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Colorful fabrics calm hospital patients

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Calming fabric colors, patterns and textures create an ambiance much desired in health-care settings, from surgery waiting rooms to newborn intensive care to psych units. Ever since a 1985 study that showed that a specific color, Baker-Miller pink, reduced aggression among prison inmates and patients in mental-health institutions, designers have been seeking a look that soothes and subdues the stressed.

The Luscher Color Test was devised by psychologist Max Luscher in 1969, and it has been a marketing and advertising staple ever since. (Take the test at When the book “Color Me Beautiful” by Carole Jackson overtook office romance as a hot topic among women, “spring, summer, fall and winter” shades were claimed to influence, enhance and generate emotional well-being.

Selecting colors to calm isn’t easy, especially in international markets, where colors may connote different meanings. In general, blue is thought to reduce mental excitability, signify trustworthy characteristics and suggest cleanliness, most likely for its associations with water. However, green is considered cooling, healthy and natural in western cultures, but has varying vibes in France, China and the Middle East. Muted or dulled colors are calming, reduce stress and expand space, according to Expression Décor, Los Angeles, Calif.

Louise Russell, a designer working with Carnegie Fabrics Inc., Rockville Centre, N.Y., touts her new Fresh Air fabric collection as possessing such healing powers. A proponent of vibrational medicine, Russell sees her fabrics as “emitting an energetic field that … would help to bring harmony within yourself.” She worked with serene nature photographs to develop the seven Fresh Air patterns, seeking a visual way to stimulate healing vibrations in clinical spaces.

“Everything in the universe is mere vibration,” Russell says. “I’m creating a product that will influence the environment and that will have an influence on the individuals within the environment.” It’s one new option for health-care facilities seeking to color their patients’ world.

Katherine Carlson is a freelance writer and editor based in St. Paul, Minn.

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