Color Calling Your Bathtub

By Alan Knight

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Roses are red, violets are blue. How you color your bathroom is up to you.

Color and lighting can influence how people perceive and respond to the areas around them.  By decorating your bathroom and bathtub in particular color schemes, you can tailor this most private room to reflect and/or enhance certain moods.  You can also utilize different techniques to stimulate your moods such as changing the ambient lighting and/or coloring the bath water when luxuriating in a warm, soothing bath. 

Before looking at the various colors and associated moods and feelings they can imbue, as well as discussing ways to take advantage of this phenomenon in your bathroom, let’s take a brief look at how we perceive color, as well as the history of humankind’s understanding of color.  

The Eyes Have It


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Did you know the retina inside our eyes is actually considered to be part of the brain? It’s covered by
millions of light-sensitive cells, called photoreceptors. Some of these are shaped like rods (which perceive black and white). Other cells are shaped like cones (which perceive color). These receptors act as transistors that process light waves into nerve impulses and, via the optic nerve, send them to the brain’s cortex region. Most of us have six to seven million cones, and almost all of them are concentrated in a 0.3 millimeter spot on the retina called the fovea centralis. Thus, working together, our eyes and brain translate light waves into colors.

Red, green and blue are the additive primary colors of the color spectrum. Combining balanced amounts of them also produces pure white. By varying the amount of red, green and blue light, all of the colors in the visible spectrum can be produced. Think of all the colors out there; the majority of us can see/perceive about one million different colors. However, based on our genetic structure, some of can see more, others less.  And to think, these millions of hues are made from just red, green and blue. 

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Take teal for example, one of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ primary colors. It’s a mixture of medium blue and dark cyan. How do I know this? Because one of our customers had us custom-color a Clawfoot tub for them consisting of a teal interior, a black exterior and ornate clawfoot legs of gold.

Something to Reflect Upon


It was the English mathematician and physicist, Sir Isaac Newton ― more about him later ― who discovered that color is not inherent in objects.  Rather, the surface of an object absorbs some colors and reflects others, which are then perceived by the human eye.
Take for example the famous red apple that led Newton to formulate his famous theory of gravitation. Red is not “in” the apple.  The skin of the apple reflects the wavelengths that we perceive as red, while absorbing all the other lightwaves.  A white bathtub, for example, reflects all the wavelengths, whereas one that absorbs all the wavelengths will appear black.   

TedEd on Color

History of Color Theory


The study and usage of color is thousands of years old, much older than the creation of bathtubs in Europe.  In China, Feng Shui (pronounced “fung shway”) was developed over 3,500 years before the invention of the magnetic compass, originating in Chinese astronomy.  Essentially Feng Shui is an in-depth system and school of thought that deals how to arrange and balance the energies of any given space to assure health and good fortune for people inhabiting it.  Feng Shui concerns itself with the energy or “chi” of a given space.  In this ancient system, colors are comprised of and can also reflect specific energies and moods.   

Centuries later in Europe, the Italian architect, poet, priest, and linguist, Leone Battista Alberti (circa 1435) and the now-venerated Leonardo da Vinci (circa 1490) both wrote about “color theory” principles.  Three hundred years later, Newton’s theory of color was espoused in his book, “Optiks,” which was published in 1704. 

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Newton also developed the very first color wheel, wherein he divided sunlight into red, orange, yellow, green, cyan and blue beams. He then joined the two ends of the color spectrum to depict the natural progression of colors. Interestingly, Newton associated each color with a corresponding note of the musical scale. What color is your favorite music?

Nearly a century following Newton, Johann Wolfgang Goethe began studying psychological effect of colors.  He observed that blue induced a feeling of coolness and yellow had a warming effect. Goethe and Johann Christoph Friedrich von Shiller created the “rose of temperaments" (Temperamenten-Rose) in 1798, to depict the psychological effect and attributes of colors. These colors were then divided into two principal groups, the plus side (red, orange, yellow) and minus side, (green, violet, blue). Plus side colors were said to produce excitement and cheerfulness, whereas colors on the minus side were said to be associated with weakness and unsettled feelings. Their diagram matched 12 different colors to character traits and occupations, which were grouped in the four “temperaments” as espoused by the Greek physician, Hippocrates: 
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  • Choleric (red/orange/yellow): tyrants, heroes, adventurers
  • Sanguine (yellow/green/cyan) hedonists, lovers, poets
  • Phlegmatic (cyan/blue/violet): public speakers, historians, teachers
  • Melancholic (violet/magenta/red): philosophers, pedants, rulers

The current form of color theory was developed by Johannes Itten, a Swiss color and art theorist who was teaching at the School of Applied Arts in Weimar, Germany. This school is also known as “Bauhaus.”  Itten developed what he called “color chords” and modified Newton’s color wheel. Itten's color wheel is based on red, yellow, and blue colors as the primary “triad” (borrowing a musical term for a three-note chord) and includes twelve hues.

More recently, Carl Gustave Jung (a.k.a., C.G. Jung) the Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist who founded analytical psychology, is also associated with the pioneering stages of “color psychology.” His work has historically given birth to the modern field of color psychology and art therapy. 

The general model of color psychology relies on six basic principles:

  • Color meaning is either based on learned meaning or biologically innate meaning
  • The perception of a color causes evaluation automatically by the person perceiving
  • The evaluation process forces color-motivated behavior
  • Color usually exerts its influence automatically
  • Color meaning and effect has to do with context as well
In this article, I introduced the concept of using color to affect your mood while in the bathroom, specifically while bathing. I discussed the physiology of how we perceive color, and how, throughout history, we’ve developed an understanding of our emotional interaction with color in an evolving science known as “color theory.”  

If you found this article useful, please share it with your friends and co-workers. If you have a comment related to this article, leave it in the Comment section of this blog.

If you’d like to receive a FREE Clawfoot Tub Buyers’ Guide, click here.  Have a question? Feel free to contact me at the number or email listed at the end of this article and I’ll personally get back to you. It’s been my pleasure sharing this information with you. 

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Alan and Kerry Knight are the owners of Tub King, Inc., and  in Jacksonville, Florida. Together they have many years of experience in the antique and senior bathtub industries. Their companies not only provide superior products, they are also multi-award winners, receiving the “Best of Jacksonville Chamber Award” four years running. If you’d like to contact them, call (800) 409-3375 or (800) 843-4231; or send an email to

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