How Colour Psychology Impacts Interior Design [The Definitive Guide]

Considering a new coat of paint for the living room or a change of décor in the bedroom? Your colour choice matters more than you think.

The colours in your home are so powerful they can actually influence your state of mind.

Decorating the home is often viewed purely in terms of what looks good, which colours don’t clash, and which paint looks best.

But the colours you use as paint on your walls and in your decor actually have a deep, significant effect on your mood and even your energy levels. Colour psychology says that each colour sets a mood, inspires a reaction, and conveys emotion – from the calm, traditional stance of grey to the lively and spirited hot pink.

First, you’ll learn the psychology behind all of the most popular colours, so you know how each will affect the perception and tone of your chosen room.

Next, you’ll find expert suggestions for how to design the main rooms of your home to create the proper feel and emotion that you’re trying to achieve.

So many choices!

So many choices!

What Colours Say and Mean (And How They Make You Feel)

Oscar Wilde said, “Mere colour, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways.”

Think how you feel when you see a palette of greens, soft blues and earthy browns. Do you think of nature and serene days in the sun? Do you feel like slowing down? On the other hand, does red make you want to take action and get moving?

Colour Expert Leslie Harrington

Colour Expert Leslie Harrington

Colour is communication; “a universal, nonverbal language, and we all intuitively know how to speak it,” says Leslie Harrington, a noted colour expert and consultant. “What colour you paint your walls isn’t just a matter of aesthetics. It’s a tool that can be leveraged to affect emotions and behavior.

The Institute for Colour Research says that people make a snap judgment about a person, product or environment within 90 seconds of viewing and that between 62 percent and a massive 90 percent of that judgment is based on colour alone.

Paint colour is so powerful that it can influence our state of mind, and even our physiology. Click To Tweet
color chart

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Debbie Zimmer, expert in colour at the Paint Quality Institute, says “Paint colour is so powerful that it can influence our state of mind, and even our physiology. Colour psychology can help you choose paint colours that create the right mood in a room, affecting not just your own feelings, but those of everyone who enters it.

Making the right colour choice is not a decision to be taken lightly.

So next we’ll look at how to select the colour that best suits the room and creates the intended effect.

Warm and Cool Colours for Warm and Cool Moods?

Different colours will affect different individuals in certain ways depending on their upbringing, or personality. Colours may even have different contexts in cultures across the globe – for example, black can mean mourning in many countries, while white signifies death in others.

But certain colour effects have universal meaning and significance across the broad spectrum of people.


Image via pmg

Warm” colours in the range from red through orange and yellow evoke emotions in the “warm” and hot spectrum – from coziness and comfort to anger and violence.

Cool” colours on the other side of the colour wheel from blue to green, can be calming or can bring out emotions like sadness or regret.

Let’s take a detailed look at the colours that shade your world and how they make you and your guests think and feel….


“Red has guts …. deep, strong, dramatic. A geranium red. A Goya red … to be used like gold for furnishing a house.” – Valentino

Red is a colour of extremes; there’s nothing halfway about red. It can be associated with both love and war. It is linked to anger and also conveys importance or danger – the red stop light and red warning signs are one example, the red carpet at the Oscars is another.

The effect of red is not only linked to its impact on the mind. “Red can actually physically stimulate us,” says noted colour expert Kate Smith of Sensational Colour. “It can increase our respiration and heart rate and make us feel more energized.” Some experts even say red can raise your blood pressure.

According to to the colour psychology chart referenced earlier, different shades of red evoke wildly different responses in people. Deep red is seen as rich and elegant, expensive and cultivated whereas bright red, on the other hand, conjures up a wilder image – sexy, passionate, dramatic and assertive. On the negative side, an overly bright red shade can come across as aggressive and even violent in some circumstances (obviously, the colour of blood is red…)


A pop of shiny red certainly makes you take notice: Image from Andreas Charalambous via HGTV

How to Use Red in Your Rooms

Red can be contemporary or traditional, depending on the context of the room. Certainly an entirely red room will be a little overwhelming for most people. But use red as an accent colour, and you’re onto a winner.

