Blog: a colourful/neatly set table

Some time ago we were at one of the projects we designed in Veenendaal. There we talked to one of the employees, who came with a nice anecdote. Not long before we had namely given a tour and presentation. We wanted to give insight in the design choices and provide information how one should deal with the lighting, for example.

One of the choice we had made was to place eight different chairs near the dining table. Chairs with a high back, low back, with arm rests, without arm rests, high seat, low seat and so on. We found the cohesion to use the same types of wood and by matching the fabrics with each other.

The employee had paid good attention and when setting the table also placed the tableware in the same, diverse way. The tableware consists of white plates with four different coloured edges. The cups and soup bowls matches this. By adding the coloured edge a good contrast is created between the table and the tableware. Therefore, this is clearly visible for people with dementia. This carer had placed a yellow cup on a saucer with a blue edge and the green soup bowl with the red cup and the plate with the green edge. The result was a colourful total.

However, when one of the residents came to the table she could not contain herself: ‘what have you done now?!’ was her reaction. This resident had lost all overview on the table. Any logic was missing for her and she only saw chaos. Within seconds she was reorganising the table. The red cups were places on the saucers with the red edge again with the same plate and matching soup bowl. Only after she had finished she looked at the result with satisfaction. She established order again.

What the employee did not understand is why this resident did consider the eight different chairs as ‘organised’ and not the mixed tableware. Of course, this is a natural question and we needed some time to think about this. The answer to this is actually not that difficult.

The chairs are experienced as a unity because they match each other in terms of materials (wood colour and fabrics). This also matched the rest of the interior. An interior is thereby always a collection of loose elements that do not belong together. The choice of material, design and placement determines if a unity is created. This also determines the atmosphere of an area. If this is implemented well, unity and peace is created that is important for someone with dementia.

With the tableware this is a different story. A red cup clearly belongs with the red saucer. The choice for bright, contrasting colours underlines this. We naturally already have the tendency to look for order and logic. This is only reinforced for someone with dementia. This lady also had this experience and was therefore looking for a way to recapture order and logic.

Does this mean that we are not allowed to never place the tableware differently? Np, of course not. Not all people with dementia will experience it in this way. Plus, this lady did not suffer from this as she had influence on the experience. However, it is good to realise ourselves that this influence and so autonomy is very important. Only if the tableware had been glued to the table, a real problem would have occurred. Then the lady would have been unable to adjust the situation and that would have caused incomprehension and agitation.

So we like to provide the advice to always support this autonomy of the resident. If people with dementia have influence on their environment, this removes a lot of unrest and agitation. If Mr. de Vries want to turn the chair or Mrs. van Dalen want to rearrange the cabinet, the interior must support this. Especially when safety is not affected and other people are not disturbed by this.

Anja Dirks - 04 June 2016
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