Do yellow rooms make babies cry?

Contemporary nursery with a yellow wall.
Contemporary nursery with a yellow wall.  Photo: HOUZZ

Carlton Wagner may have given yellow a bad name, but dig a little deeper and you'll find the sunny shade isn't so bad, after all.

"Babies cry more, and temperamental people explode most quickly, in yellow rooms," claimed interior designer Carlton Wagner back in 1989. 

During the last few years I have had many a discussion over whether yellow should be used in a baby's nursery. You only need to search "Do babies cry in yellow rooms?" online and you will discover pages of comments from interior designers and home decorators recommending against using yellow in a nursery, for fear it will make babies cry more. Following yet another recent conversation by a client asking about the use of yellow in her baby's room, I thought it relevant to discuss the topic in a little more depth.

Why yellow got some slack

Back in the mid-'80s, Carlton Wagner formed The Wagner Institute for Color Research in Santa Barbara, California.

Besides interiors, he also consulted on product packaging and branding, gaining credibility and influence with his understanding and use of colour psychology.

For the most part, Wagner's work was supported by research. On the other hand, he also claimed that not only did the colour yellow make babies cry, it also made the elderly lose muscle control and shake in its presence, and predicted that Giorgio perfume would fail due to its yellow and white packaging. 

His influence created a silent embargo on using yellow within a baby's nursery, which has continued to the present day. With little research to support his claim on yellow, rumour has it that he just hated the colour and even suggested it should be obliterated from planet Earth!

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The colour experience

All colours have a physical, emotional and psychological impact on us, that is dependent on a complex set of responses and experiences including biology, symbolism, culture, trends and our own personal experience. 

Colours have three main attributes, colour (hue), saturation (the purity of the colour) and value (the brightness of the colour).

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Yellow can be overstimulating

Yellow, at its purest saturation and with a high value, is intense and reflects a lot of light. This results in excessive stimulation of the eye that may cause fatigue and irritation. It's true then that the use of this type of yellow, coupled with visual patterning and high brightness, may overstimulate any person, whether they are a baby or an adult. That kind of shade of yellow is not ideal in a space such as a nursery, where a sense of tranquillity is preferred.

Finding the right shade

The secret to using yellow in a baby's nursery is both in the saturation and value of the colour, and the accents used to create harmony and balance within the room. There are thousands of yellows out there, from sunny yellow to citrus yellow, banana yellow and mellow yellow.

The pastel end of yellow is ideal for a baby's nursery, and can be harmonised with many accent colours, thereby serving the purpose of the room. If the need of the room is to make it cooler or more calming, green or blue-green would be an ideal accent.

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If you wanted to make the room a little more exciting or warmer, particularly in south-facing rooms, oranges and red accents would suit the purpose.

Alternatively, if you're intrigued yet still nervous about using yellow in your baby's nursery, as a safe bet use it as an accent colour. By doing this you can still create a warm, happy and soothing environment without it becoming overwhelming.

Striking the right balance

One final thing to keep in mind is that as yellow is so reflective, it is a chameleon-like colour that will take on the properties of what it is next to, just like white does. 

The light source will also affect how the shade appears. Before painting a whole wall paint a small square as a sample, or use a swatch taped up on the wall to view the shade in all types of light. Better still, get a professional to help you choose the right tone.

Ultimately, you should not be afraid to use yellow in your baby's nursery. When used correctly, it's a wonderfully gender-neutral colour that can create a soothing, calm environment, bringing a sense of sunshine, warmth and happiness to any space.

With the correct shade of yellow combined with appropriate accent colours, you will be able to create beauty and balance within any room.

By Jacquelene Symond/HOUZZ