The particular shade of red is also important in a room, according to HGTV’s guide to red: “Red with a touch of brown or purple will feel warmer than pure red with hints of pink. Orange-tinged reds will make you feel energized, while purple-red shades can make a space feel more intimate and quiet.” Reds with wood tones are warming, whereas red with grey and a little magenta is considered a more feminine combination. A bright red chair in a study makes the space look important. Or, a red-lacquered cupboard is a nod to Asian-style design and adds energy to the room.


“Pink isn’t just a colour, it’s an attitude!” – Miley Cyrus

What’s your first impression of pink? Generally, when used in interior design, the psychological effect of the colour pink is described as soothing and comforting. Use this effect to create a fresh, soft look for your home.

This colour has an overwhelmingly feminine aspect. And as the colour is linked to the feminine side, it is also associated with qualities that are seen as “feminine” – compassion, kindness, sensitivity etc.

Sometimes this is used for effect – the visiting team’s locker room at the University of Iowa are painted soft pink and even the toilets themselves are a dusty rose shade. But the paint job wasn’t meant to be a sexist statement. Former Iowa coach Hayden Fry read that the colour had a calming effect on people and stated that it had the effect of messing with the opposing team’s competitive ethos – he said, “When I talk to an opposing coach before a game and he mentions the pink walls, I know I’ve got him. I can’t recall a coach who has stirred up a fuss about the colour and then beat us.”


University of Iowa Visiting Locker Room Courtesy NBC Sports

Pink doesn’t have to mean girly and fluffy. Bright pink is also tropical and festive, while dusty pink is cozy, nostalgic and gentle. Light pink may be romantic and sentimental, youthful and summery. Different shades of pink set different tones and put you in a different mood. Sure, a fuchsia bedroom inspires playfulness and glamour, but a blush pink wall can work nicely for a cozy living room. Pink is a highly flattering colour for all skin tones, so it makes people feel good.


Fuchsia makes a warm, dramatic impact in this teen bathroom: Image from Cindy Aplanalp via HGTV

Using Pink in the Home

Pink goes with a variety of other colours including black, gold, silver, white, chocolate brown, and mint green. Pink combined with grey warms up the neutral while remaining sophisticated.

Smith, the noted colour expert, says “pink has the tendency to go sweet and sappy quickly. So if you don’t want that romantic, girly look, keep lines simple and clean and use sophisticated fabrics.”

Painting one wall hot pink is a quick way of adding energy and vibrancy to a space, and is more suitable for an entryway or a study than a bedroom.


“Orange is very blatant and vulgar. It makes you immediately start having feelings.” – Wolf Kahn

Orange is a bold, punchy, vibrant colour. Orange is high energy and is “usually a favorite of those who like to be known for their creativity and individuality,” according to Smith. But it can also be toned down – in Smashing Magazine’s article Colour Theory for Designers, muted orange shades are linked to the earth and autumn and, “because of its association with the changing seasons, orange can represent change and movement in general.”

When orange is associated with the citrus fruit of the same name it is linked to good health andcan be seen as thirst-quenching and refreshing. Orange is less in-your-face than red and is often seen as friendlier.


Orange chairs against a bright orange wall provide a splash of summery cheer: Image via DIY Network

How to Decorate with Orange

There are actually a wide variety of shades you can use when you are decorating with this energetic colour. DreamHomeDecorating notes that “as with other colours, the effect of the colour orange depends on its hue (yellowish or reddish), its tint (mixture with light neutrals) or its shade (mixture with darker neutrals).”

Orange blends nicely with neutrals and that coppery oranges are hot in design right now. A pale or dusty orange can be a warm, inviting colour for an entrance to welcome guests into your home.

You don’t need a lot of orange to make an impression. A few bright orange tiles in the splashbacks of the kitchen draw the eye and encourage people to feel playful and comfortable. But if you really want a lively space, decorate with pink, orange and citrus yellow for an explosion of party colour – perfect for a conservatory, modern kitchen or family room.


“How wonderful yellow is. It stands for the sun.” – Vincent Van Gogh

Yellow is a uniquely bright and energizing colour. It adds energy and optimism to a room, brightening the mood of all who enter. The Pantone shade Bright Yellow is predictably described as joyful and illuminating, energetic, innovative, and lively. The shade Light Yellow is soft and sunny, sweet and easy. “Yellow activates memory, stimulates the nervous system, promotes communication and sparks creativity,” according to HGTV.

