To help her clients navigate loss and mourning, Copenhagen mental health practitioner Xanthippi de Vito has turned traditional clinic design completely on its head. Rather than sterile white walls, she embraces pastel purple and deep blue. In place of a leather couch, she offers a daybed cushioned with rubber granules that were originally intended for playground surfaces. Or, if visitors are feeling anxious, they can cozy up into a beanbag chair covered in stretchy yellow fringe that they can pick and pull at.
De Vito’s facilitation practice, Post Service, is the brainchild of multidisciplinary Copenhagen design studio Tableau. Although the firm had no previous experience with healthcare projects, de Vito was drawn to its offbeat aesthetic and worked with Tableau’s creative director Julius Vaernes Iversen and architect Katrine Morel to explore design as a “non-verbal form of nourishment.”
The outcome is a space that feels intimate and inviting but also curious and unfamiliar. Elements like soft surfaces that initially appear hard — and vice versa — can help with the mourning process by challenging people to engage with feelings and thoughts outside their comfort zone. “They have no choice but to be surprised — and no choice but to embody mindfulness,” de Vito says.
Meanwhile, other healthcare designers are exploring similarly whimsical concepts, albeit in slightly less avant-garde ways. “A design for a healing environment can include elements of surprise and delight that create positive distractions to help alleviate people’s tension and distress,” says Alice Liang, principal emeritus at Montgomery Sisam Architects. In the world of evidence-based design, this might translate into a colourful accent wall, uplifting artwork or lounge-like furniture.
But when it comes to destigmatizing mental health, there is also value in engaging the public with bold spectacle. After inviting people to tour de Vito’s space during Copenhagen’s 3 Days of Design last September, Tableau is now working with her to develop a follow-up environment for Milan’s 2022 Salone del Mobile. With fresh ideas and a bit of fringe, they’re showing that clinical space can be more than just a calming backdrop — it can also play an active role in the therapeutic process.
A Copenhagen “end-of-life doula” makes interactive designs a key part of her unconventional clinic.