Inviting Interiors : A Case Study on Public Health Spaces & The Power of Interior Design

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Inviting Interiors A Case Study on Public Health Spaces & The Power of Interior Design

Milla Petrolino


introduction There is so much a space can give back to a person through lighting and color, through furniture and beautiful functional fabrics. These elements are well thought out and researched to make people feel any type of way when they are in a space. Interior design can be selective and exclusive to those that can not afford the luxury of custom furnishings and fixtures. A lot of interior design is catered to the liking of either the client or the intended audience for that space. This sector of design is often seen as luxury and a commodity that not many can experience. I began to think about the power of a thoughtfully designed space and how much it can alter the way one feels and experiences a space. Thinking about interior design as a tool, I began looking into spaces that are neglected by generic design and practicality. The health care sector has been a part of our everyday narrative with the pandemic. When I started to look at ways to bridge the gap between sterile and cold health clinics with research based interior design to create inviting and calming spaces, I started by looking at patient and staff comfortability in a space. From how comfortable a space is to then, how you enter and navigate the space, and how safe you feel. I asked myself, what are people interacting with and why this will make them want to come back? Patients and health care workers deserve a space that is well treated much like they want to be by their physicians. The design thinking behind this health clinic redesign is the type of thinking that you can apply to any public sector. As you navigate this process deck, I hope you can begin to see how interior design is a tool to create comforting, inviting, and inclusive spaces anywhere.


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the problem 4-5 the research 6-11 the design solution 12-23 concluding statement 24


the problem

a n e d l i c r o e l t d s


Health care in itself is a luxury that not all in the world have access to. This past year, the Corona Virus pandemic has shaken many facets of individuals’ lives. Speaking from an American experience of the pandemic in a city like San Francisco, these images are very familiar to those who have been to a doctors office. When looking at the various images of health clinics close to me and that I have access to, I realized that they were all the same. I can imagine my next doctor visit and exactly how it would go. I would walk up to the person sitting at the desk behind a glass, give them my insurance card, told to be seated, wait for my name to be called, I would then walk past other exam rooms where patients also wait to be seen, talk to my physician, and then leave. There is nothing wrong with this process but the minutes of waiting and the way you are treated makes you feel like another person just passing by rather than a human being taking care of themselves wanting to be taken care of.

The goal of a patient in a space like this is to get in and get out as quickly as possible because they are not comfortable. In a Forbes article written in 2019 titled “Missed Appointments, Missed Opportunities: Tackling The Patient NoShow Problem “, patients were asked what was missing from their visit to the doctor the main things that were brought up had to do with a lack of information and access to holistic approaches rather than medical interventions. These two points go hand in hand with each other. They also directly correlate to another point in my research that I was fascinated by. The idea of patient no show was a big portion of why patients felt they were not getting the information they need, which is way it is so important to look at the environment as a factor in this discussion. Unfortunately for the healthcare system we are living in an age where google doctors exist. Access to the internet and information is at a click of a button. The reason not to go to your doctor appointment is all over the internet. A person’s busy life and schedule also play a factor into why continuing to work and miss that appointment is sometimes a battle patients choose between. A missed appointment is missed information. As we all know our health is more important than ever when we begin to look at the past year in the pandemic. With all of this in mind and the research on the following pages begin to look at how you navigate and create a space with interior design that will make patients feel differently at their next doctor visit. The feeling a patient has in a space like this will then lead to them wanting to come back and get all of the tools they need.


the research Swiss Concept , Facial and dental clinic Designed by Barcelona-based Francesc Rifé Studio Located in Valencia, Spain

These images showcase only two corners in this facial and dental clinic in Valencia Spain. This space was designed with roots and references to Asian meditation rooms, specifically those in Japan. The ash wood faces and walls that navigate the space pair well with the translucent glass screens. The design studio describes the space to be “Mainly inspired by eastern aesthetics and meditation, this clinic was conceived following notions of lightness and calm – a deep approach which has been achieved through very simple means”. Part of the success of this space is the use of color. The sage green shown in the reception area is one of the only areas of color in the clinic. This is one example of many on how color plays a role in the feeling and emotion. Sage green is a color that emotes wisdom and trust, which is everything that you would want from a doctor’s office. The most bottom image is one of the corners in the waiting area. The translucent glass streams and filters in the natural light from the outside this offers natural warmth and a soft barrier from the outside world as patients are waiting to be seen. “Each treatment area has two doors – one at the front of the room and another at the rear. This design facilitates a circular route around the clinic’s floor plan, creating a continuous flow of doctors and patients” says Dznee Magazine in an article on this space. The material, light, and transparency in this space are all playing off each other to create an environment of calm rather than anxiousness.