Zimmer of Paint Quality Institute agrees and tells us that yellow is a great paint colour for inside the home. In fact, studies have shown that the brain actually releases more serotonin when faced with yellow shades.

Buttery yellow makes a space look inviting. Credit Benjamin Moore

Buttery yellow makes a space look inviting. Credit Benjamin Moore

Decorating Using Yellow

Muted yellow and buttery yellow make a room feel peaceful and cozy. Yellow is a great colour for use in a room with little or no natural light – it literally makes it look like the sun is shining in your north-facing space. With it’s optimistic and happy feel, it’s a great choice for a bathroom to start the day off right. Soft or light yellow is commonly used in rooms for young children as it is a gender-neutral shade that is also cheering. Honey yellows go great with wood and provide the ideal ambiance for a country kitchen.

You’ll want to make sure it’s not too bright or too muted. So as always when selecting a paint colour, be sure use those test cans of paint and look at the yellow on your walls in the different lights of the day. Interior designer Denna McLaughlin of City Studios agrees, saying “I love kitchens painted in the warmer tones of yellow, instead of the lemony tones. The warmer tones make you want to be in the room, because they’re comfortable and welcoming.”


“Green is the prime colour of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.” – Pedro Calderon de la Barca

Green is reminiscent of rolling hills and grassy fields, outdoor adventures and beautiful natural vistas; it lends a calming air to any room.

Light green is calm and cool with a soothing side, while Olive Green is associated with safari and camouflage. Lime Green is seen as youthful and fresh while dark green is much more traditional, stately, and trustworthy. Bright Green and Emerald shades are associated with nature, health, balance, and the environment – these shades of green represent “new beginnings and growth” according to Colour Theory for Designers, who adds that “green has many of the same calming attributes that blue has, but it also incorporates some of the energy of yellow. In design, green can have a balancing and harmonizing effect, and is very stable. It’s appropriate for designs related to wealth, stability, renewal, and nature.”

Tips for Decorating with Green

shannon-thumbInterior designer and colour expert Shannon Kaye of HGTV says “You can decorate an entire room with greens and have contrast, drama, richness and balance. It’s so versatile. Celery green looks light and airy in a kitchen, crisp and clean in a bathroom, and relaxing and warm in a living room.”


Green in the bedroom is calming and peaceful.

Did you know that due to evolution the human eye actually sees more shades of green than shades of any other colour. When surrounded by a green natural environment, our cave people ancestors had to be able to spot the difference in the landscape as quickly as possible in order to avoid predators. That’s why on a ‘primitive’ psychological level, the colour green tells us that we are safe.

Pale green paired with white or grey is a contemporary look, while green of any tone mixed with natural wood makes you think of organic nature and healthy living. If you’re looking for a more muted and intimate tone, evergreen or forest green work well in a study or a den. Citrus greens bring brightness and sparkle to a gloomy space.

Using green shades in the entrance hall effortlessly links the outside world with the interior. Because it is calming, green is a good colour choice for bedrooms, and since it’s the colour of many appetizing fruits and vegetables, it can even work in dining rooms.


“Blue colour is everlastingly appointed by the deity to be a source of delight.” – John Ruskin (Victorian Era art critic)

From the sophisticated and confident tone of teal to the high-energy vibrancy of bright blue, via the authoritative and conservative shade of deep blue or navy blue, blue is a tasteful, calming and cool colour.


Don’t you feel more relaxed just looking at it? An all-blue sitting room calms the mind: Image via DIY Network

Blue is said to lower blood pressure, slow one’s heart rate and act as a sedative. But this colour also affects people in different ways depending on the shade.

If you want to impress people with your traditional good taste, a navy blue would be a good option. Light blue calms people down, while bright blue makes them feel more energized. But “dark blue has the opposite effect, evoking feelings of sadness. So refrain from using darker blues in your main colour scheme. Stay with the lighter shades of blue to give you and your loved ones a calm effect,” cautions Freshome.

Using Blues

Blue is an amazingly versatile colour. The effect of blue depends on the tone so make sure you really investigate the range of blues before deciding which blue tone will suit your space. Mixing greens with aqua and turquoise helps create the ultimate coastal living look, while white and bright blue are nautical and fun.

