Can interiors heal?

Why Maggie’s is the charity of the design industry, by Annie Deakin
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The Independent Online

We are what we see. Or so we might like to believe. In which case, can interiors and architecture improve the wellbeing of a sick child or a cancer patient? ‘Absolutely,’ says textile designer Ella Doran who has worked with Maggie's Cancer Caring Centres and the NHS. 'I feel very strongly that architecture and interiors can heal your state of mind.' Next Thursday, design author Max Fraser will further discuss this theme at New Designers, the UK’s top design graduate show in Islington.

After Fraser lost his mother to cancer six years ago, he pledged to do something to help others battle the disease. The result is a fundraising project for Maggie's architect-designed retreats for day visitors undergoing cancer care. Earlier this year, he challenged over 100 new and established designers including Sir Terence Conran, Johanna Basford, Tom Dixon and Ella Doran to create an artwork that expresses the Joy of Living on a piece of A4 graph paper. The proceeds of each sale go to Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres. 'So many wonderful designers contributed to the Joy of Living project,’ he says. ‘I’m looking forward to bringing some of them together at New Designers to discuss their work and their approach to design. In the spirit of the original project, we will also be inviting students exhibiting at New Designers to visit the Maggie’s space to create their own original design on a piece of graph paper; so as well as the limited edition prints from established names, we will be able to feature original work from the design stars of tomorrow.' At New Designers, some of the most popular Joy of Living designs will be on display, with limited edition prints available to buy.

It was no surprise that such high profile arty names participated in Fraser's charity initiative. Maggie’s has long been the charity of choice for designers and architects. All the existing Maggie’s Centres – of which there are 11 – boast remarkable design kudos. World famous architects from Frank Gehry and Richard Rogers to Zaha Hadid and Piers Goug have designed Maggie’s Centres. ‘Maggie’s founder, Maggie Keswick Jencks, always stressed the importance of creating a welcoming, calm, yet uplifting environment in our centres,’ said Laura Lee, Chief Executive of Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres. ‘We have engaged with leading architects to design our existing centres, and our mission is to build more across the UK with the generous support of projects like this. Good design is core to our beliefs so it makes perfect sense to partner with the design industry on a project of this kind.’

Encouragingly, a report by the British Medical Associate revealed a link between physical environment and patient wellbeing. It read: ‘Architectural environment can significantly affect patients’ recovery times’ and that ‘patients make better progress in purpose-designed modern buildings than in older ones.’ And yet, let's not pretend that swanky architecture and flashy interiors can cure cancer. ‘I’m not going to profess that interior design will heal from terrible illnesses but it is invaluable to the healing process,’ says Doran. ‘I’ve just been designing curtains and tables for the paediatric ward of a brand new NHS hospital called Royal London in Whitechapel. My aim was to make the children feel better in an environment that is not easy to be in. My curtains feature an imaginary picture of London with a skyline of recognizable icons. They are curtains to get lost in and to take your mind off injections or whatever.’

A space can affect how you feel - but are we what we see? Faced with optimism, uplifting designs or a faceless space, I know which I’d choose. In the words of Doran, ‘Our environment is what makes us all.’

Annie Deakin is interiors writer for sofa and interior design website