March 26, 2019 Healthcare Design Awards

Stuffed seagulls and other things to consider with care home design


One of the joys of carrying out the judging visits for the Healthcare Design Awards is meeting people with a real desire to deliver the very best. Of course, opinions may differ as to what the ‘best’ is and we’ve had some lively and interesting discussions over the years. Because all of the projects we are looking at are of excellent quality, these debates tend to relate to the fine detail of design.

A good example of this is my stuffed-seagull theory! Lots of homes adopt decorative themes to create a clear identity which aids recognition and navigation. But, too often the theme is largely determined by pictures on the corridor walls. So, the ‘seaside wing’ will be adorned with framed images of beach huts and coastal scenes. All very good but only visible once you pass each picture.

As you look down a corridor though, these pictures disappear into a series of dark frame lines which give no navigational cues as to what destinations lie ahead. People don’t tend to look to the side they look ahead and that view can too often be limited to a fire exit door.

One of my clients has a seaside-themed section in her home and its immediately obvious because there is a stuffed seagull hanging from the ceiling! Crucially, it is located at a corridor junction so is visible in two directions and provides an immediately recognisable road sign. “To get to my bedroom, I turn right at the seagull.”

Of course, hanging things from the ceiling is not always possible but the principle should be followed by using any available location or surface for bold recognition markers. Any flat wall at right angles to a corridor presents an opportunity for a visual cue – be it a colourful piece of art, a flower arrangement or memorable item. We often see deliberate stepping out of bedrooms or en suites to break-up an otherwise straight corridor, but the flat surface created isn’t always highlighted to create a waypoint.

For many years, designers have successfully addressed the issues of corridor dead-ends, through the use of windows, seating and/or memorabilia, but I would encourage them to also look the other way and see whether the view for a resident leaving their bedroom could also be improved? Look at every junction, from every direction, and think carefully about the best indicator to place there.

There was another topic for discussion this year, for which credit goes to Emeritus Professor June Andrews. I am quick to attribute the “fat-nurse” test to her! Based on her personal experience, June questions why toilets in en suite bathrooms are typically so close to one wall? The result is a very narrow gap which is too tight for even the slimmest of carers to provide practical assistance.

This raises an interesting point, which illustrates the ongoing battle between care provision and regulations – whether that be building regs or fire safety. Understandably, the layout of en suites tends to follow the Part M provisions for disabled facilities, which are intended to enable the user to retain their independence. But, what if the person can no longer use the facility independently? Potentially, the positioning of the aids becomes a hindrance to those trying to assist. There is a conflict between the narrow gap required for personal use of the handrail and the wider space needed for assistance. An interesting challenge for you all to ponder!

One more obvious problem which can easily be resolved is the relative positioning of the toilet roll holder to the wall mounted handrail. If the holder is placed highest, there is a danger of it, rather than the handrail, being used as a weight-bearing support.

After twenty years of judging the design of care homes, we have at least got rid of clinical white-tiled bathrooms. (It is well known that nobody can win a Pinder Award with white tiles in the bathroom!). But, I would encourage designers to go further with their bathroom designs.

Now that homes have large, well-appointed wet rooms, the role of the assisted bathroom has changed, particularly in homes for dementia care. Increasingly, these are seen as a sensory experience; a luxurious soak rather than a practical wash-house. A mix of coloured lighting, therapeutic aromas, fluffy towels and attractive artwork makes these a popular treat rather than an experience to endure.

And yet, there is one odd issue which I keep noting. Why does the bath have to face the wall? And why is that wall, at best, blank or, at worst, adorned by health and safety posters! At least position a nice picture there or, better still, how about a flat screen showing scudding clouds or crashing waves?

I offer these suggestions for consideration and debate as the most important role of the Design Awards has been as a forum for new, and sometimes conflicting, ideas. Our sector should be congratulated on its willingness to share good ideas and experiences as, ultimately, we all strive to deliver the best for those in our care.

More information at:


We speak up for the independent sector. All news articles are published by editor Viv Shepard.

Read more posts by Viv