green_CW519, CW520, CW521, CW522
Palace Chamber Green_CW523

Author: Jill Pilaroscia, Life In Color, Colour Studio