Amidst recent economic downfalls, changes in healthcare legislation, and continual turnover within the administration of federal healthcare programs, the healthcare industry is tightening budgets and looking for ways to get the biggest bang for its buck. For healthcare interior designers, this means modifying services and offering clients different options to fulfill both short-term and long-term needs.

Currently, one of the design industry’s most popular services fulfilling this need is master planning. Because it makes economies of scale possible in that it specifies future materials for all of an organization’s facilities, master planning helps reduce construction and furnishing costs.

Individuals who read this article and complete the series of questions may be eligible to receive continuing education credit (CEU) as approved by IDCEC.

To take the corresponding quiz for CEUs, please visit :

If you have any questions, you may contact the IIDA Education Department at 312-467-1950 or toll-free at 888-799-IIDA.

Within the healthcare industry, the most economical construction projects are phased renovations. Because expenditures are spread over several years, phased renovations place less stress on budgets. Chief financial officers also appreciate that facilities remain open—and generating revenue—during phased renovations, as construction is occurring in only part of the building at any one time.

The preference for phased renovations makes master planning an attractive option as it provides an in-depth breakdown of future construction plans and outlines all materials and products that will be used, based on a set budget. 

In order to determine the most cost-effective options for future construction projects, it’s essential to understand the entire master planning process and the benefits it provides.


The need for master planning

Realistically, the average “life” of an interior space is seven to 10 years. After that, facilities begin to look tired and outdated. Phased renovations make it easier to update interior spaces within the average interior lifespan. However, phased renovations mean that it can take years for an entire facility to be renovated.

During this long time frame, new faces come and go, healthcare codes change, and interior design materials can become mismatched and inconsistent with the initial design scheme—sometimes even before the entire renovation is completed.

In an effort to bring a facility under one design scheme that is consistent from start to finish, no matter if a project takes months or years, facility care professionals should be familiar with an interior design master plan, which is a reference book that contains all interior finish decisions to ensure a seamless design within a specified budget.


The master planning team

It’s important to start the master planning process by identifying who should be involved. Select a small master plan team of four to five people who will be charged with narrowing down opinions and moving the planning process forward to meet deadlines. The team should consist of employees from: 

  • Administration/Leadership—They should convey the overall vision for the facility and set the budget;
  • Facilities—They should have an understanding of costs per square foot and a general knowledge of typical interior finish products; and
  • Housekeeping—They should be able to explain how things are cleaned and what cleaning products will be used. In addition, they will also test the proposed design samples against cleaning products. 

By creating a small group of people from different job backgrounds, it’s easier to get project buy-in and helps designers fully understand client needs and expectations.


Expectations and preparations

The goal of master planning is to meet the current and future needs of a facility, which requires designers to perform an in-depth analysis of the entire facility. Designers will complete a full day of facility assessments to identify: 

  • What can’t be changed? Designers look for “high-ticket” items that are very expensive to change, such as interior doors, built-in casework fronts, and wall protection.
  • What existing interior finishes should the design include? These are architectural and decorative items, such as a monumental staircase, a donor wall, or an original piece of artwork.
  • What has worked and what doesn’t work? This is a discussion about recent renovations, products, and past color schemes that need to be changed or that work within the facility. For example, it might be an existing floor pattern that is distorting vision and causing patients to step over it instead of walking on it. The designer should be made aware of these situations.
  • What is floor plan format? Designers will need a floor plan of the facility, preferably as an electronic file. It’s easier if floor plans are in an electronic format because blueprint sketches must be converted into this format, in any case.


Scope, construction, preferences, and challenges

After the initial assessment has been made, designers will work with the design committee to answer initial design questions based on scope, construction, preferences, and facility challenges.

Designers verify the scope of the project by confirming the budget, areas to be renovated, and the typical price per square foot that the facility would like to meet or stay below. Further questions regarding construction, such as the project time frame and preferred contractors, should also be addressed in order to better understand the work and labor involved in the project.

In addition, any preferences toward vendors, products, and finishes should be discussed, which includes determining what manufacturers are preferred (often based on price comparison), if the facility will be LEED-certified, and what type of finishes should go where.

The master planning analysis concludes once designers understand all facility challenges—such as common infectious diseases coming into the facility, architectural details and structural emphasis, and common cleaning products, in order to determin
e which materials will work within the facility.


Creating the master plan

After an analysis of the facility, designers create a notebook that outlines design details and product information for renovations in areas that were previously specified. The master plan will contain floor plans of the facility, finish specifications, room-by-room matrices, typical floor patterns, wall elevations of identified areas, drapery specifications, finish samples, typical furniture specifications, and flame spread rating information.

In order to develop the interior design plan, designers make design decisions through an eight-step process by (1) confirming the types of finishes; (2) determining the color palette; (3) introducing fabrics; (4) assembling finish specifications and room finish matrices; (5) writing drapery specifications; (6) approving floor finish and creating floor patterns; (7) identifying specialty items and casework elevations; and (8) finalizing furniture specifications.

The final plan will be several hundred pages in length and can take eight to 12 weeks to assemble, depending on the size of the facility and how quickly decisions are made. Master plans vary in price depending on size and scope, but the average price ranges from $10,000 to $17,000. Designers will also continue to update and maintain master plans based on healthcare code changes, which ensures the facility will always be compliant with healthcare rules and regulations.


Benefits of master planning

A master plan is essential to future renovations, as it keeps the budget in line and guarantees a cohesive design throughout a facility. It is also a helpful tool to avoid unnecessary or unplanned changes to the facility during any staff or budget changes. Since the master plan outlines every design detail, it can also change hands easily from one designer to the next as you work on various projects with various design groups.

In addition, having an inventoried log of all products decreases attic stock and requires less maintenance from facility caretakers.

Master planning is certainly not a new design service but one that has become widely popular, since it fulfills both short-term and long-term design plans for any construction project within a facility. HCD


Rebecca Donner is the founder and principal of Inner Design Studio of Nashville, Tennessee. She can be reached at