Design masterclass: Adding colour to your kitchen

Commercial kitchens don’t have to be a white, monochrome or sterile environment. The application of a colour palette can have a positive impact on the overall outcome of a project, says Tim Smallwood FFCSI

“Humans need colour to live, it’s just as necessary an element as fire and water” – Fernand Leger, French painter

The potential of colour to provide the designer with another tool to improve and add value to the operation of the facility cannot be underestimated. Colour not only has an effect on human perceptions and behaviours but also can be used to assist in the management of hygiene, sanitation and contamination control, enhance performance and creativity as well as the flavour perception of food.

Recognition that commercial kitchens don’t have to be a white monochrome sterile environment and that the application of a colour palette can have a positive impact on the overall outcome is a starting point for considering its use in a project.

The response to colour is based on three attributes; hue, saturation and brightness, and has been found to have a variety of effects on human perceptions and behaviour. The designer has to make considered choices on why a colour is being used in a particular application because the effects will be on:

Mood and emotion

Psychology and wellbeing

Cognition and performance

When comparing warm colours: red, orange and yellow, with cool colours; blue and grey, most people will tend to prefer blue and green, but this will vary according to age, gender, culture, background and experience and will be mitigated depending on circumstances.

Mood and emotion

Based on a subjective measure of mood, green evokes a positive emotional response associated with relaxation, calmness and happiness, whereas red evokes a consistent avoidance response (stimulating as well as distracting).

There can be a positive emotional response to working in a colourful environment – a good colour scheme will enhance the overall mood. Blue is more positive than red in an open work area although some studies suggested that it could be depressive. white was boring and uninteresting.

Psychology and wellbeing

Brain activity using EEG/ECG showed that colour has a significant influence on human psychology and an impact on heart rate. A red or colourful room with visual complexity put the brain into a more excited state. Blue resulted in drowsiness and a sleep effect but overall a good colour combination can have a positive influence on visual working capacity and increased comfort.

The perception and experience of a blue and green space is associated with a sense of wellbeing whereas green is associated with recreation and freshness and can have a reducing stress effect on some people.

Work performance and cognition

A colourful workplace tends to enhance performance more than a workplace with an achromatic scheme. Some colour combinations increase a positive influence on visual working performance; speed at work, accuracy and absence of errors.

White: Workplace resulted in the most errors

Red: Affects performance through negative mood but enhances cognitive task performance

Blue: Enhances creative task performance


Four studies indicated that neutral, cool blue and a balance between warm and cool colours can enhance productivity (although one study indicated that cool colours in a design office tended to reduce productivity) The difference in response can result from each individuals stimulus screening ability.


Cool colours can have a significant negative effect on creativity but that they supported managers to think and generate ideas. This may be because cool colours are calming and relaxing whereas warm colours are over stimulating making it difficult to concentrate


Colour is often used in a kitchen, particularly on the floor finish, to designate particular area functions. In addition to the general psychological impact, but maybe because of it, colour coding can also be used as a preventative control to improve food safety and sanitation and enhance contamination control with identifiable hygienic and environmental monitoring zones.

As well as using colour in the kitchen walls and floor, sanitisation compliance can be enhanced by using colour coded cleaning and materials handling tools and generally applying a universal visual control for promoting food safety culture among employees through applying a colour coded management system into the design.

Food: colour and light

A further consideration when working with colour in the design will be the impact of colour on food. Within the kitchen, in the past the idea has been that white (usually tile) walls provide a neutral background for the food.

However, when evaluating the appeal of a finished dish, it will be from the diners perspective that it needs to be considered and the impact of the difference between the general colour schemes of the two areas can be significant. Under a warm white light (2700 – 3000K) in the kitchen, the true colours of the food will be brought out and encourage the appetite. Although red can make meat look pale and white, as the hue shifts to a turquoise colour food will start to look brighter. Generally blue is the only appetite suppressant in the spectrum.

In the dining room, if there is any blue in the décor or lighting, a meal that looks inviting when it leaves the kitchen will lose its perceived flavour intensity and the positive anticipation when it gets to the table. Customers will eat less and if the dining room is dark, will not enjoy the food as much. On the other hand a warm white or yellow light will make the customer want to eat more as well as enjoy the meal more.

Light measured as a correlated colour temperature (Kelvin) has a varied impact on perception:

2700/3000K Warm: Displays the true colour of food.

3500K: Displays whites well, eg: iced products

K4000: Displays wet products well, emphasises freshness in lettuce etc. In fish, highlights silver scales and white fish flesh well

4100K: Precise, clean, focused: safest working environment

5000K: Approaches the intensity and clarity of sunlight, good for clear observation.

6500K daylight: appears like a mixture of blue and white light.

From this it can be seen that the choice of the colours and light in the kitchen and facility generally can be used to improve the overall performance as well as impact on staff and customers. Just reverting to white walls and white light without considering the benefits of applying a colour palette to the design is a failure of imagination.

Tim Smallwood FFCSI

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