Maharam Healthcare Textiles And Rethinking Hospital Design
In Thomas Mann’s 1903 Tristan, a sanatorium patient’s wife asks one of her husband’s neighbors, Herr Spinell, what’s landed him there. “Oh, I’m having myself electrified a bit,” he responds. “Nothing worth mentioning. I will tell you the real reason why I am here, madame. It is for a feeling of style.” He goes on to elucidate the difference between how one feels among “furniture that is soft and comfortable and voluptuous” versus among the then radical “brightness and hardness this cold, austere simplicity and reserved strength.” The Modernist hospital style, for the infirm Herr Spinell has “the ultimate effect of an inward purification and rebirth.” This comical scene is among the evidence that architectural historian Beatriz Colomina gathered to point out how, in the early 20th century, “The sanitorium aesthetic was itself medicinal — able to transform a building into a form of therapy.”
This is just as true today as it was a century ago. “When you go into a space and it’s well-designed and well-considered, it can have a calming effect,” says Megan Younge, a senior designer at Maharam, the American textile manufacturer perhaps best known for its luxe upholstery fabrics, but also a major supplier of healthcare textiles. “When you go to a hospital we want it to be an experience that’s a little bit warmer and comforting versus sterile and harsh. It’s comforting when a space feels like there’s been that attention to detail put into it.”
In the time of COVID, more and more people are coming into hospitals and healthcare spaces and the demand being placed on the healthcare environment has perhaps never been so intense. And not only are hospitals being put under strain, but buildings and even tents are being adapted to medical use, requiring the introduction of privacy curtains and other healthcare basics. Responding to the crisis, Maharam is donating fabrics to organizations across the country rapidly converting spaces like hotels into temporary centers for COVID-19 patients, as well giving textiles to make protective garments for healthcare workers.
This global emergency has served as a renewed reminder for the many things, even beyond traditional medicine, that go into patient-centered care. “When we’re designing for a healthcare setting, we’re really trying to think about what could make the patient feel better,” Younge explains. “We really want to try to look through the eyes of the patient and think about their experience.”
While healthcare is largely in emergency-mode right now, it’s more than ever a part of everyday discourse. This is due to the pandemic, as well as, in the United States, because of calls for a universal healthcare system. As we collectively rethink what healthcare can and should look like, it’s vital to start a conversation around how holistic care includes design. “When you go to a hospital we want it to be an experience that’s a little bit warmer and comforting versus sterile and harsh,” says Younge. “My ideal hospital would be modern and airy,” she says imaging if she had free rein. “I definitely don’t want anything that feels institutional or feels like our doctor’s office in the ’80s with peach and seafoam green.” Maybe there can be a certain softness, she says, “a fabric could be some sort of chenille or a bouclé or like a slub yarn.” And, while she’s a big believer in a bold pattern or splash of color she also won’t avoid a thoughtful arrangement of neutrals or grays or even black. “Black’s one of the nicest colors! I’m not afraid to try and use it.”
Text by Drew Zeiba.
Photography by Nick Ballon. Courtesy Maharam.