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Color’s Role in Healthcare Furniture & Design

Woodworking Network | June 2013

Color choice can influence not only the aesthetics of a healthcare facility, but its integration in the setting also can impact and enhance the care and healing of patients in different age groups. 

"The Application of Color in Healthcare Settings," an October 2012 study sponsored by KI and Jain Malkin Inc., examined these and other issues while offering some design considerations. Authors of the study were: Sheila J. Bosch, PhD, LEED AP, EDAC, director of research and innovation for Gresham, Smith and Partners; Rosalyn Cama, FASID, EDAC, president and principal interior designer of planning and design firm CAMA, Inc.; Eve Edelstein, MArch, PhD, EDAC, AssocAIA, F-AAA, founder and president of Innovative Design Science; and Jain Malkin, CID, AAHID, EDAC, president of Jain Malkin Inc. 

While noting a "lack of consensus in the literature of color in healthcare settings," the authors offer a number of considerations for the design process. 

Age Preferences & Considerations
Saturated colors versus pastels, and use of contrasting colors is often recommended for areas with elderly patients who may have trouble distinguishing colors, spatial relationships and tones, the study reports. It also cites research by Dittmar (2001) of a decreased preference for blue among elderly patients. 

Excessive amounts of white also are not recommended in areas highly used by older patients. White corridors in conjunction with white floors, for example, "can create a visual hazard for older persons with reduced visual acuity and even other patients with compromised equilibrium, which could lead to falls," the study notes. 

Often perceived as an institutional "color," white also was least preferred by pediatric patients, who otherwise expressed no distinct color choice (Park 2009). 

Adding color via furniture or in a design can make the environment less intimidating. However, too much of the same color in one setting is not recommended. Citing research by Mahnke & Mahnke (1987) that it can result in sensory deprivation, the authors note, "A variety of colors is essential because an individual quickly adapts to the effects of any one color, no matter how predominant, and it becomes monotonous." 

Ways in which to reduce the monotony and institutional feeling of the healthcare environment include using combinations or "harmonies" of: complementary colors, split-complements, a triad color scheme (formed by three equally spaced colors on the wheel), analogous colors (adjacent to each other on the color wheel), and a tetrad color scheme (four colors equally spaced on the wheel).

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