A labor and delivery room at Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne, Fla. The room, designed by HKS, features family seating, an occasional table, and a computer station within the headwall cabinetry.

A labor and delivery room at Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne, Fla. The room, designed by HKS, features family seating, an occasional table, and a computer station within the headwall cabinetry.

Credit: HKS

If you're rushed to the hospital with acute appendicitis, you won't get much of a say in how your room looks—and the color palette is bound to be the least of your worries. But "well patients," those who are planning to undergo an elective procedure or give birth, often prove to be more exacting healthcare consumers. In the case of labor and delivery rooms (LDRs) and postpartum rooms, expectant mothers and fathers may shop around their local hospitals, touring multiple labor and delivery units before choosing the one they like best. Increasingly, a comfortable in-room area where other family members can visit, dine, and sleep over with mother and baby is high on their list.

Over the last 10 or 15 years, maternity units around the country have been given upscale, hotel-style features and finishes that patients want and hospitals need in order to compete with peer institutions. "Nobody's building traditional birthing departments anymore," says Mo Stein, a principal and senior vice president at HKS in Phoenix. "The trend of making the LDR less about 'sickness' and more of a welcoming, healthful environment has been around for quite a long time." Rick Abbott, vice president and healthcare principal at HDR, offers a blunt explanation as to why: "If you're paying four, five grand a night" for a hospital stay, which more people do as costs rise, "you should have a room that's worth it."

Typical of this movement toward luxury birthing suites is the Bayhealth Center for Women and Infants at Bayhealth Medical Center in Dover, Del., which opened in 2005. Inside Bayhealth's patient rooms, indirect lighting and wooden cabinetry create a hotel-like ambience. Moreover, as in a hotel suite, furnishings don't end with the bed and nightstand. "The family has a nice place to sleep over and stay with [the patient]," says Stephanie Brady, an interior designer at Ewing Cole who worked on the project. A sleep sofa made by Brayton International accommodates one adult and, by day, allows family members to sit together as they visit with mother and baby—rather than being "broken out throughout the room," Brady observes. Likewise, HDR's Betty H. Cameron Women's and Children's Hospital, at New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, N.C., will open in August with postpartum rooms featuring a sleep sofa, a small desk, and two guest chairs as well as cherry cabinetry and Corian counters.

Until recently, if an architect or designer tried to create a family zone, "there might be a recliner or [single] patient chair, but not as much accommodation as there is now," according to Julie Opheim, director of healthcare interiors for HKS. Two big changes have made the family zone possible: the fact that patient rooms keep getting bigger and a wider range of furnishings designed with families in mind. Debbie Breunig, vice president of healthcare marketing for KI, also cites the influence of the baby boomer generation and its desire to be active, involved grandparents. As the boomers' children become parents, the definition of family now "goes beyond dad ... and becomes [the] extended family."

Family members can read or check e-mail from the hospital while ensconced in KI's Flex lounge sleeper or patient chair, shown flanking a Flex end table.

Family members can read or check e-mail from the hospital while ensconced in KI's Flex lounge sleeper or patient chair, shown flanking a Flex end table.

Credit: KI

KI first responded to this market need several years ago with a prototype daybed it devised for the pediatric unit of a hospital in Chicago. Its current signature offering is the LaResta daybed, which seats four adults and folds down to a sleep surface for one. The LaResta can be built-in or freestanding and is customizable. It has generous storage and an intuitive design that makes it easy for patients and nurses to use—and these features are about more than convenience, Breunig points out. "If a family member can be shown [how to use] the product at the time of admission, they don't have to come out to the desk to ask. It frees up the time of the nurse" to care for patients. And thanks to built-in storage, the nurse "isn't sidetracked by having to go get a pillow," says Breunig, a registered nurse herself. Over the past few years, she notes, KI has seen "unbelievable," double-digit growth in the sleepover category.

For the LDRs at the new PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend, near Eugene, Ore., interior designer Mary Lee of Anshen + Allen has specified KI's Soltice glider (for the new moms) as well as furnishings that aren't made specifically for healthcare uses: a movable table by Harter and the PlyFold chair by Sauder (which can hang on a wall hook when it's not being used). Lee also specified a custom daybed. Each family zone will have outlets for plugging in a laptop as well as wireless internet access.

Family members can read or check e-mail from the hospital while or on the LaResta daybed, shown here next to an Orlo table and with optional storage arm.

Family members can read or check e-mail from the hospital while or on the LaResta daybed, shown here next to an Orlo table and with optional storage arm.

Credit: KI

A guiding principle of the whole campus—which opens in August—was to design a "physical and emotional setting that supports both the patient and the family," says Lee; therefore, all patient rooms (not just the LDRs) include family zones.

One aspect of the New Hanover project is less obvious than the flat-screen TVs and ceramic-tile bathrooms but potentially more significant: All the rooms are same-handed (the bed and supplies are always in the same place), a measure that has been shown to reduce the rate of medical errors. As evidence-based design continues its ascent, the LDR of the future will include even more features proven to speed recuperation—not least, the healing presence of family.