Color permeates our lives from the natural environment to manmade surroundings. Some ancient cultures such as the Egyptians and Chinese used colors to heal. Spas today practice chromotherapy to energize, refresh, or soothe patrons. And businesses incorporate specific palettes that supposedly provoke clients into trusting, buying, or eating more. Among various color theories, there tend to be common themes in the ways Western society perceives colors: black portrays authority, white symbolizes purity, red stimulates, green calms, blue—the most popular color—relaxes and inspires trust, yellow strains the eyes and incites people to lose temper, while orange projects happiness or enthusiasm, and purple connotes luxury. How we respond to myriad hues and shades isn't so ubiquitous. Everyone reacts with disparate reactions toward a wide range of colors. We don't even agree on how some colors should be classified. What one person insists is green another will be equally certain is blue. But most of us, design expert or not, concur that colors influence our moods and play important roles in home design and construction.

Understanding how colors sway people and awareness of current trends can help you bolster your relationship with your clients. It's not just about paint on a wall, but every material and product selection is influenced by color. Do your clients gravitate toward the reddish hue of cherry or soft yellows of pine for their wood floors? Are stainless steel, glossy black, or sterile white appliances most appealing? Below, experts predict their favorite shades for 2012 and describe the corresponding feelings they are intended to stir. Consistent among the forecasts is a subtle switch from safe, soothing, and secure palettes to stronger colors that rouse optimism, exuberance, and cheer.

Fashion usually foretells a year or so earlier what shades eventually will permeate home trends. True to form, the largest color forecasting organization, Alexandria, Va.-based Color Marketing Group (CMG), announced this spring that p'zazz, a vibrant deep red-purple, which we have seen in past seasons on the runway, is the "it" color for fall/winter 2011 to 2012. According to CMG's forecast, "expect it to adorn feature walls, accent soft furnishings, and breathe new life into standard hues such as beige, navy, and gray." Alongside p'zazz, honey moon—a golden hue achieved by blending "the sweet earthiness of honey and the romance of a harvest moon" to conjure upbeat realism—is the golden child for home decor in the near future.

Pantone, a global developer of color communications and matching tools, has been predicting stylish colors since 1963. Pantone put together nine palettes for home and interior design that it foresees as popular choices for perspective clients. Collectively called Pantone View Home + Interiors 2012, more than half of the color groupings contain shades of purple along with numerous neutrals and a dash of unusual neon hues created from in-between blends such as a green-yellow bamboo or a gold-orange citrus. The company describes its colors in terms of feelings they evoke. For example, the Nonchalance palette of "comforting pastel pinks, ethereal blues, and soft egret white wrap us in carefree baby blanket colors, harmoniously blending with the more mature taupe, gray, and grape tones." The colors "coax a feeling of tranquility and relaxation with no suggestion of anxiety in the surroundings."

Paint retailers, including Benjamin Moore and Sherwin-Williams, often offer color predictions, advice, and tools specifically for contractors and designers. For Colormix 2012, Sherwin-Williams color experts "drew inspiration from fashion-forward analogous color combinations to experiment with color values and hues within color families." Benjamin Moore focused on vintage- and sustainability-inspired hues for Color Pulse 2012. Preservation is the theme for Benjamin Moore's four palettes labeled Heritage, Process, Protection, and Enlightenment. Webinars, live events, CEUs, and an iPad app are available for professionals who want to learn more about color trends for the next two years.

Both companies also have smart phone apps to help contractors, architects, and designers select and match colors. Benjamin Moore's mobile app, ProConnection, is now available for BlackBerry in addition to the iPhone. ProConnection provides project organization tools, paint options searchable by category, full-screen color swatches, client database capacity, and direct connection to technical support from the company.

ColorSnap from Sherwin-Williams can now be downloaded by Android users who join iPhone and BlackBerry owners in being able to take a photo of a color and immediately get the closest matching Sherwin-Williams hue. The image also can be used to search for coordinating colors and create a custom palette. Users can then alter shades by changing the brightness and saturation, save colors to a library, share hues via Facebook and e-mail, and find a nearby retailer. Those using ColorSnap on their iPhones have the ability to capture a color image and then receive coordinating hues arranged in varied palettes by simply shaking the phone.