ABOVE: Scholarship winner Chalie Horton with Rebecca Donner of Inner Design Studio.//SUBMITTED
By BAILEY BASHAM
Thirty years ago, Rebecca Donner was a student at O’More College of Design.
She was studying interior design and was doing an internship with a residential design company when she realized her interests didn’t jibe with that type of design. After graduation, she began working with a company that did commercial design, which included the healthcare sector. That’s when she found her place.
In 1993, Donner founded Inner Design Studio, and this year, in celebration of the Brentwood studio’s 25th anniversary, she established a one-time scholarship at Belmont University, which acquired O’More in February of this year.
The scholarship recipient is Chalie Horton, a senior at Belmont University. Horton plans to follow the same path as Donner and focus on design in the healthcare world.
“My mom found a drawing of a skyline that I did when I was six-years-old, so I’ve been interested in design for a while. It wasn’t until I was twelve that I discovered that interior design was what I wanted to pursue,” she said.
At Inner Design, Donner said the first step is understanding the scope of the work and how the needs of the consumer can be addressed by the budget.
“With interior design, you can go into several different directions, and I think healthcare is overlooked quite a bit. It doesn’t get a whole lot of positive press because people think it’s boring, but it’s not. It’s a little bit of everything,” she said. “We need to understand the scope of the work, and of course the budget is always the challenge. One of the most important steps is that we bring the infectious disease people in to talk about cleanliness and how products need to stand up to a bleach solution. After that, we start a schematic design and start to show them our vision, and from there, there are a lot of things that are simply code-dictated like handrails.”
Donner said unlike some areas of design, the healthcare sector moves quickly — owners of the business are wanting to see the building completed as quickly as possible so they can start turning loans into profits.
“It’s really fast-paced, and I love that. You’re also trying to make an interior for someone to heal, and that in itself is so rewarding. We’ve learned so much about how the interiors can affect your rate of healing, and we do a lot of evidence-based design,” she said.
Donner said implementing evidence-based design principles involves considering everything the patient will be going through while in recovery.
Daylight helps with healing
“Turning the space into a healing environment means we try to get as much daylight in as possible and make sure the lighting can be dimmable. We concentrate a lot on acoustics as well, which can be a challenge as cleanliness specifies a lot of hard surfaces. We have to find things that can absorb all the noise,” she said.
Tenets of evidence-based design principles include giving patients more control over things like the lighting and temperature in the room, as well as facilitating a connection between the patient and what is happening outside of the recovery room.
“There’s a lot of studies out there that talk about patients that are sitting in their beds looking out the window at the tops of buildings versus a patient that looks out over trees and nature. The patients that stare at buildings tend to recover slower,” Donner said. “There’s another study that talks about acoustics — we all have been in a situation where we’ve been in a hospital room with alarms going off and nurses running down the corridors. It can be difficult to rest and heal with all that noise, so we beef up the ceiling with tiles to absorb the sound or acoustical panels on the wall. We have to make their patient room a place where they can actually rest.”
Patients go with the flow
One principle that is just as much visitor-focused as it is patient-centric is the way a building is designed for its flow. Walking through a hospital, it won’t be hard to find a confused person standing in front of a directory with arrows pointing in every direction possible. Donner said part of her design work is making sure that flow comes naturally.
“We try to make things flow through floor patterns or the way we design a reception desk, like making it feel like you should go to the right instead of the left because that’s the way the room moves,” she said.
For Horton, who sees interior design as like artwork you get to live in, the scholarship and the relationship with Inner Design came at a good time.
“ It’s important to realize that interior design is much more than picking pillows or wall colors — healthcare design in particular gives you the ability to connect space and the well-being of others, and this can be a great responsibility,” she said. “This scholarship has come at a sort of coming-of-age time for me in my design career. I am in my senior year, and I am immersing myself into the design world, so this scholarship gave me affirmation that my passion for design can become a successful career.”