Shop Talk with Lauren Wesley Spear Vol. 9



For this edition of Shop Talk, the interview series where RBW’s friends and collaborators exchange ideas, discoveries, and sources of inspiration, architectural designer Lauren Wesley Spear discusses her role as Director of Space at Lifestance Health, one of the nation's largest outpatient mental healthcare providers.

Lifestance Health was founded in 2017 with the goal of providing accessible care to all demographics and modalities. As the company’s grown, Wesley Spear’s duty has been to foster a consistent, welcoming spatial experience across more than 450 clinics across 35 states. Here, she discusses the scientifically proven features of a comfortable, compassionate environment; new strides in the growing field of healthcare design; and the potential for lighting to improve going to the doctor’s office.

A sense of hospitality can seismically improve quality of care.

Mori pendant, in 3 different sizes — Squash, Nut, Gourd.

Let’s start with your role as Lifestance Health’s Director of Space, where you have the enormous task of redesigning hundreds of locations across the country. What was the atmosphere of these spaces, both before and after?

Lifestance Health acquires, merges with, and builds its own clinics to compose a large ecosystem of mental health providers — which allows them to in turn make care more affordable, accessible, and universal nationwide. Today there are more than 450 locations and growing. Mental health care spaces, and providers for that matter, have historically been very fragmented in this country. The environments have such range: dated, overly sterile, and lacking in professional integrity — while the providers are many times isolated, practicing alone, with little to no business and professional resources. Our task is to create consistent, compassionate, human-centric environments where wellbeing and comfort are at the forefront of the patient experience, while providing a place of community and support to the clinicians.

What kinds of features define compassionate, human-centric design? Can you describe the look and feel?

We know that a sense of hospitality can seismically improve quality of care. We really focus on simple patient comforts founded in the psychology of sensory experiences. One is what we call trueness to materiality, where our human receptors highly prefer the natural look and feel of sustainable, organic materials, rather than plastics and other synthetics. Our forms also veer toward the organic and away from angular, hard edges, and we lay out spaces symmetrically so that they’re easy to navigate. These are simple things that you wouldn't see or notice but form an innate part of our brand DNA.

Radient sconce in White Oak & Akoya pendant in Silk Grey

The Right Ambiance

How much do you consider lighting in a patient’s overall comfort and experience?

Of all the tactics we employ as designers, light is the most paramount. It’s powerful in regulating mood, cognitive performance, and restorative healing cycles. It can inform how one observes their level of comfort; modify hormone levels, including serotonin; and mold the objective outcome of therapy. On a practical level, all of our spaces have three to four layers of task and decorative lighting. The idea is that each practitioner can modify the ambiance of their room to fit the task or type of therapy. Fixtures also frame out points on the patient’s journey, where they might associate X light source with Y activity. We use RBW’s Dimple sconce pretty prolifically as both a wayfinding and communication tool to signal whether a room is in session. And Akoya pendants are great both for task lighting and adding visual interest without being a distraction.

The majority of lighting fixtures at Lifestance Health are actually sourced from RBW. What makes certain products the right fit for the environment you’re working to achieve?

Part of our ethos is attention to form, which means we want to use products that are highly functional and visually uncomplicated. RBW’s straightforward lines coupled with their elevated detailing is what made them a really good fit; we’ve been working together for years. The brand actually made a custom variation of their Radient sconce for us, which was huge because it’s such a high-end fixture of theirs, and they were able to engineer it for our budget. They really drilled down what we loved and needed and stripped out the extra, refining Radient’s solid wood shade, and switching the steel backplate with aluminum. Their collaborative and customization abilities have always impressed me, and they’re still able to keep the integrity of the design.

Gala pendant & Dimple sconce with White Interior shade

Historically, the environment was an afterthought in a lot of healthcare situations, but we’re on a path to improving that.

The attention you pay to atmospheric details gives a real sense of hospitality. How did you come to specialize in such thoughtful design of healthcare spaces, and is there a growing need for this type of approach?

As an architectural designer, the bulk of my 17 years of experience has been in the large-scale corporate workplace, but I've spent the last like six years solely working for mental health companies and startups; it started when I won a one-off design competition for a clinic, and evolved organically from there. Healthcare sectors have been veering in the direction of hospitality for a while, specifically in more affluent areas where consumers are demanding more “service” from their healthcare institutions. Aesthetically pleasing design is part of that equation, and so healthcare design is becoming a highly sought-after niche. Today, we're so lucky in the design community to have this wealth of institutional, evidence-based knowledge and established methods of best practice. Historically, the environment was an afterthought in a lot of healthcare situations, but we’re on a path to improving that.

Lauren Wesley Spear

Director of Space at Lifestance Health

Lauren Wesley Spear is a New York-based veteran architectural designer specializing in brand-driven spatial experiences, having worked with companies including Google, Amazon, and Tesla before transitioning into the healthcare sphere. In addition to her role as Director of Space at LifeStance Health, she works with healthcare providers to create engaging environments through interior architecture and design, product design, and brand strategy.


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