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Doctor, Doctor, Here Is the News

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Have you ever felt sicker when you visited a doctor's office than when you were at home? I don't mean because of the sneezing woman in the upright chair next to the water cooler or the coughing kid running around the stacks of old magazines; I mean because of the drab decor that doctor's and dentist's offices are notorious for. Why is it that the ugliest lilac-gray textured wall covering and teal lintlike upholstery fabric always are selected for a place that you reluctantly visit to make you feel better? And what's up with the chairs lined up all around the room? This just doesn't make sense.

There are numerous articles on the positive health benefits of quality interior design. Nature in treatment rooms has positive effects, and high-end furnishings reduce stress. Surveys have shown that patients feel more in control in what they perceive as a nice environment. Certain hospitals have recognized the financial advantages of interior design and made available private upscale suites for select paying patients. If research shows the benefits of nicer environments, why aren't there more of them?

Though having to abide by official guidelines of hygiene and other standards set forth by governmental agencies, it is still possible to design warm, comforting waiting rooms and examination rooms. Sanatoriums used to have gardens for convalescence, and though the interiors were clinically spare, they used to be quite elegant. Today's facilities are full of technology and medical equipment but are generic when it comes to furnishings — most of it purchased from the catalogs of office supply stores.

One must put aside the institutional attitude and take a more residential approach to the design of these medical facilities.

Starting with the color palette, almost any warm neutral color is acceptable, except for perhaps black or brown. Stronger colors can be used as accent colors in accessories. Generally, the color palette should be upbeat and vibrant, but not shocking or too trendy.

Unconditionally, furniture should be sturdy yet comfortable enough to endure any lengthy wait. Upholstered furniture should be in fabrics that are patterned to show minimal wear and tear. There are many new fabrics that are available that repel stains and are inspired by the latest colors in fashion. Avoid the fluorescent lights, if only because they make you look sick when you are not.

Though seating requirements are usually as many seats as possible, the layout of furniture should consider creating conversation areas that will serve as gentle distraction and aid in reducing stress. If possible, a mix of smaller sofas and chairs should compose your selection of furniture for the waiting room. The trend in waiting rooms is to include flat-screen televisions and the latest audiovisual equipment, and some even have coffee bars and drink dispensers.

Doctors, pay attention! Like the design of your own home, the design of your heavily used waiting room needs to be refreshed periodically — every five to 10 years — so it doesn't look like the set of a vintage sitcom. Time warp!

Joseph Pubillones is the owner of Joseph Pubillones Interiors, an award-winning interior design firm based in Palm Beach, Fla. To find out more about Joseph Pubillones, or to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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