Healthy Interiors: Hospital Décor?

We go to hospital to get well, but does the hospital environment itself affect our wellbeing?

In the mid-1980s, I had the dubious pleasure of visiting the Soho Hospital for Women.  It was full-on linoleum, with Florence Nightingale style iron bedsteads, surrounded by 1950s floral curtains: A palace of white ceramic tiles – not so much gleaming, as a breeding ground for every germ imaginable – or at least that’s how it seems today…

Now we have easy to clean wipe-down surfaces, as in the limed-wood chests of drawers you find in modern hospitals – where the bed/shower curtains are made from characterless cream plastic (probably not recycled surgical gloves, but they could be).

Of course, privately funded hospitals offer every modern convenience, as I discovered on a recent visit (courtesy of my abrupt encounter with a revolving door, whilst wearing sunglasses in Florida). These are much more like hotels…

And I was trying to work out what sort of hotels, when it struck me that, despite their genuinely caring and dedicated staff, plus state of the art medical technology, they seem to be somewhat lacking in inspiration on the interior decoration front.

Visit a Harley Street consultant and you are likely to find yourself in a wood panelled office with Chesterfield sofas, and possibly even a roaring log fire. One chap I went to see spent almost an hour telling me about his prized collection of medical curiosities. So why is it that even private hospitals are faithful to the Travelodge school of interior design?

In the UK we have hospital tourism, with people coming from all over the world to visit facilities such as Michael Jackson’s former home from home, The London Clinic. But just because we’re trussed up in anti-embolism stockings and self-heating surgical gowns, does it make us immune from the rest of our immediate environment?

It seems rather sad that the most revered piece of kit in a ‘luxurious’ contemporary hospital is a freeview television … the human equivalent of a wheel in a hamster cage.

In an attempt to make residents feel at home, the Hogewey dementia facility in the Netherlands “recreates the environment of the 1950s… Care givers stay behind the scenes, and are dressed like gardeners, hairdressers, and sales people.” There are even cocktail parties, and classical concerts held by a Mozart society.

Following its success, a $27 million dementia village is currently being constructed in Switzerland.

But going back to the reality of what we’re familiar with, at least if there’s nothing on the box, we can always resort to a good book…

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About Author Profile: Susan Muncey

Trend consultant Susan Muncey, is Editor of Visuology Magazine. In 2008, she founded online curiosity shop, She writes on style and trends for several blogs, including, and The Dabbler. She previously owned cult West London boutique, Fashion Gallery, one of the first concept stores in the world. Susan graduated in geography from Cambridge University and is also an Associate Member of the CFA Institute. She lives in London with her husband.

10 thoughts on “Healthy Interiors: Hospital Décor?

    March 10, 2012 at 09:22

    I can’t work out if the dutch hospital idea is brilliant or faintly creepy!

    Regarding hospital design, this is something I’m sort of involved in, (although trying to make them stylish) and I suppose for most it’s a combination of lack of time and taste on the behalf of the doctors, and a compromise with function and durability. But really it could all be sorted if the suppliers of hospital grade fittings would get around to making more stylish fittings for contractors to choose from!

    March 10, 2012 at 10:45

    Wonderfully timely, Susan. 48 hours ago I was sitting (rather nice heavy cotton dressing gown over back lacing gown – was it really self-heating?) surrounded by just such furniture and thinking (alongside, oh goody, more liquid valium) , now what does this remind me of (other than similar rooms during similar waits). And you have it: interior design a la Travelodge. Other perhaps than the array of mercifully unconnected sockets at the head of the bed (awaiting arcane and ideally life-saving equipment) and a variety of things that involve tubes and thus imply, given the right (wrong?) circumstances, bodily fluids. The wipeability factor: I’m sure you are spot-on.

      March 10, 2012 at 15:10

      I hope it’s nothing serious, Jonathon. What with the morphiates etc, if rooms were too nicely decorated, patients might outstay their welcome…

    March 10, 2012 at 14:50

    Sounds like there’s a gap in the market, Worm? Although perhaps hospitals look like hospitals for a reason… not just the wipeability factor, Jonathon, but maybe because it’s how we expect them to look (as we expect schools to look like schools?) More sockets = more hospital-like.

      March 10, 2012 at 15:10

      That’s getting quite Jungian Susan, creating a public space not to be the nicest, but to fulfill our notion of what we think it’s supposed to be like. Perhaps
      in much the same way that it’s hard to imagine a space ship having heavy drape curtains, aspidistras, threadbare velvet sofas and mahogany sideboards.

  4. Gaw
    March 10, 2012 at 21:10

    A couple or so years ago I spent a fair bit of time in a Harley Street clinic and two London NHS teaching hospitals, one modernised, one unmodernised. Of the three, the most satisfying in terms of its decor was the unmodernised NHS teaching hospital: the fixtures and fittings were pleasingly metallic and clunky, the colour scheme featured those charmingly retro-clinical blue-greens and, best of all, the windows opened.

    Incidentally, the care was best in the modernised NHS teaching hospital – I think private hospitals are probably the most over-rated and over-priced places in the country, the Corinthia Hotel featured a couple of Saturdays ago not excluded.

    March 10, 2012 at 23:54

    I am impressed by the hospital’s focus on charging, as mentioned on the whiteboard.

    March 11, 2012 at 07:00

    When I formalized my long union with the present Mrs Mahler all those years ago I imagined, quite wrongly, that my life would take-on much of the patina that you describe in Hogewey Susan, with lots of dressing up and role-playing and, best of all, endless opportunities for sloth and idleness whilst others, dressed as servants, kept things moving along. I’m still holding my breath.
    I have more hospital stories (NH and private) than a stick could be shaken at, including what used to be called ‘the act of love’ being performed just two feet away from my head, but I will save these for a later post – but briefly, NHS-good, Private – bad.

      March 11, 2012 at 11:38

      Goodness, mahlerman – sounds like that post should be X-rated.

    March 25, 2012 at 04:05

    erm, I work in an NHS hospital – and GAW you’re right. Meanwhile, I’m sure there’s been investigations done on this, but why does every hospice have furniture the shade of – the background to this! (greeny type colour) mixed with decor in salmon pink? i’m sure someone’s worked it out as the most ‘calming’ colours. I’d like a bit of variety please. You know you’re in serious trouble when you hit a room with that green and the salmon pink (just looking up the name of the green) – according to Google it’s ‘unique’ green. Hemmm.

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