Light shades of blue can actually make a room feel larger. One clever trick – using light blue on the ceiling mimics the sky and makes the room look bigger. But if you want something more sultry, mix deep midnight blue with amethyst and emerald for a luxury boudoir bedroom.

Another trick – you can also use the colour blue to cool down a hot, sunny room. Obviously, blue doesn’t actually lower the temperature, but it makes us feel cooler.


“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the colour purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” – Alice Walker (Author, The Colour Purple)

Purple is the royal colour, but it has its eccentric side that balances red’s stimulation with blue’s calm. Because of it’s “regal” association, purple can add real richness and luxury to a room. Purple is also linked to spirituality, soul-searching, creativity, wit, and expressiveness according to the colour psychology chart.

Decorating with Purple Shades

Beautiful contrasts for an elegant urban living space. Credit Benjamin Moore

Beautiful contrasts for an elegant urban living space. Credit Benjamin Moore

Purple can be in-your-face and crazy or calm and serene, depending on the tone. Lavender creates a calming effect while plum is a bold and exotic shade. If you want to make a big statement, use claret purple with black or raspberry to give a dining room a rich and indulgent feel. Or mix purple with mustard-yellow for an inviting collision of colour in the living room. Light purples are also one of the most common choices for adolescent girl’s rooms.

Neutral Colours

Neutral colours are not often the primary colour for a room but act as the backdrop. The feelings evoked by these colours are deeply affected by the other colours paired with it and the meaning of the colour changes depending on its surroundings.


“Black is real sensation, even if it is produced by entire absence of light. The sensation of black is distinctly different from the lack of all sensation.” – Hermann von Helmholz (German Physicist)

Black can be bold and elegant, sophisticated, mysterious and strong – or mournful, depressing, oppressing and menacing if you get too carried away. Black absorbs light, but it can make a positive impression when used with panache.


Back to black: Image via DIY Network

Black Décor and Style

Smashing Magazine says that “black is commonly used in edgier designs, as well as in very elegant designs. It can be conservative or modern, traditional or unconventional, depending on the colours it’s combined with.” When decorating with black you have the opportunity to create something quirky and thought-provoking, or stable and traditional depending on the accent colours you use.

DreamHomeDecorating suggests that you use black wisely, like ‘eyeliner’ for a room – on details like

  • picture frames,
  • accessories,
  • small side tables,
  • piping or similar detail in textiles (cushions, throws …)
  • an element of patterns.

If you use black in small doses, its main psychological effect will be to ‘underline’ your home’s chic sophistication.

You can also soften the psychological impact of stark black by using near-black neutrals like

  • charcoal
  • deep blue, e.g. dark indigo, Prussian blue or very dark navy blue
  • deep purple
  • very dark green
  • dark coffee browns


“The first of all single colours is white … We shall set down white for the representative of light, without which no colour can be seen.” – Leonardo Da Vinci

White also has two outlooks. On the positive side white is seen as pure, pristine, clean, and innocent. It is the colour of brides and fresh snow. On the other hand, too much white can be perceived as sterile and cold. However, used properly throughout a room, it can give the illusion that the space is bigger than its physical dimensions.

White Design Notes

White in the home is often the backdrop for minimalist rooms. It is simple and clean-cut. When decorating with white remember that there are few “true” whites – you need to look at the undertone, be that blue, grey, green, or pink. Ivory is subtle and soft, with a warm side, and is associated with antiques and brides. Cream can be a more down-to-earth choice although it does have its sophisticated side.

To create a softer look in a room and avoid the dentist vibe, layer with white tints and different textures to make the room look more inviting and comfortable.

To take advantage of the psychological effects of the colour white, you don’t always need a lot of it. Just accents can lift the look and feel of a whole room, while adding a freshness and even making it feel larger.


“The fundamental grey which differentiates the masters, expresses them and is the soul of all colour.” – Odilon Redon, French Symbolist Painter

When you think of a room decorated in grey you may not have a particularly positive image, unless you are thinking of a solicitor’s office or a waiting room. Grey means responsibility, neutrality, reserved, efficiency, and restraint. Grey is responsible but it can also mean dull and detached. But look closer at grey – if you want calm sophistication, grey is your shade.

