I should start by saying that I love hospital tours. You get a glimpse of what other design teams were thinking, what their goals and objectives were, and the best part… whether or not they were successful. If they did something great, you go home with news to share with your own team. If they failed, you RUN home with news to share with your own team.
I was touring with a group of other architects and interior designers at a mid-sized hospital just outside a large U.S. city. Though the tour was led by a member of the nursing staff, we had with us the man in charge of maintenance for the Facilities Department.
As healthcare designers, hospital maintenance is always in the back of our minds. We are careful to provide wall protection and casework reinforcement in high-traffic areas, monitor the number of lamp types in our lighting plans, and research the cleaning requirements of flooring, furniture and other materials. If you don’t consider maintenance when designing, then a year or two down the road you end up with dead lamps, chipped casework, or in this case, walls painted mismatched colors or painted over in white.
The first observation I made as I walked along with my tour group was that the bottom three feet of the blue accent walls were painted a different shade of teal-green. There was no question that this was a mistake as you could see the “W” shaped paint-roller marks where the green transitioned to blue. As though he had been reading my mind, the man from the Facilities Department spoke up.
“For those of you who select paint colors we don’t want any accent colors. We just want color white,” he said. He added after seeing the raised eyebrows from the designers in the group: “It would just be a lot easier to touch-up if everything were one color.”
Having toured several floors already I can tell you the entire color scheme consisted of mostly white walls with a few blue accents and another accent color that was only present in the main lobby. This hospital’s palette was a long way from color overkill.
I’m not saying don’t use color. The benefits of creating a warm, soothing environment for patients and staff far outweigh the minor inconvenience of having multiple paint colors. Just keep in mind that the facility will be living with your choices for years to come. Do what you can to ease the burden of the maintenance staff who already have very full plates. Keeping it simple will ensure that years down the road you can walk back into that hospital and see your design exactly as you intended.
Here is a quick color illustration showing the wall touch-ups with the colors as I remember them on our tour. You can see how it may be difficult to tell these two colors apart in a dim hospital storage room.