Growing up with a psychiatric nurse for a mother and an architect for a father, Bonny Slater says it was “inevitable” that she developed passions for psychology and design—so much so that she decided to attend The New School in New York where she could simultaneously obtain a Bachelor of Fine Arts from its Parsons School of Design and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from its liberal arts college. “I thought I might become a psychoanalyst,” Slater says. “However, I quickly realized the overlap in environmental psychology and began focusing my studies there.”
It was during a class project with St. Vincent’s Hospital that her eyes were opened to healthcare design and the connection between patient experience and health outcomes, cementing her career in the industry, where she’s worked for the last 15 years. In 2014, she joined Gensler, where she’s worked with such clients as Unity Health Care and Children’s National Medical Center. “As designers, we’re tasked with creating environments that impact behavior, perception, and emotion, but how far can you get on intuition alone?” she says. “My background has placed research at the core of my design philosophy.”
What was your first healthcare project?
I spent my first five years out of school working on Massachusetts General Hospital’s Lunder Building, a 500,000-square-foot inpatient tower on the main campus.
What lesson did you learn on that project that you still carry with you today?
Working on a project of that size and complexity taught me about the importance of a strong design concept to help decision-making and keep a large team moving in the same direction.
How is the focus on wellness in healthcare design transforming the industry?
I’m actually concerned that we haven’t seen much change. Caregivers risk numerous physical and mental health conditions as a direct consequence of their work environments, and we know their health has a direct impact on patient outcomes. The corporate world has largely embraced the bottom-line benefits of improved employee well-being, and I hope to see more healthcare organizations catch on soon.
Three unexpected items on your desk:
1 dandelion root tea
2 homemade disinfectant spray
3 three pairs of heels (under
If I wasn’t an interior designer, I would be …
A jewelry designer. Lately I’ve been experimenting with minimal shapes using different metals and stones. It’s really satisfying to design and create something in just hours, and it keeps me connected to the importance of craft in design.
What challenges keep you up at night?
Finding the right talent to grow our team. We’re constantly seeking nimble, design-minded people who can flex between radically different project types and scales.
Outside the office you’ll likely find me… Tending to my garden. I have a large rain garden of native plants, including fruit-bearing shrubs like blueberry and black hawthorn. I also have a small vegetable garden that my two sons help me with.
Three words to describe your design aesthetic:
Weekend activity Taking a nature walk with my kids.
Snack when you travel Raw nuts.
Guilty pleasure Whipped cream.
Ice cream flavor Vanilla.
Book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” by Marie Kondo.
Dog or cat? Cat, even though I’m allergic.
Coffee or tea? Coffee.
Morning person or night owl? Neither. I like my sleep.
Beer, wine, or liquor? It depends on the day.
Fiction or nonfiction? Nonfiction. My favorite topic lately is behavioral economics.
How did you make your first dollar? Selling herbs from my garden when I was 6 years old.
Your go-to karaoke song? You won’t catch me at karaoke. Ever.