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People are painting their walls more now — and these are their go-to colors

Amid global unrest, can surrounding yourself with a certain color make you feel calmer?
If you're looking for a paint color that will keep you calm during the pandemic, there's evidence to suggest that green may do the trick.
If you're looking for a paint color that will keep you calm during the pandemic, there's evidence to suggest that green may do the trick.TODAY Illustration / Getty Images
/ Source: TMRW

Paint, like toilet paper, booze and flour before it, has been flying off the shelves during the pandemic as people continue to hunker down at home and reassess how they want their space to look and feel.

Multiple paint companies told TMRW that they've seen an increase in sales in recent months, especially online, with many shoppers gravitating toward neutral colors as well as muted blues and greens.

In a piece for ARTnews about how people are coping with the pandemic with paint colors, writer Kyle Chayka discovered what he coined the "quarantine palette," an array of gentle grays and oceanic blue-greens that people are choosing for the walls they now find themselves staring at all ... day ... long.

"I maybe would have thought people wanted more exciting or dramatic colors," Chayka told TMRW. "But when I think about it, when you're in the same space all the time, maybe you don't want to be overstimulated. I'm looking at my apartment walls right now, and they're very manila-colored, and I haven't gotten annoyed by them yet."

Indeed, paint companies say calming, inoffensive hues are topping their current lists of bestselling colors.

"Warmer neutrals ... are really important right now because, from a psychological perspective, warmer hues tend to create a cozier environment and sanctuary spaces," said Sue Wadden, director of color marketing at Sherwin-Williams. "People have been gravitating toward greens and blues as well, as they are rooted in nature and inherently grounding and calming."

Some of Sherwin-Williams' top colors during the pandemic include Agreeable Gray, Pure White and Silvermist, which Wadden described as a "watery blue-green that is soothing and comforting."

Similar shades are in high demand across brands. Perhaps unsurprisingly, last month Benjamin Moore announced its Color of the Year for 2021 is Aegean Teal, also a blue-green.

"Amid uncertainty, people yearn for stability," said Andrea Magno, director of color marketing and development for Benjamin Moore. "The colors we surround ourselves with can have a powerful impact on our emotions and well-being."

Erika Woelfel, vice president of color and creative services at Behr Paint Company, suggested that the right paint color "plays an important role in evoking a certain mood or providing a sense of comfort" while we're all stuck at home.

People are also looking for home projects these days. Since March, traffic to painting-related content on the website Apartment Therapy more than doubled compared to the same period of time last year, according to editor-in-chief Laura Schocker, who said people may be favoring paint jobs because they're "relatively inexpensive and good for beginners, plus they are easy to undo if you don't like them."

Can colors really affect our mood, though?

It may seem as though people are putting a large burden on a simple can of paint: Easy Green and Relaxed Khaki sure sound nice, but can surrounding ourselves with certain colors really affect our moods? (And yes, those are real names of paint colors in this very color scheme we're discussing.)

Scientists believe it's possible, and point to many ways we're already influenced by color in our daily lives.

"Color does play a very significant part, whether it's on a conscious level or a subconscious level, in how we feel in general," said Dr. Mohab Ibrahim, M.D., associate professor of anesthesiology and pharmacology at the University of Arizona. "For example, if you look at many of the fast food places, you'll notice that the predominant color will be yellow, orange, a little reddish. That's because the fast food industry has actually done some research about what colors stimulate the appetite."

Ibrahim's own research has shown that green-light therapy may help reduce pain in migraine sufferers. He said his inspiration for the study came from his brother, who often found relief from his headaches by sitting outside in his garden, where he was surrounded by green.

There's already plenty of evidence that we're affected differently by different colors of light. Bright white light is used to treat seasonable affective disorder, for example. And blue light is known to cause sleep disruption, which is why experts discourage people from using their smartphones or laptops in bed at night.

Dr. Rami Burstein, professor of anesthesia and neuroscience at Harvard Medical School, has conducted similar research about light therapy. He found that, among migraine patients with normal eyesight, almost all colors of light — including blue — exacerbated patients' headaches. Yet green light was the one color of light that actually reduced their pain. He and his colleagues used that research to create the Allay Lamp as a cost-effective treatment option for migraine sufferers. It emits a particular band of green light that helps reduce their pain.

"The concept that green light has this calming effect is not new; it has been described in literature of psychology for many years," Burstein told TMRW. "And think about it: When you go on vacation, you go to see green, not red, not fire. When you're at a stoplight, green means go. Police cars have blue and red flashing lights, not green. So in everyday life, we are trained to associate green with 'let's go, calming, relaxing,' and red and blue with 'stop, don't go, danger.'"

Making the case for green walls

Of course, paint is something different entirely. And any old green paint isn't necessarily going to replicate the calming, pain-relieving benefits that researchers have found when using green light.

But the right green paint very well could.

"It's not just the color, it's the intensity of the color," Ibrahim said. "If you come up with a paint that has the right wavelength and the right intensity, then it might have similar qualities."

And both researchers say it's not too much of a stretch to say that green walls could be beneficial for people who don't suffer from migraines, but just want to feel calm and relaxed. Burstein pointed to how hospitals in other countries often have green walls in their patient rooms, and the doctors wear green scrubs. In his own clinic, he's painted the walls green.

So perhaps all the pandemic painters leaning toward greenish hues are on to something. Yet, what about the blue colors people are also gravitating toward? That, Burstein says, probably just comes down to favoritism.

Color therapy is complicated, and there's still a lot researchers don't know. But Ibrahim said he's happy if people are even taking the power of color into consideration.

"We are barely scratching the surface of understanding the therapeutic or biologic benefits of color," he said. "It's a fascinating new field and there's still lots to be discovered."