We've all seen them, either up close or in magazines - beautiful rooms bathed in vibrant hues that remind us of leisurely summer days, exotic lands, posh gatherings. Rooms that connect with some inner desire for color in our lives.
People love color, study after study shows, but we often don't have a clue how to incorporate it into our own homes. So we settle for white walls, maybe beige.
"Consumers feel unsophisticated about how to describe color, and there's a bit of an insecurity when they walk into the store," says Lisa Herbert, executive vice president for textile, home and fashion at Pantone Inc. in Carlstadt, N.J., which creates color-matching systems for architects and industrial designers, among others. "They want to describe color like a designer, but they don't know what to call the colors, so they're intimidated."
The interior-design industry has picked up on this insecurity, offering a range of products to help homeowners put together color palettes. Paint manufacturers provide chips with three colors - one for walls, one for trim, and one for accents. Home-decorating magazines dedicate untold pages to advice on how to mix colors.
But if you're still not sure where to begin, there are techniques that focus more on the science and psychology of color and suggest ways to narrow down all those choices.
Color affects moods and emotions, researchers say. And although some associations between color and meaning are cultural - red, white and blue and patriotism, for example - people's own experiences influence how they feel about certain hues and palettes.
When shown a color, people will associate it with keywords, such as thrilling, romantic or creative.
"There are certain colors that are going to stick in your mind because of what they represent to you," Herbert says. "People will go back to their childhoods.
" . . . I like the color yellow, which represents enlightenment, and it's a popular color today," she says. "But yellow was the color of my kitchen growing up, and I just remember really happy times in that kitchen."
Pantone has expanded on this concept and matched colors to more than 500 keywords describing moods. Homeowners can create a custom palette with the moods they want to convey in a room and order the associated paint on the Pantone/Paints+Interiors Web page (www.pantone.com/pages/pantone/pantone.aspx?ca=34&pg=20100).
Herbert also advises people to think about places they have traveled or hobbies they enjoy and consider the moods and colors associated with them. A couple who enjoy hiking in the West, for instance, should think about how they feel while they're on the trail and consider the colors they see in sand, mountains and canyons.
"That's a great way to start looking at colors, and a wonderful exercise for couples to do together," Herbert says. "That will start you on choosing a beautiful palette."
When color consultants Joe and Anne Piazza bought their home in Atglen, Chester County, almost three years ago, they painted the entire interior yellow. Recently, they decided they wanted to make some changes, yet they found themselves facing the same dilemma many of their interior-design clients do: They couldn't find something that suited them both.
"The color question is the major bugaboo you run into, because the husband may not like this and the wife may not like that," says Joe Piazza, whose background is in psychology. "And neither may like the pick of the decorator."
The Piazzas sought help from the Dewey Color System, a test that offers users up to 15 colors and asks them to choose, from most preferred color to least preferred. At the end, the system creates a personality profile based on the choices.
"It wasn't developed as an aid to decorating or as an aid to the color industry," says Piazza, who became a Dewey Color System consultant with his wife. "It was developed as personality evaluation, and because of the science that goes into it, I think it has a lot more substance to it than anything we've seen previously."
Test results pointed the Piazzas to a warm red for their master bedroom. The theory that color preference is innate underlies the Dewey system.
"Inherent personality traits such as stability, reasoning, warmth, anxiety and social interaction can now be pinpointed for an individual," based on his or her color selections, according to a statement from Dewey Sadka, creator of the color system, that is posted on its Web site.
An evaluation is delivered in five chapters that describe perceived strengths and weaknesses based on the test subject's color choices. It includes an overview of personality, relationships and career.
I took the test for $9.95 on the Dewey site (www.deweycolorsystem.com). My choices leaned toward blues and violets, which my evaluation associated with "thinkers," people who ponder the future and need to know why things are. Thinkers categorize things to create plans of action. The Dewey system suggested working in creative fields, such as advertising, marketing, sales, design or trial law.
The test also claims to reveal character weakness based on the colors the user least prefers. One of my color choices in this section was green. The system noted that people who select green don't like to ask for help and expect others to intuitively know what they need.
The test was easy to take, and most of the evaluation was easy to understand. Some sections didn't arrive at accurate descriptions of my personality, but other conclusions (like the ones above) were dead on.
Anne Piazza uses the system to help choose color palettes for her interior-design clients. It cuts down on decision-making time, she says.
"All people have a few basic preferences, and they know what they like, but not many people know their personal color spectrum, how those colors will influence their lives," she says. "The system provides everybody with what colors they are sensitive to."
Herbert predicts folks will continue to experiment with fresh hues.
"People are getting much more adventurous with color as they see it being used on the fashion runway, and the media take you all over the world, so you see new colors," she says.