To overcome the negative associations of an institutional setting, we draw heavily upon familiar elements of hospitality and residential design.
When we design spaces for behavioral health, we understand that it is vitally important to eliminate as many barriers for patients seeking treatment as possible. In providing spaces for wellness, comfort, and positive engagement, we transform the perception of institutional facilities for observation and prescription into a far better experience focused on the whole patient.
Turning Ideas into Reality
As designers, we understand that the built environment impacts the way people experience a space. Good design can have a powerful impact, and a successful project is one that transitions a conceptual goal into an inviting place with a positive culture. We approach each project like a new conceptual script to be written before a movie is filmed, and we focus on the big ideas which will help us create memorable moments. We determine how best to bring these big ideas to life for each unique project.
Creating a Welcoming Place
To overcome the negative associations of an institutional setting, we draw heavily upon familiar elements of hospitality and residential design. A waiting room that feels more like a living room creates a sense of place and belonging, lowering stress and making patients feel valued. When we layer in elements of residential design such as accent lighting, plants, artwork, and textured flooring, spaces feel more fluid and relaxing. Organic shapes, serene color palettes, and a variety of textures provide visual interest, while natural light and views to the outdoors also promote wellness and help to orient people within the building. Providers can take a cue from the hospitality sector and offer complimentary beverages patients can serve themselves while waiting.
Experiential Graphic Design is also a high-impact, cost-effective way to animate a building with custom wallcoverings that provide inspiration and artwork. New technologies and digital printing capabilities allow us to be more innovative with little additional cost, transforming the character of a space.
Designing for Safety
Providing a safe environment is a critical aspect of every healthcare project, and behavioral healthcare comes with stringent requirements for patient safety. Fortunately, keeping staff and patients safe does not require us to sacrifice in terms of design. However, we do rigorously research each and every object that goes into a space, knowing that every element of the design impacts how a space makes people feel, how it functions on a daily basis, and how it helps staff prepare for and respond to a potential crisis.
To maintain a hospitality/residential aesthetic, we think outside the box by partnering with other industries to customize the interior function for the specific need of the end users. For example, many healthcare furniture manufacturers are experts in behavioral health product design and have been for many years. However, these products sometimes look sterile and uninviting. In recent projects, we have collaborated with vendors with products typically marketed toward corporate or higher education clients to develop furnishings that make a space feel homelike while meeting requirements for ligature resistance and safety for all types of guests.
Selecting Furnishings for Flexibility and Comfort
Furniture solutions are a key strategy for accommodating flexibility over time. Reconfigurable furnishings can grow with the health system’s culture and can accommodate evolving patient needs. Furniture can also change the character of a space. For example, if we replace the exam table and physician’s stool in a pediatric observation area with a sofa, lounge chair, and writeable coffee table, a child is more likely to relax, play, move freely, and be creative.
In waiting rooms, we can replace the outdated concept of rows of chairs which impart a “bus stop” atmosphere with welcoming, comfortable soft seating – appropriately distanced for courtesy and privacy- that makes the waiting room feel more like a front porch. When we provide choices in seating types, patients can choose a more public setting, or a more private setting such as a secondary waiting area or just a chair with higher back and sides for a cozier feeling to ease anxiety.
For consult rooms, chairs that allow multiple positions give patients control over their posture so they can sit comfortably. Chairs that allow subtle movement or rocking can relieve anxiety during a visit; giving patients control over their environment can also reduce stress. For example, dimmable lights and powered roller shades allow a patient to choose whether the room is brightly lit or dim.
Adaptable furniture strategies are important for providers as well. In our new era of virtual healthcare visits, well-designed spaces with acoustical privacy, furnished appropriately for telemedicine, help to accommodate this growing need. Provider touchdown stations sprinkled throughout the facility help to streamline workflows with flexible, accessible workstations for quick tasks.
Designing for Providers
It is also important to design with the needs of behavioral healthcare providers, who have difficult and stressful jobs, in mind. Creating spaces of respite for the providers, such as a break room with natural light and views, comfortable furniture, and a unique look and feel from patient spaces, helps to promote the feeling of getting away.
When we view behavioral health interiors through the lens of hospitality and comfort, we create an environment where patients know they are welcome and valued. Each positive experience builds trust, empowering patients to be a full partner in the behavioral healthcare process.