The other day, a friend commented on how much emphasis I place on aesthetics. She's right. How an environment looks and feels is extremely important to me. Maybe it explains my obsession with the decor in medical facilities. Too often these places appear to have been designed by someone who's never heard there are other colors besides brown and grey.
As an artist, I'm extremely sensitive to color, as most artists are. Color to us isn't just an afterthought, it's everything. We use color to communicate. To create a mood or a feeling. To set a tone. To convey a sentiment, or make a statement. Color can be invigorating, calming, provocative, healing, cheerful, restful, soft, loud, energizing, meditative, assertive and bold, to name just a few of its potential effects on the viewer. We can say more with color than with a 15 minute cell phone conversation.
But color can also be depressing, drab and dreary. Certain colors can make a sick person feel even sicker. Research shows hospital patients housed in rooms painted in cheerful colors heal considerably faster than those whose rooms are painted grey. In fact, grey is the worst possible color to surround sick people with, as it suggests illness, decline and death. Brown runs a close second in this dubious contest. And thus begins my color rant:
It's the sick and the elderly who frequent doctors' offices, imaging labs, hospitals and clinics, so why are those facilities' interiors overwhelmingly decked out in shades of grey and grey-brown? (By my estimation I've seen the interiors of no fewer than 30 different medical facilities in the past three years as I visit my own doctors and accompany loved ones to their medical appointments or visit them in hospitals. I'm here to tell ya: every single one of these facilities has the same dull, drab color scheme! I've seen post offices and government offices that were more attractive.
Oh sure, the carpeting may be plush, and the chairs in the waiting room feature tastefully woven fabric, but those colors? Ugh.
Are interior designers working in the healthcare field oblivious to that palette's detrimental effects on patients' mental outlook and well being? Do they specify those colors for carpeting, upholstered goods, and paint simply because everyone else in their field is using them? Is it because those colors don't show dirt? Or are these designers simply so comfortable using this all-too-common combo that they're stuck on color-autopilot? Whatever the reason(s), to them I say, "Stop! Please, please stop and rethink your choices!"
Informally, I've studied the psychology of color for years. It came in handy back when, as the owner of a creative services company, a hospital asked me to recommend a color scheme as part of an interior rehab. One of my first steps was to do a walkthrough with the administrator. Room after room, hallway after hallway...grey was everywhere. I suggested they change to pastels in every section of the hospital but the children's ward, where I recommended using mid-values of the colors used elsewhere. The colors I suggested -- in lay terms -- were pale "mint" green; a faint, soft apricot, and ivory with a hint of yellow.
Several months later, the administrator told me the response to the new colors had been overwhelmingly positive. Not only did it lift the spirits of the staff and patients, but patient surveys indicated a significantly improved satisfaction level. His data also showed a decrease in the average number of days patients remained in the hospital. Everyone was happy.
Eventually that administrator moved on, new management took over, and ultimately the hospital came under new ownership. A few years ago, I had the occasion to visit a patient there. It was my first visit back in decades. As I entered the lobby, I immediately noticed the decor. The usual greys. The usual grey-browns. Stepping off the elevator, more of the same. Grey walls, grey tiles on the floor. In the patient's room, what did I see? Directly facing the bed, a wall of dark grey, with the other three walls painted mid-grey. I sighed. It was deja-vu all over again.
Harrison Ford once starred in a movie about a medical doctor who suffered a health crisis, becoming a patient in the very hospital where he practiced. The experience opened his eyes to a whole different view of medicine, and gave him a dose of what it was like to be on the receiving end of it. If only those who design medical facilities' interiors could see them through a patient's eyes, experiencing what it's like to face a drab wall while in pain or the throes of nausea, things might change for the better.
Paint in uplifting colors costs the same as depressing colors so it's not a question of money. For not a penny more, using appealing colors would make such a difference. Few people think going to the doctor or experiencing a hospital stay is fun. It's stressful at the very least. Why not try to make it less so, simply by changing the colors for the decor?
©2015 Lynn Edwards