Colour theories in interior design and lighting: Yellow

sean symington

How and where to use the colour yellow in your home interior design. Plus a guide to yellow table lamps, yellow lampshades and all things yellow lighting…

Colour is one of the key elements of interior design: colour choices affect mood and atmosphere, and reflect tastes, identities and changing fashions. Our series looks at different colours in interior decor: what they mean, how to incorporate them into your home, and how to use them in relation to lighting.

Here’s Pooky’s guide to yellow...

See also:
Colour theories in interior design and lighting: black
Colour theories in interior design and lighting: white
Colour theories in interior design and lighting: red
Colour theories in interior design and lighting: blue
colour theories in interior design and lighting: green

Summer sunshine, warmth, energy, happiness, optimism…. that’s yellow, the colour that’s more likely to trigger a smile than any other.

Its versatility will take you from the palest of pale lemons, to the golden glow of spring daffodils, to the sharpest of neon yellows, to the rich tones of gold and mustard. It’s tempting, therefore, to plunge right in and go full yellow… but too much of a good thing can be overwhelming.

We’ve been looking at how yellow has been regarded, and used decoratively, since ancient times and at the way today’s interior designers are making the most of yellow. We’re also visiting some landmark yellow interiors, and we’ve curated a special Pooky collection of yellow lamps and lampshades.

Aurochs and sun gods - the meaning of yellow

cave painting

Aurochs, horses and deer, Lascaux Caves, Montignac, Dordogne France, c15,000 BC. Public domain.

Humans have been using yellow decoratively for thousands of years; the earliest traces of yellow pigments date back to 45,000BC. Many ancient religions revered yellow as a sacred colour, which stemmed largely from its association with the sun. Solar deities were worshipped as far back as pre-dynastic Egypt; they were revered by the Mesopotamians and the Ancient Greeks, and they appear in many religions and mythologies around the world, from the Kongo religion’s Nzambi Mpungo to the Yazidi people’s Xudan, and from Taiyang Shan in China to Inti, the Inca sun god. Solar gods were seen as all powerful and have always been taken very seriously indeed…there’s no disputing the power of yellow. 

inca sun god

Gold-sheet mask representing the Inca sun god, Inti. National Museum, Quito, Ecuador. Creative commons

For Buddhists, however, yellow is a sign of humility, hence the traditional saffron-coloured robes of Buddhist monks and nuns.

Yellow rooms…

van gogh yellow house

The Yellow House, Van Gogh, 1888. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. Public domain

Great artists and designers have long had the yellow fever. Think of the gorgeous golds in the Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altarpiece, at the National Gallery, or the sumptuous, sensuous paintings of Gustav Klimt.

Or how about the sunflower-obsessed Vincent Van Gogh? His The Yellow House, a depiction of his rented home in Arles contains all the warmth and intensity of the south of France. Vincent was smitten by the sun-drenched landscape. Writing to his brother, Theo he remarked: “The sun dazzles me and goes to my head, a sun, a light that I can only call yellow, sulphur yellow, lemon yellow, golden yellow. How lovely yellow is!” 

Yellow is a key colour in Vincent’s equally famous painting of his bedroom – and he’s far from the only aesthete to favour yellow for interior decor. 

soane drawing room

The South Drawing Room at Sir John Soane’s Museum. (Photo © Gareth Gardner,  courtesy of Sir John Soane's Museum.)

Sunny yellow features heavily in the wonderful, pioneering Sir John Soane's Museum in London, while across the Pond, there’s the famous Yellow Oval Room at the White House in Washington, DC. First used as a drawing room by John Adams, the USA’s second president, it has undergone various redesigns and refurbishments over the years, none more significant than those undertaken during President Kennedy’s tenure, which were overseen by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. 

yellow oval room
The Yellow Oval Room, White House, Washington DC, USA c1962. Public domain.

American interior designer Sister Parish painted the walls pale yellow and added an oval yellow carpet, topped by Oriental rugs, while French designer Stéphane Boudin brought in 18th and early 19th century French antiques, including a stunning rock crystal chandelier.

And Nancy Lancaster’s mid-20th century Yellow Room at 39 Brook Street, which we featured in this post, has long been an inspiration for interior designers from around the world.

Using yellow in your interior design

 luke edward hall corridorGorgeous yellow hallway by Luke Edward Hall. Photo: Luke Edward Hall.