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A more earthy and bohemian approach was taken by designer and architect Alda Ly when she designed this space. With aim to re-think your average joe health clinic it was refreshing to see in a health clinic in the United States. This was a rare case as I was doing research because most of the examples that I found and have shown in this deck are from other countries. What is described as earthy and homey, this space is located in a 115 year old building in the middle of Manhattan’s very busy Union Square. The contrast in location and the interiors is also showcased in the mission of this health clinic. Parsley health focuses on nutrition and lifestyle, they choose to emphasize a holistic and preventative approach to healthcare. This mission is brought through all places in this space. The clinic consists of coaching and exams room as well as a patient lounge, pantry, and a dining area. The dining and kitchen area is what I have chosen to showcase in the image you see because it is a space that we can all agree is the best part of one’s home. The kitchen is often the heart of the home and this one is no different. It was designed to be accommodating and user friendly with the familiarity of the layout and materials. The large island and bar stools play off of the open shelving that can be found in most modern American homes. Parsley Health Designed by Alda Ly Located in New York, NY


Aeichi Designed by Seog Be Seog Located in South Korea.

The use of soft and warm materials and colors created a palette that soothes those that use the space. The founder of the design studio behind this medical clinic says, “I wanted to create an interior where patients could feel relaxed and able to talk openly about their health problem” . This medical clinic is offering patients a space of openness with traditional Koren medical treatments. The feeling of openness stems from the studio’s choice of opening up the structure of the space.


O p e n ness

There is no element that is not necessary, all of the materials and structures shown are a part of the openness that the space makes patients feel welcome. There is no guessing in a space like this because there is a transparency between you and the structure that allows patients to be open. The soft white walls and exposed concrete ceilings do not leave the patient wondering what is hiding from them. The translucent walls , much like the dental clinic I have shown in Spain are used to filter the light coming from the outside. “Outside light can permeate into the space without disturbing the atmosphere and also allows patients to naturally observe the changes in light in the space throughout the day,” said Seog, the clinics designer. “In addition, the walls are partially opened and doors are minimized to those that are strictly necessary”. There is such beauty in the open ceilings that each exam room has because you’re not confined and encased in a room of white walls that can often feel claustrophobic and suffocating. The materials that Seog used in this space were carefully chosen to bring in the idea of familiarity to the space. The hope of the designers is that the open waiting and seating room with a kitchen and tea area bring patients together by a bond of sympathy. This clinic is not only about evoking an open space but also allowing patients to be open with each other and other patients but with their physicians because of the environment they have created that evokes openess and vulnerability.

Aeichi Designed by Seog Be Seog Located in South Korea.


materials research


Copper is a material that is naturally antimicrobial. It has been scientifically proven that copper amongst its other complementary metals like bronzes and brasses naturally destroy a wide range of microorganisms that can be threatening to public health. When applying this scientific research to frequently touched surfaces in a clinic, I started to think about this material not only as a decorative finish but a necessary one in a clinical setting. The door handles, the tea station, kitchen faucet, and light fixtures are a few places I have used copper and its benefits to enhance the well being and design of the space.


white oak


White oak has become a staple in reliable design. If you happen to be scrolling through any social media platform or pinterest you will see that most new builds and design spaces are using white oak floorings for the base of their design. The grain and texture that is offered in white oak is forgiving and allowing for any design direction you might want to go in. Not only is this choice in flooring stylistically beautiful, white oak is known for its durability and how resistant to water it is. These combined are all very important when it comes to a highly used space.

Biophilic design is a concept that is now more commonly being introduced to a wider audience but specifically the design industry. Biophilic design focuses on connecting individuals to their inherent desire to be with natural elements like plants. Not only does it offer an inherent desire, it is scientifically proven to better air quality and mental health. The connection to plants humans have when they are used in a space that is enclosed rather than outside, emulates the freeing feeling of being outside but in an inside space while purifying the air.



