Care home interiors are perhaps one of the most complex environments when it comes to interior design.
A large percentage of care home residents require long-term care, which means that the care home is not a ‘healthcare facility’ to them – it’s simply their home.
However, those same individuals may have complex nursing needs that mean these interiors must function very much like healthcare settings, affording professional staff all the design features and fixtures they need to do their jobs well, while also keeping vulnerable people safe.
Just like hospitals, care home interiors take a battering. From damage caused by wheelchairs, medicine carts and wheeled beds to regular wear and tear from frequent cleaning, their interiors have to withstand a lot – and they must do all this without looking ‘institutional’.
So how can care homes create tough, hygienic, clinical interiors that look and feel like a comfortable home? The answer lies in clever use of surface protection.
What is surface protection?
To a large extent, the clue is in the name – but surface protection can take many different forms. Some of these are visually very obvious, such as crash rails that protect hallways from damage caused by passing carts and beds, while others are more subtle, like wall sheeting.
Surface protection is any product that is installed in order to protect a surface or substrate from damage, make it easier to keep clean, and ultimately to prolong its life. It has key benefits in terms of extending the length of time between refurbishments or upgrades of interiors, and is also an important element of infection control strategy.
Surface protection in care home environments
The most important property of surface protection products is their durability – they have to be tougher than the surfaces they are designed to protect. Commonly used substrates include stainless steel, vinyl, fibreglass and PVC – not materials we would usually associate with ‘homey’ interiors.
Years ago, there was very little choice when it came to interior specialties for care homes – they simply ended up with the same clinical-looking finishes used in hospitals. But today, there’s a huge amount of choice available, which means it’s very possible for architects and designers to successfully blend surface protection into care home interiors while maintaining a genuine home-from-home aesthetic.
Wall sheeting is designed to protect wall surfaces from general wear and tear that can damage paintwork or drywall and lead to an interior looking grubby and tired in a short space of time. However, modern wall sheeting products offer much more than just protection. From 3D faux wainscoting to full-height panelling and even custom wall murals, wall sheeting can enhance as well as protect a care home interior. There are many different options available, including realistic faux wood effects and a wide range of colours that allow care homes to create truly customized interiors. There are even wall sheeting options that double up as a design finish, such as the incredible Ricochet flexible wall protection, which combines the look and texture of a conventional wallpaper with the durability of rigid sheet protection.
Wall guards or crash rails are an important part of any interior where wheeled beds, wheelchairs or heavy equipment are in use. The size and weight of these types of equipment mean that they are prone to bumping up against wall and door surfaces in transit, and this can quickly lead to unsightly scrapes and gouges that are also a haven for germs. Wall guards can also be used to protect specific areas from damage – for example, the space behind a bed, a head wall, or environments where chairs and other furniture tend to lean up against the wall.
The type of wall guard used depends very much on the environment and particular care home, if there’s a need for robust protection combined with an unobtrusive look. Although a fairly significant element of surface protection, wall guards are surprisingly easy to blend into an interior. Choosing a vinyl product that closely matches the main wall colour allows them to immediately recede into the background, while selecting a faux wood finish makes an elegant and inviting statement that won’t compromise on performance. Since many care homes have limited hallway traffic, a slim profile wall guard may offer enough protection while sitting almost flush to the wall, minimizing the potential for dirt and dust to gather.
Corners & Doors
Protection for wall corners, door frames and the doors themselves is an important component of overall surface protection since these points often bear the brunt of the damage within a care home environment. Corner protection can be easily blended into an interior by matching to the adjacent wall protection, although clear polycarbonate options are also available for a virtually invisible appearance.
For door protection, stainless steel remains a popular and highly durable option, but vinyl door guards and kickplates are an excellent alternative and come in a wide range of colours that can be matched to existing paintwork if required.
Although not strictly a form of wall protection, handrails do play a vital role in this regard since they prevent people from using the wall itself for support, thus reducing wear and tear. Previously, many care homes turned to wooden handrail as a warmer and more domestic-looking alternative to the stainless steel or vinyl handrails often found in healthcare settings, but this trend is now reversing due to concerns about the porosity of wood and its ability to harbour germs. For care homes still wishing to create a warm and welcoming aesthetic, faux wood handrail offers an ideal alternative that looks virtually identical to wood while also being non-porous and able to withstand frequent cleaning. Solid or coloured vinyl handrail can also blend perfectly into more contemporary care home settings, and there’s even the option to choose an antimicrobial treatment to offer additional peace of mind.