Sally Sullivan - Hospitals don't have to look so drab, but it will take manufacturers' help to brighten them up
Why are grey and brown often manufacturers' favourite colours? For the past decade, I've been designing interiors for an architectural practice that specialises in hospitals. Within the practice, we've found that there is a whole world of healing potential in the interior finishes of a building that is being totally ignored.

We believe that colour, lighting, materials and art are the four areas that have most impact on the success of an internal space. However, these elements do not work independently of each other but need to be considered together to form a coherent message.

When we first set up the interior design section, we worked exclusively on Nightingale Associates' existing schemes. The architects in the practice would check out the suitability, sustainability, price and quality of the finishes; but not whether the product had a good colour range.

We felt we could not tolerate this situation because we have such a strong belief in the healing quality of colour – it can give the right feel to a space and enable the environment to de-stress patients.

So we asked a few manufacturers why their ranges consisted almost entirely of grey, beige and brown. Our favourite reply was: "These have been our best sellers for the past 20 years." That really says it all! We then decided to approach manufacturers we dealt with regularly and tell them our problems.

Having arranged a seminar to explain just how we work and why colour is so important to us, we targeted some major companies.

We needed to cover the majority of finishes that make up the interior – flooring, specialist wall coverings, wall and door protection systems, and fabrics. Many of the laminate manufacturers already have a good palette and design variety.

If we could get a core of companies, which already had quality products and good track records on environmental issues, to listen to our needs with regard to colour, all aspects of our clients' requirements could be catered for.

Manufacturers have to stop treating healthcare designers as the poor relations of the industry

We were pleasantly surprised that many of the major manufacturers were very happy to listen to our ideas. Indeed, they understood the benefits, both to us and themselves, of updating their ranges.

If more manufacturers consulted with a variety of designers before bringing out new products, they could cut months off their research programmes and also have advance warning of likely best-selling colours, allowing them to plan accordingly.

It is amazing that this kind of dialogue has not happened before – surely it makes far more sense to show new proposals to designers than to present a range that has not quite enough variety, or misses out a section of colour? Our next step is to question why manufacturers' healthcare ranges have even less colour variety than their standard ranges.

One large wallpaper company has a "healthcare range" that consists of only four colours. Admittedly there are several patterns within that colour range, but only four colourways.

Manufacturers have to stop treating healthcare designers as the poor relations of the industry. What we do is just as important as any other design sector and we are very passionate about it, so we will keep campaigning to drag the manufacturers of healthcare products into the new millennium, with new colours.

If any other designers wish to join us in the crusade, they will be very welcome.