The project, completed in June after three years of planning and research, was approached with the patients' and staffs' needs in mind. Preliminary design development and research by Alexandra Weisensale, principal of the Lancaster, PA-based firm, included tours of hospice and health care facilities nationwide, attendance at grief counseling sessions and in-home visits with nurses to be able to complete this project with such success. "Home visits were critical because what the staff does at someone's house and the conditions of the patients must translate into what happens at this facility," Weisensale says.
Many ideas for the design came from Weisensale's research efforts as well as from ordinary homes, which give the facility its warm, comfortable residential feel. "It was difficult to make the environment really look like a home. We had to spend a lot of time looking for the right materials. For the window treatments, we didn't just want to design pinch pleat draperies. We thought about what we would design for a home and decided, 'Why can't it look like that?'" explains Weisensale. The result included a treatment in the kitchen of a Roman shade with a pointed swag top accented with a button, custom designed stained glass, pole wrapped swags and other creative styles that would not necessarily be found in a health care setting.
Using its space planning and design expertise, A. J. Weisensale completed 12 guest rooms with private bathrooms. Solid carpet with a patterned inlay, which creates the appearance of a rug, was chosen over the use of area rugs to eliminate the possible endangerment to patients from tripping. Each patient room includes a solarium, sun porch, built-in wood shelves, maple furniture and all of the comforts of home including a television and VCR and a CD player/clock radio.
Increasing the difficulty of this challenge was how to create a home environment while remaining in compliance with fire and building codes, ADA regulations and a strict budget, all of which were met successfully by A.J. Weisensale's constant resourcefulness and uncompromising standards. "We had to provide documentation on everything we specified, including the trash cans," says Weisensale.
To meet the specialized needs of terminally ill patients, the beds were designed wider and lower than standard hospital beds and feature side rails that can be tucked out of sight. Solid carpet tiles of 18 by 18 inches create a seamless flooring in the patient rooms, but can be removed, cleaned and replaced with ease. Additionally, visitation at the Hospice Center is unlimited, which added the need for heavy-duty fabric for the facility's furnishings.
The kitchen is designed to be far from an institutional kitchen with hardwood flooring, a large, free-standing hutch, residential appliances, Corian® countertops, wood cabinets and an oversized solid maple table to make guests feel as if the room were their own. "I wanted to make an area where guests could plan and enjoy a 'home-cooked' meal with their families, or feel comfortable opening the cupboards for a late-night snack," she explains.
Many of the design elements that were incorporated came from truly unconventional methods of care-facility design. By placing kitchens and family rooms at each end of the facility, guests are never far from enjoying a cup of coffee or gathering with family and friends to talk or watch television. Incandescent lighting and finishes in the kitchens and family rooms, such as ceiling borders, hardwood flooring and furnishings, continue into hallways to eliminate the look and feel of an institutional corridor. That sensitivity to detail also is felt in the central tub room where hardwood floors, brightly hand-painted dome light covers and natural light provide a relaxing, spa-like atmosphere.
In addition to the in-patient wing, A.J. Weisensale designed a wing for Hospice's bereavement services which provides a safe haven for adults and children to deal with the loss or impending loss of a loved one. The meditation room is styled without displaying traditional religious symbols to assure people of all faiths will be comfortable whether they are praying, reading or seeking counsel. A spirited children's play/therapy alcove highlights the wing.
The attention to environment extends beyond the guest wings and bereavement areas into the administrative offices. Azure fabric-covered office partitions are configured to create an open and soothing space. Even the staff lounge feels more like a family room than a break area, with comfortable sofas, functional tables and greenery. "We thought about all of the things the staff has to deal with everyday, and designed an environment that provided some relief and release from the stress of their responsibilities," explains Weisensale.
"The team at A.J. Weisensale believes very much in the hospice mission and we wanted to translate that mission into every choice we made," she says. "I know the hospice will make a difference in people's lives through the caring staff, the ability to have family here 24-hours a day and because guests simply feel comfortable and at home."