Norix Furniture have written extensive about the relatively new trend where interior designers, architects and facility managers look to normalize and humanize behavioral healthcare facilities in an attempt to prompt healing, ease anxieties and make these environments safer places for all who spend time in them.

Behavioral healthcare furniture is a huge component in this trend and can help turn what were historically institutional spaces into welcoming facilities that promote dignity and socialization, and create a sense of home. Upholstery on behavioral healthcare chairs can assist in this effort. But upholstery is not appropriate in all environments, and when deciding to use upholstery it’s important to know what to look for and what to avoid. Below are four key considerations if you are thinking of incorporating upholstery in your BHC facility.

Consider whether you should use upholstery

The most important question to ask yourself is whether or not upholstery is appropriate for the space where you are considering using it. The best way to answer this question is to determine what is most critical in your environment. Is it safety, security and hygiene? If these are your main challenges, then it might be wise to forgo upholstery and go with a rotationally molded, polyethylene or vinyl chair with aesthetic qualities that still provide a residential look and feel. However, if you are furnishing a non-acute or group house environment, or staff and waiting rooms where users sit for hours at a time, then upholstery can add that additional touch that makes furniture feel a little more comfortable and a little bit more like home.

Consider the different grades

Not all upholstery is created equal. Many department store chairs come with upholstery that is not manufactured to hold up to the constant- and intensive-use that is found in BHC facilities. That is why it is important to find upholstery that is appropriate for healthcare environments and that offers you a variety of grade levels to choose from.

For example, Norix Furniture’s line of Stinson Fabrics offers an extensive selection of upholstery that is based on price points. Once your budget is established, you can choose from eight different grade levels that fit your budget and provide the performance and aesthetic attributes you need. An offering with several options within each grade makes combining performance and budget easier.

Consider the material and cleanability

The upholstery material that is on your chairs will speak volumes to those who use it. How does it feel? Is it soft? Is it rigid? Is it textured? Luckily, when picking out behavioral healthcare furniture, there are many materials to choose from.  Polyester, vinyl, polyethylene and nylon are just a few of the fabrics that facilities can select – each with their own unique characteristics and a variety of grade options. However, material is subjective some might say. As previously mentioned, be sure to consider where the furniture is going, how durable you need the upholstery to be and select the appropriate grade. Follow those rules and picking your material is a much more manageable exercise.

Lastly, cleanability is a critical consideration in many BHC facilities. In some areas, bodily fluids and chemical solutions may spill onto the upholstery. In these areas we suggest picking an upholstery option with an enhanced soil and stain resistant finish and perhaps a fluid barrier for extra protection. Solid color vinyls are the original performance fabric in healthcare, but innovation has led to several other choices with a range of patterns, materials and colors. Crypton fabrics are a particularly popular and effective choice. The important thing is to look for upholstery that provides extra stain and moisture protection in order to make cleanup a cinch.

 Consider the color

Last but not least is color. Like choosing the material for your upholstery, color is subjective. But in behavioral healthcare facilities, color can have a major impact on how patients, families and staff relate to their environments.

Historically, BHC facilities have been institutional in nature and have used monochromatic colors such as grays and whites. But in the past decade, research has shown that color can actually aid in the healing and make people feel more comfortable in their spaces.

“There is a plethora of evidence-based research and design that supports the claim that when spaces are visually stimulating – with an interesting use of color, and not ‘overly neutral’ – that the speed of healing dramatically increases, and in many cases the need for pain-relieving medication decreases,” said Tara Rae Hill, founder of LittleFISH Think Tank. “Color is a very powerful design tool that many fail to recognize and/or understand.”

Shades that are found in nature are often effective hues to choose in spaces in BHC facilities – especially those which house acute patients. But to be safe and effective in your upholstery color choice, work with an interior designer that has experience in healthcare facilities to ensure your color choices produce those positive outcomes you desire.