Sally Sullivan - Why bother saving a few pennies on decorating materials when they could be making you ill?
Nightingale Interiors' design philosophy is to create "healing environments" where lighting, colour, materials, textures and art are combined in a coherent whole that aids the healing process begun by medical staff. Naturally, when we look at materials, we like to use non-harmful ones. I do not use the term "green" because that goes into the realms of sustainability and recyclability, although we are keen on this and I do my bit in recycling my household waste. However, green issues in architecture are debated long and hard by people who understand these things better than I do.

My concern is that we do what we can using colour psychology – getting the lighting right and encouraging NHS trusts to consider all kinds of art – because often we surround patients with unnatural materials that give off lots of toxins.

Weighing up the advantages
The environment we are creating needs natural products, but this presents us with a dilemma. Take wood, for example. A real wood floor is beautiful and warm – a bit noisy, but it gives the feeling of luxury and comfort. However, to make it practical for hospital use, it needs to be sealed with a synthetic lacquer.

Another material we like to use is linoleum, which again is a natural product. However, we recently discovered that one manufacturer has replaced the jute backing with a synthetic weave. While this does not negate the product's other qualities, it does make you feel as though you are taking two steps forward and one step back.

Our other problem is cost. Flooring counts for a large proportion of the materials we use, and this is our biggest problem. It is difficult to persuade the people paying for a project to take a long-term view on patient recovery and spend a little extra, so that the patient is surrounded by as many natural products as possible.

It is not only patients that are affected by the products we use; painters have the highest incident of respiratory problems of any trade. This is probably a result of the practice of applying paint in spray form, so as well as specifying water-based paints, perhaps we should specify brush application as well. A spray application may be more economical and produce a smoother finish, but perhaps there would be fewer cases of bronchial problems taking up doctors' time and hospital beds if it were not used.

A spray application is more economical, but would there be fewer cases of bronchial trouble if one was not used?

When you start looking into the world of user-friendly products for healthcare venues, you instantly realise that there are no guidelines available. Moreover, manufacturers will make claims about a product's "greenness" that (from a designer's point of view) are impossible to investigate, unless you happen to have a chemistry degree and understand what all the ingredients are.

Creating a five-star environment
Despite this, manufacturers are making more of an effort to improve the friendliness of their products. One company produces a range of PVCu floorings that use no chlorine, which is great, but the rest of the ingredients are still synthetic. Others are producing coloured plasters, but unfortunately most large buildings are dry-lined, so the product is useful in refurbishment or small-scale new build, but not in places where it would make a great impact. Another company is producing "eco-paint" – I still do not know what this is made of or how it is ecological, but I would encourage this line of thought.

My company may have picked the wrong field to pioneer natural environments, but it is where they would have the most benefit.

This must be an area where the synthetic nature of many finishing products is challenged.