Walnut wood and stain finishes are timeless in the scope of lasting design. This type of wood is durable and long lasting. Aside from it being an attractive wood grain, walnut is highly resistant to the wear and tear of everyday life. It is rot resistant and highly water resistant if treated with the proper sealing. When it came to picking a wood for highly used surfaces in the space I designed below I knew the addition of walnut was going to offer me both visual and practical benefits.

Concrete is a material known for its reliability. Concrete is one of the most solid and durable materials that one can use in the structure of a space. Concrete has become more popular in modern industrial homes and has been used for walls, furniture, and sometimes flooring. The look of concrete when used decoratively is very unique due to the texture of the material. When this material is used inside a space strategically it emphasizes the meaning of structure and reliance that the material naturally has.

green onyx

This type of stone is becoming more and more popular for its wholeistic properties. The beauty of this natural stone is that the patterns and veining in the stone is just as unique as the material itself. The glow that this stone gives off is unique in comparison to others in its category. In so many spaces where white and grey stones are so commonly used as a standard, having a stone like green onyx in this case, allows for patients that are interacting with this space to be introduced to a new material they they have not seen before. Onyx is a healing stone that emits healing and strength.



the design



worker lounge area


patient room

seating area

3 lighting plants


powder room


lounge area


reception and tea station

reading nook


The reception area in this space sets the tone for how patients will navigate their experience at the clinic. Right as you walk in you were are greeted by an earth toned rug, copper light fixture, and reception desk that is solid concrete to establish stability and slowly introduce the patient to materials that they will be seeing all throughout the space. Behind the reception desk is a wall of plants that surround the reception desk to instantly bring the patient inside this safe space.


This rather simple layout for the seating area is something I wanted to emphasize. The large sofas are used as a way for patients to feel comfortable while they are waiting. I did not want patients that are waiting to have to face each other, but have their backs against the plant wall and be able to face the open space and maybe turn around and look at the plants to ease anxiety. The coffee table in the center made out of green onyx plays into the material in the staff kitchen. This table also allows for poufs to be used as extra seating in the open space, keeping in mind children that might come with their parents.


This smaller cluster of seating is a little more intimate but does offer another space for conversation between patients. This seating group is one of the first sneak peaks that a patient gets into the rest of the clinique so I wanted to keep it simple in terms of how the chairs are laid out with a pendant over the coffee table.


I really wanted a space where patients could grab a cup of tea and a magazine while they wait for blood work, prescription, or maybe waiting for a friend and just want to be seated alone. The wood shelving in that corner is intended to be filled with reading material from all sorts to novels to children’s books to informational pamphlets.This space is open for mother’s who need to breast feed to someone who wants to scroll through social media.


This past year we have realized and praised healthcare workers for all they have done and continue to do. Having a space that is just for them was really important to me when designing this space. The kitchen area is placed so there is a nice sink to wash dishes and plates that is stored in the cabinets above. There is a small outdoor grass area that allows for fresh air, the bar where stools sit at is a great way to catch up with coworkers and enjoy your lunch. This space is enclosed and only accessed once patients are called to go into the exam rooms. This allows patients to see all aspects of the clinic and offer transparency between shared spaces.


The most important and intimidating space in any health clinic is the exam room. This is the room in which you want patients to feel the most comfortable. By offering each exam room with a sky light and plant walls that surround each room the patients have healthy distractions that are familiar to them as they have just left the waiting room. If the doctor is seated at the desk it makes so they are sitting almost next to the patient rather than right in front allowing them to be on the same plane.



The reception sets the tone for the patient’s visit. By having a beautiful hanging fixture in the entrance that sits directly above and in the center of the abstract area rug you get a center point. The fixture is made out of copper, although it is not something that patients will be touching often, it does introduce the finish to the space in a subtle way. The area rug plays with the organic quality of the plant wall through its shape but it uses the earth tones in the rug as a palette that travels throughout the clinic. The solid concrete desk for the reception area offers a contrast of the hard concrete between the natural greenery used in the plant wall. The concrete reception desk plays beautifully off the white oak flooring, because this material symbolizes stability and trust so I wanted the patients to feel that when speaking to the person at the desk. The plant wall not only offers color but purifies the air and sets a fresh


sent right as the patient walsk in. The reception desk chair is in an emerald green velvet that blends into the greenery rather than standing out. It is important that the receptionist does not seem supiror to the plants, but working with them to offer the patient a welcoming visit. This is because the wow factor of this entrance is the plants themselves. The solid piece of copper that is behind the plant wall is a solid copper tea station, where patients can grab a cup of tea while waiting. This tea station is another surprise to patients because the use of copper in such a large piece is bold. In contrast, the reading nook is used as a sanctuary for those that want to be alone. The deep and comfortable lounge chair and ottoman are covered in Perennials performance boucle fabric. This performance fabric ensures that the wear and tear of feel and spilled drinks are covered without having to compromise design.

