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The Color Red: Passion, Power, & Peril

Updated: Sep 1, 2022

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In some ways, red is THE original color. It is one of the primary colors and a very dominant one at that. It was the first to be reproduced and broken down into different shades. It is also noted as the first color that a baby can recognize when it is born (alongside black and white).

It goes back to as early as color is recognized by man, to a time when civilization starts in Africa and as a result, it has been a dominant feature of culture ever since. We see evidence of stone age man using ground ochre (otherwise known as rust!) around 250,000 years ago in the Netherlands in Europe.

The first derived reds come from a plant called madder, where the root can be transformed into a dye, and a tiny scale insect, Kermes, whose bodies are dried and crushed to create a red tint.

Few colors, if any, can produce the emotions that red does. For many, it is the color of evil and anger, for others, it's a source of good and love. It’s this contradiction between how people respond to it that makes it so popular and why it generates such passion in people.

Power And Opulence

Of the many feelings that red generates (and it does generate a lot) one of the strongest is the sense of royalty and power. It’s been utilized a lot over the years when looking at how people of power have used it.

Many royal paintings from history show the subject in red robes. One famous example is Queen Elizabeth I having a portrait shortly before ascending to the throne. She was dressed in red to show her subjects that she was ready to take power.

As a result, reds are popular in interior design for studies, boardrooms, and other places where strength and control are emotions you want to convey. It’s no surprise that conference rooms will see a lot of red in chairs, table settings, and also in the art that gets displayed on the wall.

This all dates back to Roman times when blood-red symbolized courage, strength, and power. It was only Emperors that could use this blood-red for interior design in a palace. They also allowed it to be worn by their guards as another sign of their superior strength.

As we will see later, the Egyptians do have some negative thoughts about red but due to a limited color set of the time, we also have many good associations, particularly around life and health. Women of the time used it to redden their cheeks to show healthiness, whilst most depictions of men in paintings were colored in red.

Red is of course the color of blood and our hearts, so for centuries, it has been strongly linked with love, romance, and lust. It has always been popular in weddings, from the Roman times through to modern Chinese weddings where it is considered good luck to have red involved in your wedding, from the dress to the transportation the couple ride in.

Famously, it’s the color of Valentine’s Day, with red hearts adorning most cards you can ever buy, whilst most romantic artworks or ornaments are based in red. In fashion, red is also seen as expensive and a signal of luxury. A great example is a red-bottomed shoe from Christian Louboutin, first launched in 1992, that he went on to trademark the shoe.

Its association with blood has also meant red has played an important role in religion over the years, seen as the blood of Christ. Cardinals have always worn red garments and it's the prominent color in most worship garments.


For all the positive tones we mention above, there is no disguising that red can also be a negative color and can scream danger. It might be seen as a threat and is therefore used by a lot of organizations to denote a warning, most famously fire engines. It’s also used in warning signs, no one doubts when the sign is red, that means stop!

A good example of these negative connotations comes from the Ancient Egyptians, where red was attached to uninhabited and barren lands, thus it was seen as an evil color. One of the most infamous stories from the time is of Seth, who mutilated his brother and is normally depicted in red whenever the act was drawn.

Red was the color of the Greek gods of war, Phoebus and Ares, so it has connotations with bloodshed and conflict. For this reason, even today red can be seen as an aggressive color and should be used very carefully. You wouldn’t generally use the darker shades in places of recovery, peace, and reflection like hospitals or spas. It is also rare to see it in modern bathrooms.

One interesting fact about the danger of using red came during Roman times. They loved interiors adorned with a bright pigment derived from the mineral cinnabar, which was also used to splash on conquering warriors. The downside? Cinnabar is an ore from highly toxic mercury and as a result, those mining for it (usually slaves) were basically given a death sentence!

Interior Design - Use with Care

When thinking about the colors that you can pair with your room design, try and avoid other dominant colors as red is a strong color by itself. Instead, focus on classic colors like navy, black, white, and pretty much any type of grey.

Stay away from pastel colors like peach, coral, and lime, these will clash. If you are looking for other colors to compliment your red, why not try citrus orange, a dark green, or even something like a canary yellow.

If you use a lot of red in a design, then be prepared that it is making a statement and will be something you need to live with. If it's the dominant color in a room, then be sure you want it, if it's being used for a painting or in crafting, then think carefully about where you might put it.

As a result of the above, many experts suggest using splashes of red, less is more. It is a fantastic color to enliven a room. Red-based artwork is a good example of how to use red within a more neutral setting and help bring the room to life. If you plan to use a lot of red, avoid an orange-red, and aim at a more subtle, blue-based red.

Whilst a living room with all the walls red might not be a relaxing atmosphere, try another simple color on the wall and then pair it with a strong red painting, maybe some large red candles, a red vase, or a red centerpiece.

Feeling Hungry? Getting Excited?

Red is a popular color with many famous brands, and you will see it used for very specific reasons. Brand marketing is all about generating a response. Brands want passion and to grab attention and no color does that better than red.

It is said that the color red (as well as orange) gives people a feeling of being hungry. There is a reason why brands like Mcdonald's and Burger King use them prominently in their restaurants' color palettes! It is also used by the likes of Costco and Walgreens in their logos.

Because red will attract people, get them very excited, and even increase their heart rate, it leans towards brands for whom this is a plus. Step forward Coke and Red Bull.

A Bright (Red) Future

Whilst red might not be the most popular color anymore, it has been surpassed by green and blue in popularity, there is still no color that generates more discussion and passion than red. It is still the best way to make a statement and for that reason is hugely popular within the circles of the rich - to this day, red-based paintings fetch the most at auctions!

If you are looking to add a touch of red to your space, why not check out the Red HUE Series here.

“I hear the question upon your lips: What is it to be a color?

Colour is the touch of the eye, music to the deaf, a word out of the darkness. Because I’ve listened to souls whispering – like the susurrus of the wind – from book to book and object to object for tens or thousands of years, allow me to say that my touch resembles the touch of angels. Part of me, the serious half, calls out to your vision while the mirthful half sours through the air with your glances.

I’m so fortunate to be red! I’m fiery. I’m strong. I know men take notice of me and that I cannot be resisted.

I do not conceal myself: For me, delicacy manifests itself neither in weakness nor in subtlety, but through determination and will. So, I draw attention to myself. I’m not afraid of other colors, shadows, crowds, or even loneliness. How wonderful it is to cover a surface that awaits me with my own victorious being! Wherever I’m spread, I see eyes shine, passions increase, eyebrows rise and heartbeats quicken. Behold how wonderful it is to live! Behold how wonderful to see. I am everywhere. Life begins with and returns to me. Have faith in what I tell you.”

Orhan Pamuk, My Name Is Red

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