Research & development

De-institutionalising furniture for healthcare

Research overview

Furniture in clinical environments can be dated and drab, often favouring low cost functionality at the expense of well designed, functional and attractive alternatives.  Such an approach is evident throughout much of the NHS estate, populated with unattractive furniture which continues to perpetuate an institutional feeling in many of our healthcare buildings.

This research stream seeks to establish economically and functionally viable alternatives to the standard NHS furniture palette. Such alternatives should provide good value for money, be safe, meet infection control requirements, have good whole-life costs and be sustainable.

Following a detailed literature review, a set of criteria has been developed which can influence furniture selection during the design, specification, and procurement process. These include;

  • Functionality
  • Costs and lead times across different options
  • Supply limitations / concerns long-term
  • Use of natural and recycled materials
  • Infection control risks
  • Whole life costing
  • End of life processes

Interestingly, aesthetic style and comfort tend not to feature significantly in this selection process. Dialogue with the furniture manufacturers has identified a number of opportunities for future discussion and collaboration for the development of new items, a change in customer preferences for furniture following the pandemic, and increased sustainability pressure on manufacturers in the current sustianbility-aware environment.

Current status

This research stream is on-going and discursive in nature, focusing on drawing together viewpoints and facilitating ideas-exchange from multiple stakeholders. Over the last year this our approach has included extensive discussion, research trips and presentations from manufacturers, liaising with patient groups and clinical teams to capture their views, and holding workshops at healthcare design conferences. Our next presentation and workshop on our findings will be held at the European Healthcare Design conference in London in June 2024 (

Our research team for this project includes

Andrew Bertram – Senior Consultant
Rose Jago – Consultant
Matt Hammond – Consultant