Accessible furniture in hospital setting



The layout and design of furniture plays a key role in ensuring that areas are welcoming and accessible for all users. The right choice of furniture spacing, height and ergonomic design will help promote independent movement, assist with spatial awareness, and provide needed resting points.

HBN 00-01 General Design Guidance for Healthcare Buildings
HBN 11-01, Facility for Primary and Community Care

The type of furniture selected and where it is positioned can alter the mood and perception of space within a room. Choosing furniture that’s less institutional looking and arranging it informally can make a space feel more inviting, accessible, and personal.

Recommended standards:

In waiting areas, chairs should be laid out in a non-institutional arrangement that doesn’t hinder visibility between staff and end users.

  • Orientate the furniture so that reception desks or appointment call systems are visible and clear to patients. This helps reduce anxiety around missing an appointment.
  • Avoid cluttered furniture layouts as they can disorientate, making it hard to navigate a space, especially for those with cognitive challenges.
  • Using furniture that looks familiar will lessen users’ confusion. Non-institutional looking furniture will help to ease patients’ anxiety and improve the patient experience.
  • Contrast the furniture colour with that of the floor and walls to help users easily identify furniture and prevent falls.
  • Please also see the Walls and Flooring sections for further information.

When deciding on furniture consider building users’ sensory and mobility impairments and promote safety, independence, and interaction. Colour coordinated furniture and interior design can help users recognise furniture.

The height of furniture needs to suit a variety of users. Where possible, provide height adjustable furniture. If this isn’t possible then then provide furniture at different heights. The sizes and heights are listed below and reflect regulatory documents and should guide the provision of the relevant types of furniture. British Standards 8300-2: Design of an accessible and inclusive build environment.

Recommended standards:

Provide furniture in a variety of sizes, including seating, so all users of all sizes, posture and mobility can use the furniture.

  • In staff and patient areas, provide furniture at variable heights, for example seats, desks and tables to accommodate all building users and encourage social interaction.
  • Provide chairs with armrests to help those who need support when moving from sitting or standing.
  • All furniture should be robust and steady so that it can be used for support. Unstable furniture increases the risk of patient falls.
  • Tables in waiting and social areas can help with independence. Tables provide a surface for magazines which can help make a space feel less institutional and can provide a positive distraction.
  • Chairs with seats should be 450 – 475mm above the floor. Slightly higher seats may be more convenient for those with restricted mobility.
  • Rows of seats facing in the same direction should have at least 1200mm allow others to pass down the rows.
  • Chairs should have empty space beneath them to allow users to change the position of their feet.

When arranging furniture, consider those users with wheelchairs, pushchairs, mobility aids or those with other requirements such as those who use assistance dogs. Choose furniture that provides the same level of comfort to all building users and promotes ease of movement throughout a space.

Recommended standards:

  • When furnishing a space, consider the size, quantity and position of furniture so there is enough space for users to move around. Consider those using wheelchairs, mobility scooters, and those with assistance dogs or children.
  • The seating layout in waiting areas needs to accommodate wheelchair users and parents with pushchairs and buggies. When parked, the required space is 1600mm x 900, with additional space for manoeuvre of 2400x 2400mm.
  • Provide a clear space within each seating row to allow an assistance dog to sit and rest next to its owner.
  • Position chairs at intervals along circulation routes to allow users to stop and rest if necessary. Ideally this should be within a dedicated waiting space as not to hinder flow in on corridors.
  • Position furniture to ensure it does not obstruct door openings, circulation routes or interfere with the opening and closing of windows.
  • Further guidance on furniture layout can be found in Health Building Note 00-01: General design guidance for healthcare buildings and Health Building Note 00-03: Clinical and clinical support spaces.

Contrasting the colour of surfaces and features in a building helps users to assess and navigate their environment safely. Furniture should be clearly visible to promote users’ independence and safety.

Recommended standards:

  • Contrast the furniture colour with that of the floor and walls to help users easily identify furniture and prevent falls.
    Consider the Light Reflectance Values [LRV]of the adjacent surface colours when looking at colour contrasts. A difference in LRV of 30 points is considered a sufficient contrast.

Health and safety when considering furniture use and placement is vital to ensure safety and no possibility of harm to end users.

Recommended standards:

  • Furniture that can be stood on should not be located close to balcony edges, and balustrades or used to reach items that are mounted high on walls or mounted to a ceiling.
  • Don’t position furniture where it could create a concealed or unobserved area. The height of furniture, such as chairs, should not block a building user’s sightline or obscure any signs.
  • Building users’ security is a primary concern. In mental health facilities, minimise the harm to patients and other building users. This may involve using fixed or weighted furniture which is harder to break and can’t be easily used as a weapon or to cause harm to others.
  • This needs to be considered against the need for moveable, lightweight furniture which can be used to, for example, change a space from a waiting area to a group activity space. Safety should determine overall needs.
  • Further guidance on this matter can be found in Health Building Note 08-02 Dementia-friendly Health and Social Care Environments; Health Building Note 03-01: Adult acute mental health units and; HBN 03-02: Facilities for child and adolescent health services (CAMHS)

Furniture can be used to create a more comfortable acoustic environment with the use of soft furnishings which reduces excessive reverberation of sound. Avoiding intrusive noise is particularly beneficial for those with cognitive challenges and those with hearing and sensory impairments.

Recommended standards:

  • Use textured, soft materials to help absorb sound while ensuring that the material is durable, suitable for the designated areas and with consideration for the cleaning requirements.
  • Give special consideration to the use of soft material in large open spaces where excessive noise and reverberation can be a particular problem.
  • Further guidance on acoustics can be found in Health Technical Memorandum 08-01: Acoustics.
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