If yellow is for you, start by thinking about the shade or tone that is going to work best in a specific space. If you want to create a calm, inviting ambience, opt for soft, creamy yellows; if you want to inject a sense of energy and vibrancy, bright yellows, including neon, are the way to go. For luxury and summer warmth, it has to be a rich golden yellow. Deeper shades, such as mustard, will see you into autumn and winter. 

Here are some practical tips…

1) Use yellow as an accent
If you’re not quite confident about using yellow in abundance, you may prefer to opt for a less is more approach and use it as an accent colour. Think about yellow accessories, such as textiles, rugs, curtains…and lighting, of course. For example, take a look at the way Phoebe Oldrey of Smartstyle Interiors has used yellow cushions that not only provide strong focal points but also complement the dominant blue green features of this sitting room.

phoebe oldrey

Sitting room by Smartstyle Interiors. Photo: Daniela Exley

2) Combine yellow with neutrals
Yellow is surprisingly versatile and can work just as well combined with neutral colours, like white, grey and beige, as it does set against strong colours like blue or purple. Neutrals provide a subtle backdrop so that yellow can play to its strengths. Strong colour combinations make for a bold and vibrant look.

3) Introduce yellow into the kitchen
It’s also a great colour for kitchens—we’re back to warmth and happiness. The Pelham kitchen (by Naked Kitchens) shows just how effective yellow can be, not least when set against a neutral grey and white splashback, as it is here.

naked kitchens pelham kitchen

Pooky’s Constance pendant shades in black iris with stone interior in the Naked Kitchens Pelham kitchen

4) Go for yellow appliances and accessories
Yellow appliances are another way of brightening up a kitchen: a kettle, a toaster or even a pasta maker…Then there’s yellow stoneware; check out stylish minimalism of this small vase by Lucy Rutter at Toast.

5) Say yellow with flowers
And of course a natural and budget-friendly way of adding a touch of yellow is with seasonal flowers, from pots of spring daffodils and narcissi and vases of sumptuous summer roses like Vanessa Bell or Golden Celebration, to autumnal Helenium or Helianthus (check out this David Austin Roses post for ideas).

Photo: Christopher Martyn via Creative commons


Yellow lighting

However you plan to introduce yellow into your home, whether merest hint or broad brush, Pooky lighting has you covered, from table lamps to pendant lights and all manner of sunny lampshades.

Yellow table lamps brigadier

There’s no messing with our Brigadier (above); this glossy, lacquered yellow table lamp will lend a touch of authority to any room have and everyone standing to attention.

For a subtler yellow, this version of our Kelpie (below) in translucent lacquered saffron wood lets the glory of the grain shine through…

kelpie in saffron

See all yellow table lamps here.

Yellow pendant and wall lights

stanlette yellow

Looking upwards, our yellow Stanlette pendant shade, with its copper lining, is hard to beat. Stanlette is small and elegant, and very effective when hung in rows.

If it’s a wall light that you need, Pooky’s Helios in brushed gold aluminium, offers a touch of contemporary sophistication plus a hint of the ancient sun god. Its embedded dimmable LED components shine back on the wall to create a warm golden glow. Think of the aura of a solar eclipse and you’re on the right track…


See all yellow pendant lights and shades here.

Yellow lampshades


We have dozens of stunning yellow lampshades so it was quite a challenge to narrow them down, but these fabulous Ellen Merchant spicy mustard Squiggles empire shades (above) are new to our range and hit the spot, so we had to include them.  The designs for these shades started in Ellen’s studio—she’s one of today’s top textile designers—and developed into hand-carved wooden blocks.  Contemporary artistry and artisan skills, another unbeatable combination. (Find more about Ellen Merchant and her approach to design here.)

The ancient Japanese art of Shibori is another traditional decorative skill that has found a natural home at Pooky. This straight empire shade (below) is made of soft linen that has been dipped into delicious buttery yellow; Shibori takes stripes to another level… 

yellow shibori

Then there’s the big, bold yellow Yoda, an ikat print on linen that is fresh, vibrant and just joyful (below). This is the 50cm straight empire version but it comes in a range of sizes, and in a pendant fitting too.

yellow yoda ikat

Browse all our yellow and gold lampshades here.

Pooky make beautiful lights for beautiful interiors - find inspiration on our blog and shop our huge range of lights and shades.

Image top: Yellow walls in a Camden apartment, designed by Sean Symington (image credit) with Pooky's Rattle cane table lamps.