The former nurse on a mission to banish the beige in aged care

Meli Studios' Julie Ockerby's tips on dementia design

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Sydney interior designer, and former nurse, Julie Ockerby as launched her Bespoke Collection range of dementia-friendly fabrics.

Sydney interior designer, and former nurse, Julie Ockerby as launched her Bespoke Collection range of dementia-friendly fabrics.


'Designing for dementia does not have to be bland,' says Julie Ockerby, whose new fabric range is inspired by her cultural heritage and love of travel.


FOR people living with dementia, disorientation and confusion can be very stressful and unsettling.

A well thought-out space plan and environment can help ease stress levels and maximises well-being and independence.

Former registered nurse Julie Ockerby was so frustrated by the lack of quality fabrics tailored to the aged, and the predominance of uninspiring beige (her personal design bugbear), that this year she released her own dementia-friendly fabric range, The Bespoke Collection.

Now an interior designer, and Principal Creative Director of Sydney-based Meli Studio, Julie is on a mission to enhance the quality of design in aged care across Australia with 19 projects on the go in Australia and overseas.

Julie's inspiration came from a deeply personal experience: "My father was ill and needed a nursing home, but I couldn't find one to the standards I felt he deserved.

"Nobody was considering the environment as adding to his quality of life - somewhere designed with heart and soul," she said.

"People deserve to be in a space where they are cared for with privacy and dignity. The names of the fabrics have been synonymously chosen to reflect various influences in my design journey. They are a culmination of my cultural heritage and love of travel, food and wine."

Her new fabric range encorporates bright but not overbearing colours, simple patterns, soft but hardwearing textures and the obligatory waterproof backing.

Here Julie shares her tips on dementia-friendly design:

Keeping it Simple

To live well with dementia means to keep the surroundings simple, and risk-free. Being able to see objects and spaces clearly enables people to live comfortably and without the risk of falls.

The use of colour to contrast between floors and furniture, doors and walls, handles that contrast to the joinery, toilet seats that contrast to the toilet suite, are all simple mechanics to enable people to be able to see and to be seen.

Familiar & Functional

Human behaviour dictates that the more familiar we are with our space, the more accommodated we feel. This behaviour, together with everyday routines, means that we have reached our comfort zone. It is no different when living with dementia, except that it is more heightened:

  • Keeping furniture placement in spaces that are familiar for the person is very important.
  • Keeping bathroom doors open.
  • Leaving items out for easy reach, e.g. toothbrushes and toothpaste
  • Implement grab rails, particularly in bathroom spaces where the highest rate of falls occurs
  • Ensure that the room temperature works for the person. Not too cold, not too warm.

Helpful Stimulation

When designing for dementia, try to avoid patterns and lights that can overstimulate the person. Bold and strong abstract patterns can cause confusion and stress. Similarly, lights that cause undue glare can be very disorientating.

Cognitive engagement, together with encouragement to participate in daily activities enables one to live more comfortably.

This can be the use of memory prompters, such as nostalgic artworks that prompt conversation pieces, or decorative items that are reminiscent of years before.

Other forms of helpful stimulation:

  • Integrating pets into everyday living encourages tactility
  • Visible clocks that are readable enables one to have a sense of time
  • Create opportunities to socialise and interact with friends and family enables one to retains feelings of value and importance
  • Stimulating the five senses, especially the senses of smell and taste go hand-in-hand. Cooking food that hits the taste palette brings enjoyment to the eating experience.
  • The ability to enjoy outdoor friendly spaces with fresh air and sunlight encourages the desire to remain active and involved.
  • Adding in tactile and textural activities such as gardening.

Designing for dementia does not need to be bland or beige. You can still achieve design sophistication whilst following the above guidelines. That is the same with achieving contrast through use of colour - it doesn't need to be over the top! You can still achieve contrast and have a simply beautiful design.

Swatches from The Bespoke Collection - inspired by Julie Ockerby's cultural heritage and travels.

Swatches from The Bespoke Collection - inspired by Julie Ockerby's cultural heritage and travels.

The Bespoke Collection

The range is split into five collections to cater to a broad range of interior styles, tastes and settings:

  • 'Escape' with a laid back, beachy vibe
  • 'Promise' featuring bolder patterns for more directional interiors
  • 'Humble' with more subtle tones and textures
  • 'Untouched' for even softer design, reflecting the tranquillity of botanical landscapes
  • 'Plains' to allow for simpler styling when needed

To see the full range visit phone (02) 8920-3538 or email

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