Safety vs Aesthetics
In this month’s blog, we’ll be looking at one of the key questions in the design and manufacture of furniture for challenging environments: how can we strike the right balance between the need for safe, robust furniture for mental health and the goal of creating the most welcoming, therapeutic environment possible ?
One example of the way in which safety can often be prioritized over aesthetics in mental health care furniture is in the use of heavy-duty solid plastic items, such as those often found in prisons or young offenders’ institutions. Although undoubtedly safe in the sense that they are hard to disassemble and weaponize (see previous blog – The Role of Furniture in managing Challenging Behaviours ) , solid, monochrome plastic furniture can leave a lot to be desired on the aesthetic front, and may unfortunately create an increased sense of ‘institutionalization’ in the individuals serviced by this furniture.
In many low and even medium secure mental health environments, the goal of therapy is to create as much ‘normality’ as possible so the careful planning of the physical environment can have a key impact on the therapeutic process. When you take this requirement into consideration, it is clear that the use of block-like plastic furniture may potentially have an institutionalizing or even infantilizing impact on the individuals it is provided to.
For this reason we at Tough Furniture believe that a more sophisticated approach to planning mental health environments requires the use of more traditional, domestic-looking approaches to furniture manufacture, alongside the more intrusive but sometimes necessary deployment of plastic ‘correctional facility’ type items.
For this reason we continue to manufacture the majority of our products in wood or wood based materials, allowing the safety and security features to be built-in ‘under the surface’ in the custom made components, security fixings, and specialist manufacturing techniques that go into assembling one of our items. While potentially more susceptible to damage or destruction than plastic items, traditional looking furniture offers a lot more in terms of the domestic aesthetic that many mental health care environments are looking to provide.
And of course in many cases, the apparent conflict between safety and aesthetics is not actually a conflict at all. For example, one of the most popular products in the Tough Furniture range in recent years has been our Ligature Reduction TV cabinets, which feature a sloping top and bottom to minimize the risk of ligatures being tied off on the unit. Interestingly, this basic safety feature is often commented on as one of the main aesthetic benefits of the item – the streamlined, reduced profile it creates allowing it to snugly and unobtrusively fit into communal areas or bedrooms, and thereby helping it to ‘deinstitutionalize’ the environment slightly.
Likewise, with many of the upholstery products we offer, the safety and security requirements of the manufacturing process are all carried out under the surface with our fully boarded-out ply interiors that create a solid, robust item on the inside – but maintain a traditional, homely appearance on the outside.
In conclusion, there is clearly room in the field of mental health care provision for all sorts of specialist products, and in some extreme cases the level of challenging behaviour or risk of harm for people with highly specific mental health needs may necessitate the use of plastic, ‘institutional’ furniture, but wherever possible this need should be balanced with the requirement for the creation of welcoming, homely environments – and consideration of this balance is at the heart of everything we do at Tough Furniture.