An Interior Designer’s Guide to Healthcare Furniture

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Recently I was talking to an interior designer who took her first healthcare design job. This particular interior designer had a lot of residential experience but when I asked her about selecting contract-grade furniture, she was totally unaware that there was furniture designed for non-residential applications. While the elements of good residential interior design might translate well into a commercial healthcare or group living environment, the furniture and fixtures do not.

Bland, sterile-looking healthcare facilities are a thing of the past. Aesthetics now encompass a broad range of healing elements including energetic color-schemes and nature-based hues that encourage comfort. But beyond the basics of color is a new world of functionality. Furniture and fixtures for health care and healing environments must also prevent falls, encourage mobility, discreetly deal with incontinence and fluids, maintain sterile surfaces and support the latest patient-centered technologies.
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So what exactly is contract-grade furniture

  • Contract-grade furniture is designed and built by specialized manufacturers whose construction methods and materials produce a higher-quality piece of furniture that stands up to heavy use. Additionally, fabrics for contract environments are tested to standards that are not applicable in residential design.
  • Fabric finishes are far more durable than a traditional Scotch-Guard surface treatment and many fabric finishes can handle urine and body fluids without penetrating vulnerable foam and frame components of seating pieces. All contact furniture is tested to comply with commercial fire codes CAL 117 and most can be tested to pass CAL 133. Contract furniture designs can easily adapt dimensions of seating pieces to accommodate bariatric and limited mobility needs. Reinforced and metal frames can allow up to 800 lb. per seating surface.  Shorter seat depths and higher arm heights on sofas, loveseats and chairs enables mobility by making the physics of taking a person from a seated position to a standing position an easier transition.
  • Many health care facilities are subject to inspection and accreditation standards so making sure that all design elements including furniture and fixtures comply is essential. Patient and staff safety is always a primary concern. Understanding the specific needs of the patient population, staff and visitors is crucial since design needs may include things like managing self-harm risk, preventing assemblies that can be used as weapons, eliminating sharp edges, minimizing tripping or falling risks and optimizing independence are topics that many designers have not had to take into consideration on non-contract projects.

Healthcare design is an exciting and rewarding field promising substantial growth for experienced interior designers.

Patient expectations have encouraged interior design that is more exciting then the monochrome, sterile interiors of 20 or 30 years ago. Health care design takes many cues from residential design so the demand for interior designers with a good eye for residential design is a natural. But, interior designers willing to take on contract environments should take time to familiarize themselves with standards required by accrediting agencies and local codes as well as options that will improve the form and function of furniture and fixtures.  Always engage a reputable contract furniture dealer who can help you understand the needs of contract health care and group living facilities so that you and your design project will shine!

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