Interior designers being described as “cushion plumpers”? I can only imagine how Jain Malkin, Tama Duffy Day, or Betsy Brawley would react. Their stirring creative work has been published in several issues of HEALTHCARE DESIGN and sister publication Long-Term Living over the years, and they need to apologize to no one for their contributions to healthcare project success. But there's a crucial future role for them we haven't addressed yet.

Recently I visited one of my favorite Web sites,, a weekly architectural newsletter published by British design publication BD Weekly. Following a highly interesting panel on “What will Architecture be in 40 years?”, bdonline followed up with an editorial titled “Cushion plumpers inherit the earth.”

“Cushion plumpers” is their tongue-in-cheek term for interior designers-and just how tongue-in-cheek became clear as I read their prediction of the role for interior designers in that 40-year future. A major theme of that panel was that buildings would have a premium on flexibility of use in order to stay relevant and attractive through the decades. That meant interior design would have to be ready for this. “It is the interior-the part of the building that we actually touch and inhabit-that is and needs to be its most flexible tissue,” the editorialist wrote. “It's also the most ephemeral, undergoing minor rearrangement every day, redecoration every couple of years, and refit every decade or so. The distinction between interiors and Architecture is perhaps less one of inside and outside than of duration.”

How would flexibility to accommodate duration be handled in healthcare interiors, I wondered. We've had occasion to publish on design longevity (“Planning for the 100-year hospital,” by Paul Petska, HEALTHCARE DESIGN, July 2008). That article addressed how hospitals would accommodate the new technologies and MEP infrastructure changes that would surely arise during that time period-but nary a mention of a cushion plumper.

And yet, when you come down to it, interior design is where the action happens when it comes to serving and pleasing customers and staffers at the direct interface. When they experience today's zoned rooms, with their family daybeds and family and staff work areas, and immerse themselves in the hospitable colors, window treatments, wall-coverings, floor-coverings, and creative bedside services increasingly available these days, they are responding to the design decisions of an interior designer. As the years and decades go by, what will tomorrow's patients/families/staffers find as crucial to engaging them body and soul? There may indeed be interior designers who have answers in the works even as we speak.

So, while the healthcare facility's future functional relevance may lie with flexibility-attuned architects and engineers, it is fair to say that patient, family and staff satisfaction will depend, for the foreseeable future, on the continuing inspiration of the cushion plumpers. HD

Healthcare Design 2010 May;10(5):120