In order to provide the comforting quality of nature for rehab patients and skilled nursing residents, Lee Health Gulf Coast Medical Center fashioned a revered local icon in the design of its new $18 million skilled nursing unit — driftwood from a nearby sand-and-sea destination.

Based on the beautiful landscape of Lovers Key Beach near the medical center in Fort Myers, the interior design emanates the rustic splendor of the Southwest Florida surf for everyone spending time at the 75-bed, 56,771-square-foot facility.

Nathalie White, project manager for design firm Studio+, says the project took about a year to complete. Being part of a healthcare system presented a special set of challenges, like strict codes and environmental continuity, she adds.

“Throughout the design process, we had to keep in mind that we were still a hospital facility, so we had to stick with the same standards of a hospital,” she says. “However, we selected finishes that make hospital fabrics and materials look less clinical. We removed the traditional waiting room look for a living room setting, and removed the dining hall concept you find in hospitals and replaced it with a home-like kitchen and living area.”

To be sure, “a goal of this project was to blend the lines between hospitality and healthcare through innovative design,” says Matthew Lessig, administrator of the community’s skilled nursing unit. “This approach allows us to provide care to more complex patients while the proximity of our location to the hospital promotes the sharing of resources to reduce the overall cost of care. Working side-by-side with Studio+ was an integral part of this project’s success.”

The driftwood inspiration influenced the space throughout the design, finishes and furniture selection, White says. 

The design team incorporated the driftwood into materials for the exterior facade, and brought that same concept to the interior with wood tones in the cabinets, furniture, wallcoverings and flooring. Still, White advises for the sake of clarity that the environmental theme “is not the driftwood itself — it is the natural landscape and healing nature of the beach. We wanted to bring the beach indoors without overpowering the space, in a contemporary way.” 

Additional elements related to the theme include shiplap to provide a nautical touch. With beach tones throughout, all the artwork and accents have a Florida coast feel. 

The facility also showcases large windows to allow natural light into each room, which White says is intended to encourage the patient’s recovery and wellbeing.

“This space has so much natural light and spaces that make you feel like you are at home and not in a hospital,” she says. “We hoped that these elements would promote fast healing for patients.”­