Embrace the Healing Power of Joyous Color

Embrace the Healing Power of Joyous Color

By Carleton Varney- Special to the Palm Beach Daily News

I recently spent a month working on my recovery from a case of pneumonia at Good Samaritan Medical Center on the Flagler Drive waterfront in West Palm Beach.

I’m happy to report I’m now at home in Palm Beach and feeling so much better. I’m continuing with my therapy – and I consider part of that therapy to be writing this column, which I have done for more than 40 years. I so enjoy the chance to share design and decorating advice.

I’ve been thinking “up” these days, perhaps because for folks confined to a hospital bed, “up” is often their only view.

Yet in decorating projects, ceilings are often neglected — out of sight, out of mind, I suppose. That's never been my philosophy. Over the years, I have often recommended clients paint their ceilings a lovely color, especially light blue. It’s a surprisingly neutral hue, and on a ceiling, it reminds me of looking at a sunny sky, which is always a joy.

I am also a fan of wallpapering ceilings or tenting them. Tented ceilings are so popular in Palm Beach.

My firm even decorated a home where all the bedroom ceilings were painted in a tent-like manner – one in mango orange, one in aqua blue, one in pink and others in a soft green.

But back to hospitals. More than a few years ago — I am an octogenarian you know, and there are quite a few of us in Palm Beach — I decorated in Connecticut a hospital suite for the late actress Bette Davis and her late husband, Gary Merrill. I had the ceilings painted sky blue with puffy white clouds, at Bette’s request.

Now that I have experienced some time at Good Samaritan, I am going to recommend that the hospital add color to its ceilings. Paint might be an option, but there are manufacturers that offer gridded ceiling panels in a variety of colors; I would recommend sky blue or even sunshine yellow.

Good Samaritan is a fine hospital and I know the Palm Beach community has been generous in its support of this important institution.

I was intrigued recently to learn about the two new birthing suites at Good Samaritan decorated by the folks at Lilly Pulitzer. While I haven’t visited in person, I have seen pictures, and it’s as colorful and charming as one would expect.

I’m looking forward to visiting the suites to see them for myself. And how I would like to see the joyous world of color extended to walls in the rest of the building. I think hospital interiors should be bright and happy — a bit of decorating sunshine to help warm the hearts of those who are healing.

And speaking of sunshine, my terrific physical therapist, Darlene Golson, did so much to make my time at Good Samaritan a bit more pleasant. Now we just need some paint so the walls at the hospital will reflect the joyful spirits of the caregivers there.


  • Marcia Miller on

    Attended your program at Museum of City of NY some years go and enjoyed it greatly!
    Glad you are recovered!

  • Loretta Bragg-Fill on

    Carleton, so glad to hear you are doing better. I am a big fan of yours and love your decorating,go to the Greenbrier every year ,was born and raised thirty miles from there.Also have been to the Grand Hotel several times; you inspire me so,God bless you and fell better,Loretta

  • Rob Hallwachs on

    Hello, Mr. Varney— Sorry to hear you were sick and laid up for a month, and glad that you are home and doing better.
    Dorothy Draper did interiors at Delnor Hospital in Geneva, Illinois. Not sure what decade or if she did blue ceilings. I worked in Geneva but was never in the hospital there!
    The ceilings in my Pasadena, California dentist’s office are sky blue with lovely puffy white clouds, which makes the dental experience a bit more tolerable!
    Best wishes, Rob Hallwachs

  • Julie on

    My husband just spent 20 days in a sterile white hospital room for pneumonia himself. Cannot agree more that color would have improved his mental health and healing. Wishing you a speedy recovery Mr Varney.

  • Georgia McDonald on

    Carlton, thank goodness you are recovering so well!! You are a national treasure. Mother Miriam, now 91, my dear friend Margy and I attended the Dorothy Draper Design School at the Grand Hotel in 2015. We enjoyed every minute!! Imagine if all hospitals were able to add beautiful colors to the ceilings. How blessed are the mothers and babies born in the Lily Pulitzer birthing rooms. Continue on your recovery journey. Thank you for this post.
    Most sincerely,
    Georgia McDonald

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