Grey Design Ideas

Grey is a perfect choice if you want to create an air of calm, understated confidence. For grey to have this psychological impact, it’s best combined with whites and other neutrals. Apart from its psychological effects, grey also has a practical property that makes it very useful for manipulating paint colours: If you are decorating with ready-mixed paints, stir a bit of grey paint into them and it will take the synthetic edge off.

Grey may be too serious for a child’s bedroom but you can layer different grey tones for a smart and stylish study or den. And don’t discount grey for the living room – this shade works well when you need an impressive neutral for bright furniture pieces. Bright red and deep grey is a statement colour scheme for a dining room, while dove grey is perfect paired with dusty pink or violet in a calm bedroom.

Just be careful not to overuse grey, or you risk making the room feel dull or moody.


Brown has a rather more positive, wholesome image than grey, seeing as it is associated with earth and nature. Earth Brown, in the earlier referenced colour psychology chart is “grounded, steady, solid, rooted [and] wholesome.” Terra Cotta and Tan are outdoorsy, ethnic, welcoming and rustic.


Brown lends a natural air to a study or living room: Image via Better Homes and Gardens

Decorating with Brown

Match brown with feminine pinks or purples to create a soft space, and rich chocolate walls work well with neutral, bright accessories. Beige can take on the form of a cool or a warm colour depending on the other colours around it. Using natural hues and finishes, wooden furniture and floors can look very sophisticated. On the other hand, using distressed finishes or raw untreated wood and textiles in natural shades of brown can create a wonderful rustic effect.

How to Use Colour to Set the Perfect Tone for Every Room

“The power of colour is that it can completely alter your experience,” says Kaye. “You always want to ask yourself how you want to look and feel in a space.

The power of colour is that it can completely alter your experience. Click To Tweet

Considering how powerful colour can be at making you feel a certain way, it makes sense to use this to your advantage when designing the individual spaces in your home. Colour experts agree some shades work better than others for certain activities and tasks.

Think about how you will use a room. Will you be relaxing there, or working? Eating or cooking?

Most of all, don’t be afraid to experiment with colour and explore the feelings you get when you put certain colours or shades in a specific space.

Need some ideas? Here are some room-by-room suggestions for a pleasant, happy home.

Colours for Living, Socializing, and Interacting

The living room or sitting room is where you get together with family and friends, where you relax after a long day at the office, or where you enjoy your hobbies like movies, crafts, or books. The living room is a shared space and reasonably public.

Reds, yellows, oranges and earth tones are ideal for the living room because they encourage conversation and bring people together. “These are colours that encourage people to sit around and talk,” reports Smith of Sensational Colour. “You feel the warmth, the connection with other people.”


Earth tones bring people together in the living room.

A couple of big red chairs can be inviting in a living room, or red can make an interesting choice for drapery. When light comes through the window, a soft red glow makes people want to be together.

Brown, advises HGTV, makes people slow down and relax. It is a weighty, robust colour that is tied to the earth so it makes a living room feel inviting, comfortable, and secure.

Colours for an Intimate, Relaxing Bedroom

The bedroom is the place where you connect with your partner, chill out and slow down. And, most importantly, where you sleep. The bedroom is a private, intimate space.

All the soft shades of pink create a romantic setting and inspire calm. Shades of orange like apricot and terracotta inspire relaxation, and peach tones that cast a rosy glow on the skin can work well in a cozy bedroom where you want to look good and feel good, says HGTV.

On the other hand, blue can be an excellent choice in a bedroom according to Harrington – it is the direct opposite to a hue like red that actually increases your blood pressure. Blue and green is a classic combination for the bedroom as it creates a calming effect.


A classic colour scheme for a calming bedroom. Credit

A study by hotel chain Travelodge UK revealed that the colour blue gave the best quality sleep and that yellows and greens were also seen as favorable for sleep. Reds and purples are too stimulating for sleep, while brown may create sad and depressed feelings, the study found.

Want to know the colour not to paint a nursery? The colour yellow makes babies cry according to the American Psychological Association via Painters of Louisville. Yellow may be happy but it also strains your eyes and gives little ones energy.

Not sure if purple is the right choice for your girl’s room? “Odds are, she’ll love it, and you can take comfort in purple’s proven ability to stimulate brain activity,” says Zimmer, the Paint Quality Institute colour expert.

