As competition in the health care industry has continued to rise over the last five or so years, interior design has taken on a whole new and increasingly important role. While the dank, unsightly images that used to typify hospital patient rooms still dominate many inner-city facilities, those with more fortunate economic situations have largely taken a very active role in working to upgrade their images. This also holds true for many nursing homes, assisted living facilities and ambulatory surgery centers where competition is fierce.
Two key components to the interior design puzzle in health care
are window coverings and cubicle curtains—those that hang
from the ceiling and run around beds and gurneys for privacy. Once
upon a time, it was uncommon to see much more than simple roller
shades on the windows and cubicle curtains constructed of anything
but the least expensive material that would still pass fire codes.
The race to draw more patients and the best doctors and medical
staff personnel has led to facelift after facelift and, indeed,
many dumpsters filled to the gills with old shades and decrepit
The biggest window coverings trend in health care over the last
few years has been the overwhelming popularity of clutch roller
shades, which usually are installed with woven fabric composed of
polyester and PVC. The weave of the fabric is what determines the
openness factor, which is very important for filtering light. A
one percent openness would be a very tight, almost blackout-type
weave, whereas a 15 percent openness would be quite open and would
not filter much light at all.
The most common openness in the health care arena has been five
percent, which allows considerable light filtration while still
letting individuals to see out, though certainly not in a crystal
The attraction of clutch shades to health care makes good sense,
as they meet fire code regulations, are ruggedly constructed, aesthetically
pleasing and clean easily with nothing more than a damp rag. They
also allow for many options, such as double-clutch brackets where
two shades—one regular roll and one reverse roll—would
be installed. On a double-clutch system, the blackout shade would
be installed behind the second set of brackets, which would contain
a shade with a woven fabric.
Dual clutch shades are very practical in medical establishments,
where patients have a broad spectrum of light filtration preferences.
A patient who is out of surgery 24 hours or less, for example, may
be adversely affected by even moderate light shining in his or her
eyes. Many patients, however, appreciate a brightly lit atmosphere
in a health care setting. With a blackout shade on the backside
and a woven shade on the front, individuals virtually have complete
light control at their fingertips.
Though cost can be preventive, clutch shades—both single and
dual—can be motorized. This feature adds a wall-mounted switch
and a remote control to operate the shades at the touch of a button.
With current price structures, motorization is usually not a consideration
in patient areas.
It has, though, become popular in such areas as executive offices,
conference rooms and solariums. Areas like these have similarly
been the subjects of major renovations in recent years, as health
care facilities try to project a superior professional image. An
executive boardroom that my company, Sherriff Associates, completed
recently involved motorized shades, draperies made of exquisite
fabric and cornices to match the draperies.
SOFT TREATMENTS ON CALL
To pass muster as an appropriate window covering in health care,
it must meet strict fire retardation codes, be ruggedly constructed
and easy to clean. Vertical blinds are an example of a window covering
that has been pushed by the wayside in health care facilities. Old
verticals are being replaced by clutch roller shades, horizontal
blinds and draperies; and architects and designers simply are not
specifying them in new projects. The main reason vertical blinds
are no longer appealing is the tendency of slats to rip and break-off
at the connecting point. A couple of hard yanks and it’s not
long before gaps start appearing in the blind. Though additional
slats are not a substantial investment, most institutions do not
want to bother storing them in small closets better suited for medical
Horizontal blinds continue to be a common installation in health
care facilities, though quite a bit of this business similarly is
being taken away by clutch roller shades. My company, for instance,
purchased nearly 50 percent more in horizontal blinds in 2000 than
we did in 2002. Our clutch roller purchasing over that same time
has been enormously bullish, up over 100 percent during that same
span. Horizontals still reign supreme in areas such as doors and
interior windows, and exterior window installations are by no means
In private medical practices, ambulatory surgery facilities, dialysis
centers and other specialized off-site facilities, two-inch embossed
vinyl blinds have become quite popular. These blinds emit a somewhat
more refined image than one-inch mini-blinds, yet still cost less
than clutch roller shades or vertical blinds.
Interior designers like Susan Grosso of Manasquan, NJ, whose firm
works with general contractors exclusively on ambulatory surgery
centers, appreciates the simplicity of a two-inch vinyl blind. “I
have to work within my clients’ budgets,” says Grosso.
“But at the same time, they are paying me to make their interiors
look beautiful and professional. The two-inch blinds are nice because
I can look through the color deck, pick a blind out and then not
have to worry about it.”
Soft window treatments—draperies, cornices, valances and swags/jabots—have
gained substantial momentum in recent years among health care decision
makers. Assisted living facilities, which are designed as residential
living communities for elderly persons, have made great efforts
to project an eloquent image. From individual rooms and solariums
to dining rooms and country kitchens, it is common to see an array
of sheers, pinch-pleated draperies, shirred valances, cornices and
swags and jabots.
Denise Persico, who designed Whispering Knoll in Edison, NJ, and
Abraham Visser, who designed Job Haines in Bloomfield, NJ, both
used more than 15 different fabrics on their respective assisted
Measuring assisted living projects that involve a multitude of fabrics
is challenging work. It is necessary to be meticulous as you comb
through different areas in a facility. It is not unreasonable to
devote an entire day to measuring and organizing such a project.
It is, after all, better to spend an extra couple of hours double-checking
than it is to pay the price with mistakes on installation day.
Soft window treatments’ popularity goes much beyond assisted
living facilities in the health care arena. Many hospitals have
been specifying cornices or valances in patient rooms to add a nice
touch with clutch shades or horizontal blinds. Soft window treatments
are also increasingly finding their way into hospital offices, conference
rooms and on-call rooms.
WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED
Cubicle curtains, which are a major part of patient-area interiors,
are also being carefully specified on new construction, renovation
and makeover jobs. Fabric companies such as Arc-Com, DesignTex,
Inter-Spec and Maharam are regularly introducing new fabrics and
patterns to their 72-inch cubicle curtain lines. These companies
also are paying attention to details that cater to designers when
introducing new patterns.
The ability to railroad a fabric—meaning to flip the 72-inch
roll such that the finished product will have no seams—is
often considered by the fabric firms. Clients, of course, prefer
the clean look of a curtain that has no seams, but this cannot be
done if the pattern is dominated by, say, stripes. Consequently,
fabric companies that produce 72-inch goods have been focusing more
on geometrics, florals, tone-on-tones and other patterns that can
Health care facilities attempting to enhance their image normally
will select high-end patterned fabrics. Half-inch mesh is necessary
at the top of the curtains due to fire codes, but designers in some
cases are even getting creative here by specifying colored mesh
to match the curtain’s fabric. On some patterns, mesh even
can be “integral,” meaning the fabric’s pattern
continues right onto the mesh. While this can be a nice effect,
it can only be done with a few select styles of fabric.
While the Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and Labor and Delivery areas
will probably never resemble the Ritz Carlton, designers continue
to work hard in upgrading interior images in health care facilities.
It’s a difficult task to combine functionality in a medical
setting with aesthetics, but so far they seem to be doing an excellent
Neil Feldman is co-owner of Sherriff Associates based in Clifton,
NJ, a 53-year-old firm that has been family owned for over 35 years.
The company works primarily in commercial markets including health
care, office buildings, hotels, schools and theaters. Its line of
work includes window coverings/treatments, motorization, cubicle
curtains, cubicle/IV track, upholstery and stage drape/drapery rigging.