I went in to my doctor's office for my quarterly A1C checkup last week. Every time I go there I'm struck with the question of why hospitals have to feel so otherworldly? I know that everyone there is focused on doing great medical work, which is of course, appreciated and expected by all of us. I go to a teaching, research hospital for my clinics because I love my doctor and know I'm getting access to the best care available for my diabetes and overall health. And, of course, I know that's the point after all.
But the designer in me can't help but wonder why hospital clinic interiors have to feel so much like a Motel 6 from the 70's. Beige, baby blue and pale pink everywhere. Magazine racks stuck to the wall, usually filled with ancient copies of magazines whose subjects you never care about like fishing or condo living or recipes. Everything feels temporary, as if its been designed for people who have already left on a trip...a long time ago. As a patient, I guess I can understand the concept of "temporariness" informing interior choices since none of us really want to be there for very long. But I just don't believe the resulting aesthetics are consciously driven by that as an idea. It seems they have just "happened" due to the function and utility of a medical place colliding with the misconception that beige and pink will somehow make examining rooms feel more warm and inviting. A nice thought, but not true in practice.
Place is really important. It might as well be as cool a place as possible while you're there. And, as it is with most things, it's all about attitude, even if it is at a hospital or clinic focused on the serious and important job of disease evaluation and management. When you think about it, making the place cool is especially important there. Control what you can, right?
So here are some humble suggestions to start the conversation:
• get fresh. Get some new eyes on the place. Get an architecture/interior design class to redesign and/or upgrade the standard hospital/clinic decor. Put a group of young, creative, talented and motivated people to work on the problem. It's a win/win proposition because the clinic gets the design work for free and the students get a real and meaningful piece for their portfolio.
• get some fresh and inviting color in the joint. There are lot's of studies around how much color affects mood. Think about the people who are visiting and how not fun it is, in general, to be there. Think about the poor staff who have to work there day in and day out. And then remember the magic of paint. It doesn't have to be expensive to have a major overhaul of mood and freshness. It's amazing what just a fresh coat of the right color of paint can do. Get a consultant or the kids from the architecture class to help. Not surprisingly, I'd recommend removing pale pink and baby blue from the range of choices, permenantly.
• get groovy magazines. Fill the place with them. Make it hard for us to leave because there is so much to read. Contact some magazine publishing companies to take some of their "out of date" (eg. one month old) magazines off their hands. I've heard that the ones that haven't sold through in retail shops are returned to the publisher. Maybe the publisher would like to off load them and get a tax credit from the donation. Maybe they won't be up for it but it certainly is worth a try. If you've got to sit and wait to get poked and prodded, you might as well catch up on a month old Elle Decor or Vogue while you're at it.
• if there is any kind of budget, invest in some better fixtures and accessories. A nice second hand shop magazine rack, a cool chair with character, a groovy piece of real art. Or maybe ask some of the patients to do some art and have it framed to show off how cool and professional it looks. And remember, everything doesn't have to all match or be expensive. In fact the mismatched stuff is tres chic these days. Just read Ilse Crawford's new book home is where the heart is to get the full scope on this trend.
• also, for a fun read that has great principles that might apply, read Jonathan Adler's new book: My Prescription for Anti-Depressive Living.
That's it for now. We can all keep thinking about it. I know that getting great medical care is the priority. This conversation is just an exercise in making that process of that feel a little bit better.