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The 10 principles when choosing colours for healthcare environments

by Ofentse Sefolo
The 10 principles when choosing colours for healthcare environments

With more than 50 years’ experience in the local and international flooring industry, Denver Coleman, Chairman of Polyflor SA, answers questions posed by installers, architects and readers on their flooring challenges. In this issue, he discusses the impact of colour on healthcare environments.

“What should specifiers and designers know about the impact of colour when choosing products for a healthcare environment?” – Misty Evans, Western Cape.

There is a growing acceptance that in some cases, a healthcare environment has a significant impact on a patient’s perception of the medical care they receive and on their actual recovery. In healthcare environments, colour does more than make a building attractive. Colour can have a positive impact the way patients feel in a space.

It is important to apply thought, time and understanding to the selection of colour in healthcare.

The ten general principles below are a crucial part of this understanding:

1. Colour changes depending on the colours around it. The eye can be easily deceived into thinking that a colour is lighter, darker or different based on the colour next to it. This can be used to create vibrating or vanishing boundaries. For more information on this, read Josef Albers’s fabulous book, Interaction of colour.
2. Colours can alter space. They are able to create the illusion of a higher ceiling, wider room, longer or shorter corridor…
3. The wall opposite a window should generally be kept light or it will absorb much of the daylight for the room.
4. A window wall and frame should be light so as not to contrast too much with the daylight sky. High contrast can cause headaches and eye strain.
5. Patient rooms should feature colours, light and combinations intended to calm patients and their families.
6. Consider religious or symbolic associations with colour (for example, don’t use red and black in a Jewish healthcare facility).
7. In long-term healthcare facilities, use variety in the visual environment so that sensory deprivation doesn’t occur.
8. Lighting has a major impact on colour and this must be considered when selecting colour in healthcare. Don’t choose a colour under different light conditions
9. In patient bathrooms select a colour that is flattering to skin tones (in conjunction with the light selected) as self-appraisal is important to patients. With poor lighting and bad colour choices, patients may be shocked at their appearance.
10. Colour is very effectively used for wayfinding in healthcare and up to 70% of elderly patients report using colour as their means of finding their way around.

Did you know?
Have you ever noticed that in a surgical theatre the walls, linen and garments are usually blue-green? This is not accidental or because staff like blue-green, an important colour principle underlies this decision. Surgeons and theatre staff spend much of their time looking at red (blood) when in theatre. As they look up from their (red) work they see after-images of blue-green. Red and blue-green are complementary colours on the colour wheel and looking at one produces an after-image of the other. If the walls were painted white, or other theatre staff were dressed in white, every time a surgeon looked up, he or she would see blue/green dots on the white walls (or theatre staff uniforms) and this could be visually distracting from the important task at hand. The blue-green walls and uniforms act as a neutral background so surgeons don’t have to visually “fight the dots”.

Well-chosen decor can contribute positively to the creation of an environment in which patients can feel comfortable and at ease. By understanding the intricacies of colour, flooring professionals can provide a fit-for-purpose solution that benefits everyone at a hospital or clinic.

Visit http://www.polyflor.co.za/, email marketing@polyflor.co.za or call +27 (11) 609 3500 to speak to Blythe or Wendy.

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