Safe furniture design should also be comfortable and stylish

With an increasing focus on creating stimulating mental health environments which nurture recovery, intelligent furniture design is playing a more important role than ever writes Neville Byng, sales and marketing consultant with healthcare furniture specialist Pineapple Contracts

In mental health and other challenging environments where safety is the primary focus, there are a number of furniture design features which should be incorporated to reduce

risk as much as possible.

Due to their height, wardrobes in particular present a number of ligature opportunities. Modifications can be made to reduce these risks: hanging rails can be replaced by half-depth

shelves with a recess to hold hangers; piano hinges that run the full length of the doors can be used in place of two separate hinges; and door handles can be re-designed to make them safer.

Chairs and sofas can also be adapted to make them more suited to challenging environments. Standard products can be internally reinforced and additional weight can be added in the

pursuit of improved safety and strength. For more complex needs, there are an increasing number of specially-designed products that are pushing the boundaries of design and

manufacture – using rotational moulding, for example – to provide better solutions to care-giving problems.

Infection control

Another important aspect to providing care in challenging environments is the management of incontinence. Sensitive design can make a huge difference for patients, but also to the

staff who are responsible for maintaining exemplary levels of hygiene.

Firstly, better ‘hygiene gaps’ can be designed, to minimise the amount of dirt which can become trapped on or in a piece of furniture in the first place.

When cleaning does become necessary, careful design can make the process less onerous and time consuming – which also increases the likelihood of regular cleaning – and can improve its effectiveness.


There is a wide range of commercial upholstery that is suitable for healthcare environments, in other words fire retardant to BS 7176:2007, ignition source 5. Water-resistant vinyl is most suited to challenging environments where staining can occur and regular cleaning is required. For projects that require a more homely look, water-resistant fabrics provide a hygienic solution with a more comfortable feel. Ultimately, a balance should be found between comfort and practicality.

Style and substance In previous years, furniture for challenging environments was more function-led – designed to be strong and durable but looking more like equipment than something found in an average living room. This subsequently made way for more homely, domestically styled products aiming to avoid the institutional look. Now demand is growing for innovative and unique products that are specially designed to improve care and exceed fire and safety requirements while managing to retain a cutting edge, design-led aesthetic.

These unique modern designs are of particular benefit in environments with mixed levels of care, where inclusion is an important aspect to consider. Specialist furniture that is

drastically different in appearance to more general furniture can serve to reinforce the stigma associated with mental health. A wide choice of products and vibrant contract fabrics makes it possible – with careful planning – to create an environment which seamlessly caters for a range of care needs without appearing divided.

Thoughtfully designed furniture can ultimately make a significant contribution when creating living spaces which engender pride among residents. It can help reduce outbreaks

of challenging behaviour while being strong and durable enough to withstand outbreaks, should they occur.