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Zen Decorating Colors

Michelle Radcliff
Table of Contents

Simplicity and a calm, serene environment are key concepts of Zen interior decorating. Inspired by the minimalist style of Japanese interiors, harmony with the natural world and the spiritualist practices of Buddhism, Zen decorating colors primarily are comprised of natural earth tones and soothing neutrals.

A serene living space in an open concept apartment.

Color symbolism in Buddhist art may play a role in attaining a spiritual or meditative atmosphere.

Natural Harmony

A harmonious set table in the dining area.

The less-is-more aesthetic of a Zen interior includes open, uncluttered spaces. Earthy, natural tones of wood and stone furnishings influence much of a room’s color scheme. Timber or bamboo flooring, wall paneling and furniture ranges from light golden blonde to tan, brown, reddish brown or brownish black. Natural stone flooring contributes a variety of earthy colors from cool, steely gray, blue gray and marbled green to warm gold, copper, rusty orange, beige, pink beige, tan and brown. Providing rough, earthy texture to an accent wall, stacked stone-veneer wall panels vary from light, off-white, buff or sand colors to warm browns and medium-gray tones to deep charcoal gray.

Balance and Well-Being

A white living room and dining area with lime green accents.

In rooms without a lot of natural materials, a simple, neutral color palette suffices for a balanced, calm and relaxing atmosphere. Light colors of white and off-white on walls and upholstery make a room feel expansive and open. Shades of brown, tan, beige and cream on walls, rugs, fabric and upholstery feel natural, wholesome, grounded and stable. Muted earth-tone colors work similarly to neutrals on walls. Earthy blues and greens are abundant in nature and have a soothing effect on the mind. Try these colors on fabrics and upholstery as well.

Buddhist Color Symbolism

A modern living space with a sleek wooden desk.

The five colors known as pancha-varna, which commonly are referenced in Buddhist art, symbolize various abstract concepts including five transcendental Buddhas. According to Buddhist art and philosophy expert, Nitin Kumar,, devout Buddhists believe that meditating on each color helps achieve spiritual transformation.

  • White transforms the delusion of ignorance into the wisdom of reality.
  • Yellow transforms pride into wisdom of sameness.
  • Blue transforms anger into a mirror-like wisdom.
  • Red transforms the delusion of attachment into the wisdom of discernment.
  • Green transforms jealousy into the wisdom of accomplishment.

Although accessories such as wall art and decorative accents typically are kept to a minimum, any of these five colors may be included in a room to enhance a meditative environment.

White and Yellow

A contemporary white room with a yellow accent.

White may be thought of as the all-inclusive spectrum of light where everything is present and nothing is hidden. White represents concepts of knowledge, learning, purity, holiness, longevity and cleanliness are represented. White candles, a vase of white flowers or a wintery white landscape hung as wall art brings the essence of white into a space. Yellow, reminiscent of the saffron robes of monks and the color of daylight, represents humility, renunciation and separation from materialist society. Hang a painting with bright splashes of yellow or incorporate it with a few accent pillows or a comfortable throw.

Blue, Red and Green

A calm child's room with blue and green accents.

Blue represents limitless heights, ascension and healing. The semiprecious stone turquoise holds significant meaning to the devout Buddhist. It is symbolic of both sea and sky, and supposedly absorbs sin by those who wear it. Arrange turquoise in a shallow dish or drape it over a sculpted figurine.

Red is symbolic of the life force, passion and powerful rituals. In Buddhism, red is represented on a type of painting known as a red thangka and in coral that comes from the ocean.Display a red thangka painting on the wall, jewelry made from red coral or photos of living red coral in the ocean to add a touch of red to a room.

Being in the middle of the visible spectrum, green symbolizes balance and harmony. Green is associated with plants and trees, youthful vigor and action. Live plants are the best option for a green accent in a Zen room. Plants help purify the air and create a calm, peaceful environment.