The Progression of Interior Design in Healthcare Centers

Grace Sambrook

I dedicate this piece to Amy Lesko, my loving aunt and cancer survivor.

Keywords: Relationships, Mental Health, Health Care Facilities, Interior Design, Connections

Space is an extraordinarily immense and ever-changing concept, yet all humans have a specific idea of what “home” means for them. The creation of this space varies from person to person and people are constantly trying to create home-like environments, especially in a space that is unfamiliar. Painting the walls a brighter color or adding familiar items like pictures and decorations are all ways we contribute “home-like” accents to spaces. Humans do this in dorm rooms, offices, and apartments. Yet in one of the most unfamiliar and unwelcoming environments, hospitals and health care facilities, the interior spaces have maintained their infamous cold, dark aura for centuries with little questioning. Space is a powerful thing and can make a huge difference in a person’s attitude, motivation, and wellbeing. If humans can argue adding decorations in an office can make an employee feel more relaxed and complete better work, we should also be arguing that creating more welcoming and “home-like” spaces in health care facilities may lead to faster patient recovery and happier, healthier environments.

As a child, I grew up close to my aunt Amy who was in and out of hospitals due to recurrent cancer. While in and out of health care facilities, she constantly longed to come home, especially during the months she would undergo chemo because of how much she disliked the hospital environment. She recalls how “lonely and bare” it was and her mood seemed to drastically shift every time she came home. Still to this day, I question whether her recovery would have played out differently if her environment had been more familiar and this same question falls on all patients in the health care system. In order to continue expanding and improving US healthcare centers, the focus needs to be on the receiving end, the audience. There are aspects of interior design that prove to be extremely beneficial including colors and plants. Adding warmth and items with color to the more cool toned hospital rooms is beneficial for patient ebullience and can encourage hospital staff to stay lively. Plants and nature can also reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Connecting with patients in the health care system and adding elements like these could potentially improve patient recovery and improve how patients view receiving treatment.

Color psychology is the study of the mental and emotional effects humans perceive generated by color (Art Therapy). Although colors are interpreted differently, research suggests certain colors stimulate feelings and deeper meanings in the human brain. One of the reasons healthcare centers never use the color red is because it is associated with energy and danger. A study by psychologist Karyn Pravossoudovitch observed patients’ responses when asked what colors they associate with safety and danger. The results showed that “words and symbols associated with danger were classified faster when shown in red” (Pravossoudovitch). White, however, is a very neutral color that our brains associate with cleanliness and simplicity. The appropriateness of the color white in hospitals is valid but without any warm tones, white can also be associated with intimidation and increased stress. Colors are also perceived differently in each culture and this is important for health care providers to recognize when treating patients of different cultural backgrounds.

Colors like green, blue, yellow, and orange in many cultures symbolize happiness and relaxation and healthcare centers can initiate more positive emotions in patients by adding these to hospital rooms and clinics. Items like curtains, pictures, and small colorful decorations are easy ways to contribute color to a space. This will potentially decrease stress levels and depression rates in patients and generate faster recovery rates around the world.

The benefits to improving the interior design in hospitals are being recognized by organizations who are now conducting studies to experiment its link to patient recovery. Alongside the positive responses with colors, studies found using nature and plants also had beneficial elements. Plants provide a calming presence in a space and can boost happiness and motivation. In fact, a bacterium in plant soil called Mycobacterium vaccae triggers the release of serotonin that lifts mood and reduces anxiety (Affinity Health). Plants can also provide patients with tasks such as watering and trimming that keep them busy and engaged. A second study conducted in 2011 at a hospital in Denmark focused on cancer patients and their responses to different hospital environments. Each patient was exposed to new architecture, decoration, and overall design. The goal was to create a warmer environment and understand the effects it may have on their health and mood. They added certain accents such as nature and plants which had an extremely positive response in patients. In fact, many “participants that had experienced positive sensory impressions in the hospital environment had a significant impact on their mood, generating positive thoughts and feelings. A view of nature helped them to forget their negative thoughts for a while. The possibility of having a view helped some cancer patients to connect with good memories and personal life stories that enabled them to recall some of their feelings of identity” (Timmermann). Evidence linking emotions to nature cultivates questions as to why more hospitals are not using these resources that prove to be so successful.

In contrast, many healthcare professionals argue against the use of color in hospital rooms for safety reasons. The color white allows for high visibility and maximum contrast. Doctors working on a patient need the ability to clearly see their patients and any possible injuries or malfunctions with treatment. Adding color and decorations to a room can be distracting to the human eyes and it is easy to be drawn away from the more important aspects. As mentioned in the color table, colors are also perceived in different ways and in order to avoid misinterpretation, many hospitals avoid them. Whites and grays are the most common colors US healthcare centers use since it is very neutral in comparison to other colors.

Ultimately, space is one of the most influential and important concepts and adding elements of design, color, and nature may improve hospital hospitality. When used in the appropriate way, color has proven to decrease stress levels and stimulate positive emotions in the human brain. Nature is also a beneficial way to improve happiness in healthcare centers and keep patients productive. Health care workers need to connect with their audience, the patients, and understand their needs in order to best provide for future generations. Creating a more welcoming space through interior design could be the key to changing how we see medical treatment.

Works Cited

Affinity Health. “How Indoor Plants Can Help With Mental and Emotional Health.” Affinity Health, 20 Jan. 2021,

“Color Psychology: The Psychological Effects of Colors.” Art Therapy, 24 Dec. 2012,

Devlin, Ann Sloan, and Cláudia Campos Andrade. “Qualities of Inpatient Hospital Rooms: Patients’ Perspectives – Ann Sloan Devlin, Cláudia Campos Andrade, Diana Carvalho, 2016.” SAGE Journals, 14 Dec. 2015,

“How to Use Colors at Healthcare Centers.” Renk Etkisi, Filla Boya, 2017,

Pravossoudovitch, Karyn, et al. “Is Red the Colour of Danger? Testing an Implicit Red–Danger Association.” Taylor & Francis, Informa UK Limited , 4 Mar. 2014,

Timmermann, C., et al. “Cancer Patients and Positive Sensory Impressions in the Hospital Environment – a Qualitative Interview Study.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 12 Sept. 2012,


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Feeling Rhetoric Copyright © 2022 by Grace Sambrook is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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