Materials play key role as Nashville’s Inner Design Studio works to make healthcare environments more comfortable

Rebecca Donner fell in love with creating healthcare environments when she was first exposed to designing them more than 25 years ago, but she believed they could be more inviting and comfortable–more hospitable, if you will.  She pursued that idea with a passion, and it’s safe to say she has never looked back.

Donner owns Inner Design Studio in Nashville, and designing healthcare facilities with hospitality in mind is what she and her nine co-workers do. The approach has been successful: The company is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and it has completed more than 880 projects across 42 states—plus a few international projects—and holds seven state licenses.

“I just found there were different ways to approach things,” Donner said of her awakening about healthcare design. “When I started in the early 1990s, it had this very clinical look to it. And I believed we could make it look nicer—not more residential but more hospitality.”

Among elements that help create the right feel are materials, and Donner is a fan of laminates.

“We are huge proponents of laminate,” she said. “I think for the money and for the look, it’s fantastic.”

A free-standing addiction treatment center in Salem, Virginia, completed in 2017, offers great examples of strategic use of composite panels with decorative surfaces. The reception desk at Mount Regis Center is made of Wilsonart Park Elm high pressure laminate, with Frosty White as a backdrop. The vertical side panels in patient areas are made of Pionite Tiramisu HPL.

When Donner first got out of college, she worked mostly on museums and homes. When the economy slowed, she moved to a firm that specialized in healthcare, and her passion was ignited.

 “I fell in love with it. I loved the challenges. There is never a dull day, and there is constant collaboration—whether it’s with architects, engineers or code enforcers. And I like how fast it moves compared to the residential and museum world.”

Donner decided to go out on her own with the support of a key client, and she slowly grew her client base by following a marketing strategy of “never make anybody mad.”

“Healthcare, especially in Nashville, is very connected,” she said.