I met the beautiful Nicole Cavanaugh within a business mastermind group out in New York, we instantly connected as friends and is one of the most beautiful people I have ever met.
Nicole decided to gear her business towards what she felt completely called to do … design chemotherapy rooms. Of course, that means the world to me!
I know you will enjoy this interview 🙂
When did you first decide to become a designer?
Growing up in Los Angeles, I lived in a home that was charming and quaint, but was rather small and seemed designed for a lifestyle gone by, which was very different from what our needs were.
The rooms were small and we rarely seemed to have space of our own.
We just couldn’t live well in our space the way it was designed and it was an uneasy way of life.
So, I was always thinking about those spaces, designing and creating ways we could feel better in our home and use our space better.
It went beyond new paint and pillows.
I wanted to create beauty and function within the space, to help it give us a better life while living there. I realized I see space differently than most people, so hen I left home for college, I chose to get my degree in interior design, as it just seemed like a natural fit.
How did it come about that you wanted to start designing chemotherapy rooms in hospitals?
Going through design school, and even after completing my degree, I worked for several holistic health practitioners, chiropractors, a reiki master and traditional Western medical doctors and I began to see how important the role of our environment is in our health.
Patients were happier and seemed to heal faster in better environments, and the staff was happier, too. And, although I began to work toward a career as a residential designer, I found myself drawn to applying my design work in a larger way.
However, it wasn’t until later in my career that I really understood how important environment is to everyone involved in a patient’s healing.
In July of 2012, I was asked to join an elite group of designers that transform chemotherapy rooms and facilities. The very first project I was asked to design was for a hospital in resort town in Northern California, with a small budget and a lot of need.
Their chemo treatment program had been moved from the trailer in the parking lot to a windowless room that was also used as a storage area and from first sight, I imagined how difficult it must be to face a life-threatening illness, much less to receive treatment in that drab, tired room.
The mountain setting was beautiful, but there were no windows to be able to connect to the outside beauty, to soothe the patients or to even allow them to pass the time while taking treatment. The color of the walls glowed a light green color under the fluorescent lights, the flooring was yellowing and the nurses had to constantly work around unusable equipment and boxes that were also stored in the room.
The day we opened the doors and gave them their new treatment room, everyone’s life changed and I knew my path in design had changed, too.
The doctors and nurses were so happy to spend time in the treatment room!
The patients hugged me, crying, overjoyed that they had privacy, soft lighting and comfortable chairs and their families approached me with teary eyes and hugs, telling me how much it meant to them that their dad or sister had such a comfortable, pretty place to rest and take treatment.
I walked away from that experience with a desire to do so much more with my design practice and I’ve never looked back!
Do you design only inside hospitals?
Recently, I’ve been transitioning my design practice over to interior design for health, wellness and healing, part of which is design for chemo rooms – and their patients.
Even the doctors and radiologists recognize the need for the patients to have a peaceful, comfortable nurturing space at home to help them heal.
The other part of that is interior design for health and wellness practitioners like chiropractors, acupuncturists and medical spas, and was even recently asked to consult on the interior design for a surrogacy center here in Southern California.
Their director explained that the families that seek surrogates are often wounded, disappointed and have suffered great losses on their journey to create a family, so they need a safe, healing place to begin the next steps of their journey, which is something I don’t think many of us realize.
How did you feel after your first chemo room was done?
It was surreal, humbling, exciting and heart-warming, all at the same time.
After the final touches were complete, I walked out of the hospital with my team, on the last snowy afternoon, and started to cry.
The design groundwork for that project took over 6 months, because there were a lot of logistics to work out working in a mountain resort town.
So, the local hospital facilities team and my design team all became like family to each other, helping each other every step of the way, and it was just incredible to come together on a project that will have so much impact for a long time to come.
Did you have family support for this new direction?
My mother is incredibly supportive, though my father doesn’t quite know what to make of it. In fact, my mother is a wonderful artist and donated the custom artwork above the chemotherapy chairs for the first chemo room project.
What would you say to someone just starting out on a new business dream?
There may be many people that do what you do, however no one does what you do, exactly how you do it!
Focus on your unique value for your clients and pursue something that speaks to your heart, and you’ll see that it will blossom beyond your wildest dreams.
About Nicole Cavanaugh
Nicole Cavanaugh is owner and Director of Design at Cavanaugh Design Group, providing interior design consultation and services for health, wellness and healing environments.
Nicole sees the world differently, through an artist’s eye, designing with the belief that environment is everything and that what we surround ourselves with affects both how we feel and how we heal. Through working with health and wellness practitioners while in design school, she fused her belief in self-care with her passion and skill for design and began designing for health and wellness practitioners, chemotherapy rooms and their patients. The more she continued on this path, the more she realized that these groups need a designer who is skilled at translating their life and their needs into design for a beautiful, supportive, compassionate space both at home and in healthcare settings. Her focus has become purposeful design for clients’ interiors where there is an opportunity to truly enhance, elevate and even change, someone’s life.
Past clients include:
The client who, within one year’s time, was married, pregnant, widowed, gave birth and needed to create a happy, safe home for her, her daughter and her sister, who came to live with them to help after her husband’s death from leukemia.
The chemotherapy infusion center and patients at Mammoth Community Hospital, who are now enjoying a renovated treatment center that provides a beautiful, peaceful environment to receive treatment, take classes, attend support groups and focus on their healing and their future, rather than their disease. The only one of its kind in the Eastern Sierras in Northern California, it now serves patients from as far away as Reno, Nevada.
The surrogacy center director in need of a comfortable, healing and supportive office to counsel families grieving losses sustained while trying to begin a family.
She has held a degree in Interior Design since 1996, is a member of IIDA (the International Interior Design Association), a Certified True Color Expert ™ and a contributing author for various digital women’s magazines in the US and Canada. She also blogs about her design work for residential clients, along with information about the latest products and offers helpful design tips. Her best days are spent finding inspiration along the coast and with her family, traveling, cooking and playing with her rescue dog, Stewart, an mature Maltese with the heart of a puppy.