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waiting & lounge area

It is important for the seating area in this space to be the most comfortable. The main seating area is anchored by two couches covered in the same Perennials boucle that the reading nook lounge chair and ottoman are. I wanted this fabric to travel throughout the space because it is both beautiful and durable.Tucked in the corner is a small side table that offers another surface for patients to place things. The couches are chunkier and legless, the design of this couch is beautiful because the ends are open for better seating. The open seating of the couches don’t block the patients sitting on the couch from the other spaces. The coffee table in the center of the space is solid green onyx. As mentioned green onyx is a stone that emits healing and strength. Directly tucked under the coffee table are leather poufs that can move around the space, for occasions where patients bring their children with them. All of these pieces are sitting on top of a striped cream and burnt orange rug. The orange in the rug is the same color as the second largest ring in the entry area rug. Again, using the defined color palette in the entry as a way to tie all of the aspects together. The smaller seating group agesent to the seating area is a little more intimate. These four swivel leather club chairs are all facing each other and are divided by a beautiful glass coffee table with a metal base. By having this seating group here there is more space for patients to sit and enjoy their tea or read a book. As shown in the floor plan there are plant walls that sit directly behind the couches. Whether you are sitting on a pouf or on the couch the beautiful plush greenery is there to help calm and ease nerves while purifying the air.







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restroom & staff kitchen This communal space for the workers is meant to be special. The patients have easy access to the tea station but I felt it was important for the staff to have a place that is still visable for the patients as they are walking into their exam room but also a little seperate. Although it is small, it does serve the purpose of offering a place to sit and eat lunch. The kitchen area has a green onyx stone top in which the sink sits in with beautiful WaterWorks faucetry. The kitchen has a pull out microwave and refridgerated drawer with walnut cabinets that offer storage space for dry goods and snacks. The bar top and stool is in the same walnut wood as the cabinets for three person seating. The bar also has cabinetry for medial supplies or staff storage. The bar stools are upholstered in a performance striped cream and green fabric to complement the green stone and emerald green painted base in for the bar.



tile flooring

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onyx counter

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onyx counter

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stool fabric

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lnut cabinets


patient rooms

This is the last space in the clinic, but deffinatley not a neglected space. The exam rooms are designed with the idea of practicality in mind, but that does not mean comprimsed design. The first aspect of the patient room is the Ann Sacks tile flooring. This stunning quite but impactful ceramic tile plays off of ripples you may find in a puddle. By have a ceramic tile used as the flooring in the exam room you ensure sanitizing will be an easy process. The desks that the staff and doctors use in this space are solid walnut to continue with the use of this material throughout the space. The walnut desk offers storage and space for a computer and medical supplies to live as there are walnut cabintry in the same style as the staff kicthen area. The desk chair used in this space is the same as the one used in the reception desk covered in the same emerald green velvet. The large chair where the patient is examined and is encouraged to lay in is covered in another performance fabric that is pattered with the a orange that is used in the entry area rug. Both chairs in the exam rooms are either facing or tucked into the greenery. The greenery in this space is really important because it is where calm is needed the most. The frosted glass doors also offer a aspect of transparency between the staff lounge area and the exam room. I did not want this already small room to be closed by doors and a closed ceiling because that can offer a sense of being trapped.


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chair fabric


the clinic


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n t ro o m s







conclusion My hope now that you have finished reading this case study is that you can see the way good design elements can make a space more functional and better benefit those that use it. This process is one of many that interior design can solve. The designing of an experience that is comfortable and practical can be applied to so many public areas and spaces that are often overlooked and neglected. I encourage you to challenge the spaces you walk into and think about how you can use design to make a change in the space you are in. When you begin to release the power behind good design thinking you will begin to understand that it can help people, and that is what I wish this project has offered you.


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