Ways to make the sick feel at home


As homes go, the place was large: 245 bedrooms and 345,000 square feet. And though it looked and felt like a home in many ways, the new 10-story building I toured last week was really a hospital in disguise — a feat of decorating to be sure.

The architects’ objective was “to create a home for 245 patients,” said the press materials handed to those of us previewing America’s newest hospital tower, a $300 million structure at Orlando Regional Medical Center, which will admit its first “overnight guest” Jan. 26.

If imitation is the best form of flattery, then we who care about making homes beautiful, comfortable and nurturing just got a Dallas-sized compliment.

Everything the designers did to make the large institutional space feel homey, they learned from us. They get this universal truth: There’s no place like home, especially when you’re sick.

“Our biggest design challenge was to make the hospital feel hospitable,” said Karen Guindi, the interior designer at the helm of the project, who designed high-end hotels before she began designing hospitals.

Indeed it would be.

And so it was with gallows curiosity I went to see what sleight-of-hand design was used to take the edge off the facts that your bed is a gurney with side rails, that people talk in the hall at all hours and leave the lights on, that everyone who visits you needs to wash his hands, that just when you fall asleep somebody dressed in monochromatic pastels sticks you with needles and messes with your hardware, that you’re likely there because you’re deathly ill, and that down the hall people are routinely being cut open.

Seems to me it would take more than pretty art, high-definition television and a comfy sofa to gloss over that.

“Our mantra was this is not an institution,” said Guindi, who chatted with me in the art-filled lobby after my tour. “It’s a healing environment, designed with home, hospitality and nature in mind.”

But Guindi also had to bear in mind that the place needs to stand up to heavy traffic and human abuse. You know, all the assaults our homes endure — vomit, blood, spilled coffee, drool, dirty shoes on nice furniture and face-down pizza — only more so.

When I brought this up, Guindi had only two words: Commercial grade.

Being a huge fan of indestructible beauty, I also recommend industrial-strength fabrics for hectic homes.

All this aside, what I most appreciated about this home-like hospital — apart from the fact that I was viewing the place vertically not horizontally — was that it made me appreciate that I don’t have to go to the hospital to be in a healing environment. I can borrow the healthy design elements Guindi adopted, which she claims are “evidence-based,” and play them up at home.

Here, according to Guindi, are some of the home-inspired healing touches she used that you can, too:
• Nature as medicine. “We know from countless studies that nature aids healing and improves well being,” said Guindi. Thus, both homes and hospitals should incorporate lots of natural light, live plants and flowers, the sound of running water, and views onto gardens or courtyards. “Draw from the flora and fauna that surround you,” she said. This Florida-based medical tower features paintings of local birdlife and tropical flowers; nature-inspired wall colors from Restoration Hardware in shades called Shore, Sea Green, Dusk and Atmosphere Blue; and textile motifs of seashells, ocean waves and palm branches.
• Lead the way. In large buildings, finding your way around can boggle even the most organized minds. To help with what designers call “way finding,” they make sure wood floor planks and patterned tile all point the way visitors should walk. Varying flooring materials to indicate a path or a change of purpose also helps orient folks. These design tricks apply at home, too. “We have moved well beyond the days of following the green tape on the linoleum floor,” Guindi said. And we are all grateful.
• Purposeful color. Designers know that colors evoke different physical responses. Greens soothe, so are good for bedrooms. Yellows and reds stimulate so are good for eating and dining areas. Neutrals provide a welcome place to rest the eye. When choosing color for rooms in your home, consider not only how they look, but also how they make you feel.
• Durable living. Human beings are hard on things. Whether decorating a commercial setting or a home, choose tough, sustainable materials so you can meet inhabitants halfway. Active family homes would do well to incorporate outdoor or commercial grade fabrics, and non-porous surfaces that can be sanitized.
• Make a garden. The new hospital tower features a rehabilitation garden, a label I find redundant. Ever see a garden that didn’t rehabilitate?
• Canine cure. One of the healthiest decisions a person can make is to get a dog, a doctor once told me. A dog gets you up and out, gives you something to care for, and feeds your soul. In short they are good for you body, mind and spirit. Mario, a golden retriever-lab mix, will live at the hospital, where patients will pet, pamper and play with him, until they get healthy and get home.

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through www.marnijameson.com.

Marni Jameson

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press)
Last modified: January 22, 2015
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