Healing Hues: Choosing Paint Colors for Healthcare

May 11, 2012
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A Q&A with Jackie Jordan, director of color marketing for Sherwin-Williams
Soothing colors can affect a patient's mood and even contribute to the healing process. Courtesy of Sherwin-Williams. Natural colors and patterns can remind patients of the outdoors. Courtesy of Sherwin-Williams. Stimulating colors are great for rehabilitation and lounge areas, to promote patient interaction. Courtesy of Sherwin-Williams. Jackie Jordan, director of color marketing, Sherwin-Williams
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A perfectly crafted color palette can do wonders for a healthcare facility, whether it’s the product of a new-build project, renovation, or just a bit of rejuvenation.

But determining what shades of paint are best suited for a specific space should be done with plenty of consideration for not only facility type, but also the area/department being painted and the individuals who will be using it.

Jackie Jordan, director of color marketing for Sherwin-Williams, spoke with HEALTHCARE DESIGN Managing Editor Jennifer Kovacs Silvis about trends in color for healthcare, as well as how to determine which of those trends is best suited for individual spaces.  

Before we talk about what hospitals and healthcare facilities should be doing with color, what are some common mistakes you see made?
One of the most common mistakes is using the wrong colors, such as bright colors in areas where you shouldn’t use bright colors; for instance, in patient rooms, an accent wall somebody is going to be facing that’s too bold or too bright.

You need to be cautious—not only about color in general, but about the kinds of colors you’re using and where you’re placing them, so they’re not distracting to people and they don’t make you agitated when you shouldn’t be.

It’s often the wrong colors in the wrong spaces, and the wrong saturation of color—colors that are too bright when they should be a little bit more muted or colors that should be brighter in spaces for children’s hospitals, for example, and other areas where you want lots of activity.

What kind of process should be taken when choosing a proper color scheme?
The process works differently for certain facilities, depending on whether it’s an existing facility and if they have to use existing materials. So that’s the first place to start.

If you have a facility and you know there are certain things that are not going to change—for instance, your flooring, your countertops, something that’s permanent—use that as your basis for starting that scheme so your colors are coordinated around that.

Starting a new facility, usually designers will be looking at floor covering. They’ll be looking at hard surface finishes or laminates. They’ll be looking at textiles. Depending on the facility—whether it’s a hospital or perhaps a nursing home, or some kind of a specialized area—you’re going to have to determine from those what direction might be appropriate for color.

The selection a lot of times starts with materials, those textiles that have pattern and color in them, and we draw from that for inspiration in paint colors and other solid colors to coordinate with them.

What specifically should be measured in determining if it’s a place for soft, muted colors or a place for some bolder hues?
That’s one of the key things to look at—what is this space being used for? Are these patient rooms? Are these physical therapy rooms, operating rooms? Is this more of an assisted-living space where you want a homey atmosphere, something more residential in feel, as opposed to something that’s a little bit more commercial in feel?

Definitely you need to assess these kinds of things before you begin the color selection process.

Then, ask what each of those areas is being used for. A lot of times in large hospital situations, color is used for wayfinding, so choosing the appropriate colors that are associated with an area of the hospital to help people find their way from Point A to Point B.

Are there specific colors that are more highly recommended for different healthcare settings?
You want a nice balance of both warm and cool colors. Cool colors tend to be more calming, so things that are in the blues and the blue-greens, those types of colors really put people at ease because they do bring a sense of tranquility.

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