Interior Design for the Healthcare Environment

It may just be me, but I seem to be spending more time in doctors’ offices these days.  Whether it’s something my three year old brought home from preschool or just the nuances of getting older, I find myself in these drab healthcare facilities that are cold, unpleasant, and outdated.   As a patient, I enter a healthcare environment with a huge brick of anxiety on my back as it is; walking into an uncomfortable environment doesn’t make that any better.   As an interior designer it’s even more frustrating because there are obvious, simple changes that could be made to create a more pleasant environment for patients.  I recently was given the opportunity to work on a local health care clinic and thought, finally my chance to make a difference in the community and create a space that promotes healing, not anxiety.

When I started my career in Atlanta, the health care projects I worked on at that time were on a much larger scale.  The trend at that time, especially for hospitals was the absence of color or only very soft shades of color.  These hospitals and clinics were almost starting to resemble museums with their cold and stark finishes.   The thought at that time was that we were creating “calming” environments for families and people who were under stress and facing great challenges.

Right now we’re seeing a huge trend in holistic design and themes of nature. These types of design trends are executed with the help of Evidence-Based design.  Evidence-Based design is the process of basing decisions about the built environment on credible research to achieve the best possible outcomes. Through research, there is now evidence that access to views, natural and cool color schemes, and elements of nature such as water and plants can help in the healing process.  We’ve learned a lot about color psychology in regards to patient reactions.

Color & Nature in Healthcare:

  • There is a healing component in color as with anything that stimulates the senses.  The thought about 10 years ago was that all the colors that were incorporated into the interior should be soothing and calming.  Now, research has discovered that it is better to stimulate the brain by using more bold colors, thus creating the potential for self healing. Color is treated differently depending on what type of facility it is.
  • Science shows that nature has a huge healing component.   There is a growing body of evidence indicating that exposure to art and nature imagery has a positive impact on the viewer’s health and well-being. Nature imagery helps to stimulate healing properties in people.
  • When color is an integral part of the interior design and a key element in the space, and all elements are brought together appropriately, they create a therapeutic environment.
  • Through stimulating environments, those weighted in representations of nature and color, patients, family, and staff report feel “normalized” and researchers indicate their healing rates are dramatically increased.

Healthcare facilities are multi-faceted and complex.  The following are just a few of the logistics to designing a healthcare environment: ease of maintenance, durability, cleanability, life cycle of products, new systems in technology, the selection of healthier products and cost. Assessing responsibly manufactured, less-toxic and recycled products have also become important factors to health care design thanks to the USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council).  Waste prevention opportunities, energy and water efficiency, planet and people friendly possibilities, recycling and donation opportunities, and innovation are also key components to healthcare facilities.

Although this is not the glamorous side of interior design, building efficiencies are incredibly crucial in the overall performance of buildings that serve the public.  This decision making process can be time consuming, but ultimately the final selections can have a profound affect on the owners of the building, the employees and the end user.

Health care facilities have become multi-million almost billion dollar investments just in their construction alone.  The trends in holistic design will not only influence the interiors on the larger scaled projects like hospitals, but the trend will also affect small local private practices and government funded facilities.  There is a need for interiors to promote and facilitate healing in their patients. Hopefully, we can soon say goodbye dreadful, depressing healthcare facilities and with the introduction of more vibrant colors and nature inspired spaces, create healing environments.

Layla S. Altman, ASID is the co-owner of Posh Living in Surfside Beach.  She can be reached at 238-0078 or by email:

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