Mary Bamborough, IIDA

Mary Bamborough, IIDA

When working with a healthcare facility over time, an interior designer has the privilege of seeing the interiors evolve and perhaps have a hand in helping to brand the hospital and its entities.

About 10 years ago, Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan, selected a book titled The Man Who Planted Trees for use in its management training program. The book tells the true story of a shepherd who transformed a drought-ravaged land into a lush forest. With patience, persistence, and commitment, he planted acorns every day and nurtured them into thousands of trees. In 2002, the book inspired a nature theme for a 144,000-square-foot expansion project at Borgess.

The acorn provided the starting point for the interior design of the facility. When we look to the future, an acorn becomes a tree-a symbol of growth and life. For a healthcare institution, a tree of life serves as a wonderful icon. In Michigan, the seasons show their glory in many ways and especially in trees. By dividing the facility floor plan into four areas, the surfaces and finishes in each area incorporate design cues from one of the seasons.

In addition, each area includes large framed photographs of scenes from fall, winter, spring, or summer. The new gift shop, named “The Seasons,” takes its visual cues from the nature theme. The expansive lobby boasts oversized, colorful transparent acrylic leaves suspended at varying heights in a bright atrium area. Elevator lobbies accessing the parking ramp continue the theme at each level with an earth-to-sky progression from level one to level five-water, acorn, flower, leaf, and sun-and use many visual cues to facilitate wayfinding.

This theme has proven very popular. Nature is generally considered to assist in the healing process, and the many design elements of this medical center provide a restful and restorative environment for patients and families. Not only are the interiors warm and inviting, they also tell a story specific to the facility and give special meaning to the hospital.

When it came time for Borgess Health to make plans to replace its nursing home, senior management wanted to continue the nature theme. As the interior designer, I proposed that the new facility should draw upon elements of the theme we used in the hospital, yet have a unique identity. As the needs for the nursing home were identified and the plans started to be developed, a related theme for the interiors began to emerge: the garden.

A garden offers a miraculous event. You prepare the soil, plant a seed, add water, and voilà, a miracle happens-life. A garden delivers the experience of beauty, wonder, and the joy of life; all part of an extremely positive approach to the latter stages of life.

The design team recommended a neighborhood design approach, which will provide a more residential-like setting for the new facility. Using the garden as an overall starting point, the interior design and appearance of each of the common areas of the six households will be based upon a specialty garden. Through the unique courtyards, interior materials, accessories, and details, each household will have a special identity for residents to discover, share, and enjoy.

Each household will include a centrally located outdoor garden accessible only from inside the nursing home. Working in tandem with the landscape architect, details such as color and pattern of the garden pavers further develops each specialty garden theme, which are listed and explained below.

Woodland garden (figure 1)

Design elements such as a gate and curved path will invite all on a journey of discovery into a garden with a pleasing mix of plants of varied shapes and textures, sheltered by a canopy of trees.

Flower garden (figure 2)

Household common areas will have bouquets made from flowers that the residents have planted, weeded, cared for, and finally cut and arranged in vases for all to enjoy.

Spiritual garden (figure 3)

An area where one can meditate and pray, this quiet retreat will feel sacred and serene. This garden will tend to one's inner strength and foster growth of spirit.

Heirloom garden (figure 4)

A way to preserve and pass on the uniqueness of gardens past, where the residents can recall the fruits, vegetables, and flowers that they grew, or see vintage tools like the ones they used to use.

Enchanted garden (figure 5)

A place to discover “once upon a time,” where a magical landscape of sculpture and plants will transform the garden into a spot of delight and discovery.

Tea garden (figure 6)

A place to enjoy gracious hospitality, pleasant conversation, and relaxed living, this garden will surround residents and visitors with topiary, lavender, plus a trellis with climbing vines.

Gardens offer many therapeutic benefits. Gardening can help keep residents connected to the real world, in the present as well as the past. It can help to take their minds off of pain and problems, and perhaps even help alleviate depression. Individuals with good mobility benefit from the extra exercise, while easy-access paths and elevated garden plots give residents in wheelchairs the opportunity to participate, as well. Residents can sharpen their focus and concentration skills, and experience the satisfaction of working with others toward a common goal. The joy and peacefulness of gardening can help relieve stress for residents, caregivers, and family members.

In his article “Garden Therapy and Healing Gardens,” author Michael Braunstein explains that “spending time with nature and seeing how the cycle of life proceeds, can lead us to a better understanding of oneself. And there are some cases where working in a garden, tending to plants, having a living organism depend upon you for survival, that helps elevate self-esteem, build confidence, and restore self-worth when those elements have been threatened.”

The garden theme will encourage community involvement, too. Volunteers might come in to teach gardening classes or “adopt a garden” by helping care for the garden and provide supplies-and discover, along the way, a multigenerational experience that can be enjoyable and enlightening for everyone involved.

Even the name of the nursing home will change: from Borgess Nursing Home to Borgess Gardens, which reflects its transformation into a much more inviting place to live.

The project has been a great opportunity to continue to tell the Borgess “story” through an overall nature theme that can be reinterpreted for different buildings-with originality, as well as clarity of expression-to successfully continue the branding of this prominent healthcare organization. HD

Mary Bamborough, IIDA, is Director of Interior Design at GMB Architects-Engineers in Holland, Michigan. She has 18 years of healthcare interior design experience.
Healthcare Design 2009 September;9(9):42-46