How to design an environment that soothes

Decorating a hospital, doctor's office or therapist's practice takes a bit of extra planning and effort and a completely different approach. These environments should be soothing and calming for both patients and visitors, but achieving this effect is easier said than done.

Find out the best way to transform a sterile space into one where patients and families can feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible.


Don't underestimate the effect different paint colours can have on your space. In environments such as health practices where people may feel worried or anxious, it's best to keep colour palettes relatively warm, muted and inoffensive. Keep bright colours out of these areas and instead stick with soft blues, greens and peaches.

Resene Refresh is a great option to use in waiting rooms or as an accent in patient quarters. It's a harmonious shade of blue that is calming and tranquil, and looks great paired with sleeker greys and whites.

For a slightly more neutral colour, try Resene Cooled Green. It's a muted, clean, light green that is understated enough to be able to be used across all walls in an office or waiting room.

If you're looking for a colour with a compassionate touch, try Resene Peach. It's a very pale shade of peach that is delicate and warm, making it a great option to use in areas where patients' families may be waiting or staying.

When decorating soothing spaces, try to avoid using the colour red as it often reminds people of anger, passion and alarm – not feelings you want to elicit in waiting rooms or surgeries. Similarly, neon, fluoro and excessively bright colours should be avoided in order to keep visitors in a peaceful frame of mind.

Personal touches

A friendly, warm and inviting space can make all the difference in attracting and retaining patients in the health sector. Stark colours and impersonal service is unlikely to make patients feel at ease, and it may even prompt them to look for another health provider.

Patients want to be treated as people, not numbers, and one easy way to do this is to encourage more face to face contact from staff. When designing the reception area, try to keep computers out of sight as much as possible, as machines in between staff and patients can often be seen as an impersonal barrier.

Remember that patients and families may often have to wait for long periods to be examined or learn information, so make sure the waiting room is stocked up with magazines, and perhaps a television to help take people's minds off the matter at hand.

In the examination room, think about the layout of the doctor's desk compared to where the patient will sit. People can feel uneasy when they're unable to see what the health professional is doing, so consider placing the patient's chair close to the doctor's desk.

Finally, don't forget the effect music can have on people. A completely silent building can lead the mind to wander, so make sure there's a soothing soundtrack piped through speakers in waiting rooms. Avoid popular or sing-along songs, and instead stick to neutral melodies like classical piano tracks.

Let the light in

Natural light can make people feel much more at ease than fluorescent artificial light, or no light at all. Stark, bright light from bulbs can wash people and objects out, and often makes people look sicker than they are.

The natural light of a building can be dramatically improved by installing skylights and large windows. If the building is unable to be retrofitted with such features, take a look at some of the more natural looking light bulbs and fixtures on the market.

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