We have asked Lilliana Alvarado, CHID, EDAC, IIDA, NCIDQ, LEED AP, founder of UPHEALING about her thoughts on fabrics and finishes for healthcare and behavioral health furnishings. With over 20 years of design experience in healthcare, Lilliana shared with us her perspective on how specifiers influence healthcare look and feel for everyone involved.
Q: What are your thoughts on the impact of color on wellness?
A: Colors have an impact on our mood and behavior and play an essential role in our lives. I generally like to use light colors with pops or accents to adjust space to feel a certain way. Beyond wall paint, color can be introduced with flooring, furniture, fabrics, and art pieces. Some areas like bedrooms often have a calming color palette, while active spaces are usually fun and lively. I'm not scared to play with more saturated colors, so it doesn't look institutional and boring. Generally, red can trigger trauma, so I typically stay away from it in behavioral health settings. I always start the conversation with the clinical staff with the importance of color and work with them to set the appropriate color palette for the overall wellbeing of patients and staff.
Q: What are the biggest challenges with the available finishes for Behavioral Health furniture?
A: Behavioral health furniture needs to be able to take a beating, as furniture misuse and hiding contraband is a big issue. In my work, I try to find that cozy feel, but soft products aren't puncture-proof or very durable, and puncture-proof products aren't usually comfortable.
Q: What could be done better?
A: The most important thing is that specifiers need to do their research. Patient types can vary from pediatric to adolescents and adults, including geriatric and forensic, so the approach to the design of different kinds of spaces needs to be different. There will never be perfection, but in the last 10 years, we've seen an improvement towards better performing and more durable finishes available for behavioral health settings. For instance, you can now get coated fabrics with unique properties such as anti-graffiti, or rotomolded and other extruded furniture that holds up very well, too. Some finishes can be repaired by having scratches buffed out as well.
Q: What are your favorite fabric/finish options for Healthcare and Behavioral Health environments? Why?
A: Healthcare facilities use a lot of really harsh cleaning chemicals, so I start with fabrics that can withstand abrasive cleaners. I look for high-performing materials such as bleach-cleanable fabrics, sometimes with a moisture barrier. I tend to use textiles that exceed the minimum of 30,000 double rubs of the Wyzenbeek method for high traffic spaces. Some fabrics can now be found that pass 200,000 to 500,000 double rubs. I like solid surfaces as well as they can be repairable. I tend to stay with lighter colors versus darker colors because darker colors will show marks more easily.
Q: How do you juggle aesthetics with the need for ease of cleaning?
A: I go for the ease of cleaning first, and then I narrow down options for aesthetics. As designers, we always want the perfect look. But if the material won't hold up beyond the first day, then it's useless. Depending on the interior's palette, sometimes we have an excellent pool to choose from, but sometimes we don't. The material has to perform correctly.▪