Paint Your Kitchen WHAT Colour to Lose Weight?

Did you realize that the colour of your kitchen walls could actually be sabotaging your weight loss efforts? If you are finding it hard to drop those extra pounds, consider shopping for a new shade.

Research shows red makes you eat more and for a longer time. “Bright reds stimulate glandular activity that helps us enjoy food and tends to make us lose track of time,” reports Carlton Wagner, director of Wagner Institute for Colour Research. Instead, paint your kitchen blue. You’ll spend less time eating and the colour is said to curb the appetite.

The Psychology of Colour in Interior Design: Research shows red makes you eat more and for longer. Click To Tweet

If you have a healthy appetite and you want to stimulate it, don’t hold back with a colour like orange. HGTV says orange also adds warmth so it is a good choice for a farmhouse kitchen. On the same colour spectrum, yellow is perfect for a family kitchen, says DIY Network, because “it’s a chatty, energetic colour, great for kitchens and family conversations; it also has the ability to evoke memory and imagination.”

Yellow may be a stunner but it can be too much – “brighter French blues and sunflower yellows are a fun combination for a kitchen,” suggests Jackie Jordan, director of colour marketing at Sherwin-Williams, because “it gives you the best of both worlds; yellow gives you energy and blue balances it out.”


White in the kitchen sets a clean backdrop for pops of colour: Image Credit

Sensational Colour looks at the power of Feng Shui combined with colour psychology for the kitchen: “Painting your kitchen white allows the colourful dishes you prepare to speak for themselves. The kitchen’s element, which is naturally Fire, (hot reds, greens and yellows) is overcome by the element Metal (represented by the stark, pure White) thus creating the best balance in this space.”

The Best Shades for Dining

Following on from the idea that painting your kitchen blue can help you lose weight, it makes sense to pay attention to the colour of your dining room walls and décor. You don’t necessarily want people to eat less here, so red would be a good option for the dining room according to Harrington’s logic above. She even goes so far to say that “if your dining room is red, people may think you are a better cook.”

Are you bold enough to pick a deep red dining room?

Are you bold enough to pick a deep red dining room?

HGTV suggests you “try a deep pink with raspberry undertones for a dining room that makes guests feel and look good in its warm, reflected light.” If you want to imitate the glow of candle-light, which makes people feel intimate and cozy, go for a straw-yellow on the walls and make sure you have dimmer switches installed. Rich purple makes your silverware and crystal shine and sparkle.

Colours for Washing and Indulging


Greens, aqua and white make for a rejuvenating bathing experience: Image via improvenet

White has always been the top choice for the bathroom because it screams “clean!” But remember your bathroom is not only used to wash – it is increasingly a place to relax and rejuvenate. A bathroom becomes a soothing, spa-like space with the addition of calming blue-greens as well as the natural green of plants. Mixed with grey or white, green in the bathroom almost instantly calms the senses.

Harrington says “most people feel comfortable with blues and greens and turquoises because these colours give a sense of being clean and fresh — and calm.” However, spa colours only make sense if they are flattering to your skin tone and look – Smith says “when you look in the bathroom mirror, you want to look great. If you would never wear a particular colour, don’t paint your bathroom that colour. That’s a recipe for disaster.”

Colour in Rooms for Working (And Working Out)

When it comes to spaces like the office or den where you need to think and be productive, blue is best for helping us think creatively, according to a University of British Columbia study. Blue encourages out-of-the-box thinking, while red “boosted performance on detail-oriented tasks such as memory retrieval and proofreading by as much as 31% compared to blue.”

Or choose green – “Green is the colour of concentration,” says Harrington. “It’s one of the best colours to be surrounded by for long periods of time.”


Did you know green is the colour of concentration? Think about it! Image via Tagota

Red may be the ideal choice, therefore, for working out. A study from the University of Rochester found that when “humans see red, their reactions become both faster and more forceful” – ideal for lifting weights. But red can make you feel hotter – if you’re working up a sweat then blue or green may be a better option.

The right colour can make the difference between a calm or energetic vibe, classic or modern style, or setting the perfect mood for each room in your home. Choose with care and light up your life with inspiring colour!

How has colour impacted your colour choices? What does each colour make you feel? Tell us in the comments below!

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