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The importance of contrast in design

We recently spoke with Victoria Croft, Founder of The Juniper Partnership Interior Designs and the designer behind several of our beautiful homes, about the importance of contrast in design.

Contrast is a fundamental element of interior design because it adds visual interest to a space to make it striking and impactful.  Whilst good design should create a sense of harmony, too much of the same can become monotonous. In care homes, however, the need for good levels of contrast is even more important, especially for those living with dementia.

The Chantry Tea Rooms at Chapter House

As we age, we begin to lose our eyesight making it more difficult to see the differences between surfaces.  A Light Reflectance Value (LRV) is a measure that is used in the design world. LRV is the total quantity of visible and usable light (on all wavelengths and in every direction) reflected by surfaces that are illuminated by a light source. Every part of an interior has an LRV level, for example, carpets, wall coverings and furniture which all create definition by using a minimum contrast of 30% between surfaces is recommended.

A chair seat upholstery would ideally be at least 30% different to the flooring providing sufficient contrast, so that an ageing eye can easily tell where the seat is, thus minimising falls and accidents. The use of a contrasting piping too can make a chair look more appealing, whilst also helping to aid orientation.

For wall coverings, the use of contrast as a feature wall or using different coloured walls not only provides a focal point and prevents a room looking flat and boring, it also makes it easier for residents to orientate in the rooms. It also defines the difference between the floor and wall or the furniture from dressing table for example.

When selecting flooring for a care environment, however, contrasts should be kept as low as possible. Selecting tonally similar colours and shades should be considered when flooring moves from room to room and even on the thresholds between different types of floor. The difference in flooring from a bedroom carpet to an ensuite floor can be seen as a step for those with failing eyesight even when it is completely flat. Any sudden changes in the tone (or LRV Level) of flooring could be perceived as a black hole and could cause fear and anxiety in movement.

Good design in the care sector is based on so much more than aesthetics. The use of contrast in the right way can aid residents’ well-being and also help them to maintain their independence.

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