Healthcare Interiors - Hospital Ward

Colour planning for healthcare interiors

Organisations within the healthcare sector, whether hospitals, clinics, dentists or hospices have complex needs when it comes to interior design.  We’ve noticed that newer hospitals are certainly switching away from the insipid pastels towards a more vibrant palette but what considerations need to be made to create a great palette for healthcare interiors. As you can see below top class nurse, inventor of the pie-chart and exemplary holder of lamps turns out to also be a pioneer of healthcare interior design.

I am inclined to think that the majority of cheerful cases is to be found among those who are not confined to one room, whatever they are suffering, and that the majority of depressed cases will be seen among those subjected to a long monotony of objects around them. A nervous frame really suffers as much from this as the digestive organs suffer from long monotony of diet.  

The effect on sickness of beautiful objects, on variety of objects and especially brilliancy of colours, is hardly to be appreciated. Such cravings are usually called the “fancies” of patients but these “fancies” are the most valuable indication of that which is necessary for their recovery. People say that the effect is only on the mind. It is no such thing. The effect is on the body too.  

Little as we know about the way in which we are affected by form and colour and light, we do know this: that they have an actual and physical effect. Variety of form and brilliance of colour in the objects presented to patients are an actual means of recovery 

Florence Nightingale
Florence Nightingale - Inspiring Healthcare Interiors

Visually Engaging healthcare interiors

Unfortunately, many of us have experienced dark times when we have spent far too long in hospital corridors, as an inpatient or visiting sick relatives.  Even sitting in a doctor’s waiting room feeling like death warmed up is pretty soul-destroying.  Emotional exhaustion takes its toll and a splash of colour isn’t going to change that. However, the philosophy of ‘every little counts’ is important. Our moods are affected by our environments and monotonous drab colours can bring us down further. A coloured feature wall or even a mural can really brighten the mood.  Some carefully selected artwork draws the eye and distracts you, even if fleetingly, from the reason you’re there.  As Florence Nightingale says the ‘brilliancy of colour’ and ‘beautiful objects’ have a positive effect – don’t hesitate in making your healthcare interior fantastic.

Clean and comforting palette

The ‘clean’ issue has led to decades of ice blues and mint greens.  Yes, they feel clean, like toothpaste or toilet cleaner.  They also convey a sterile coldness when used in isolation, especially with a few sad plastic chairs and fluorescent lighting.  Individual colours cannot stand alone and it’s the way that the designer pairs colours, adds textures, creates shapes and specifies lighting that creates a design. Cool colours need to be softened, perhaps with wood contrasts.  Sometimes bright or strong colours are avoided as they are seen as too much of a statement. Actually, burnt orange or perhaps a dark teal has quite a comforting homely feel.   There are no colours that are best for the healthcare sector but palettes should be designed to create a clean, calm and yet engaging and inspiring environment.

Use colour as a practical aid for patients and staff

Hospitals can be confusing, unwieldy buildings.  Colour can be used as a great way of nudging people in the right direction. You may not see the sign that you’re in the radiography department but if the turquoise marker on the list in the foyer is the same as the turquoise on the skirtings in this corridor you may well be in the right place.  Many hospitals use coloured lines, reminiscent of the tube map, on the floor to guide you to the right department. Wings of hospitals often have colour-coding, for example, the lifts in the north wing may be green, in the south, blue. In confusing wards, different colour schemes may be used as an unofficial aide-memoire by staff.  In a doctor’s surgery, distinctive colour schemes may be more memorable than the room numbers and speed up communication.  Think about any navigation issues your building has and whether colour-coding could provide a solution.

Accessibility for healthcare interiors

Accessibility is essential in healthcare spaces and for visually impaired people colour schemes can provide vital assistance (or real problems) when navigating a building. Having said that colour and interest are brilliant, here comes the disclaimer! Chaotic colour schemes can be disorientating and even upsetting for some people.  This is where getting a designer is essential because engaging and calming are not mutually exclusive. A balance needs to be struck and of course, the specific focus of the organisation should factor highly.  For example, a children’s clinic should be bright and colourful whereas a psychiatric clinic may err toward calm and homely.  A nursing home should have visual impairment issues as a high priority.

Designing for the healthcare interiors involves a bit of specialist knowledge but ‘neutral’ isn’t necessarily neutral if health and wellbeing are at stake. Check out this excellent and very comprehensive report commissioned by the NHS – Light and Colour for Hospital Design.

If you are planning or refitting a healthcare interior in the UK get in touch for a no-obligation conversation.