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Relocating from afar

March 1, 2011
Congratulations to the winner of the 2010 Dental Office Design Competition for small practices – Drs. Tamara Caouette and Andrew Gibson ...

A semiprivate reappointing/payment area and adjacent private financial arrangements office beyond.

Long-distance project wins design award

by Dr. Michael Unthank, Architect, and Geri True, ASID

For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: Dr. Andrew Gibson, Dr. Tamara Caouette, dental office design, Dr. Michael Unthank.

Congratulations to the winner of the 2010 Dental Office Design Competition for small practices – Drs. Tamara Caouette and Andrew Gibson of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. This annual competition is sponsored by Dental Economics®, Wells Fargo Practice Finance, the American Dental Association, and ADA Business ResourcesSM.

When most Americans think of the fall of 2008, they recall the financial meltdown that rocked the U.S. economy. For Drs. Tamara Caouette and Andrew Gibson, it marked the opening of their newly built leasehold office in Mount Pleasant, S.C.

Fig. 1: A soft, light-color palette, wood accents, and contemporary furnishings add a comfortable, eclectic touch to the "updated traditional" interior scheme.

The office for Smileworks, born in the midst of economic crisis, went on to become not only a great success; it won the Dental Office Design Competition 2010 for small practices.

Not only did Smileworks become a reality during this challenging time, but the planning and construction occurred while Drs. Caouette and Gibson were living and practicing in Maryland. They chose to make the move to Mount Pleasant after three visits to the community during the summer of 2007. The local climate, proximity to the ocean, the beautiful and historic city of Charleston, and the growing professional and family population convinced them that it would be an ideal location for a first joint practice.

The soon-to-be husband and wife team first met in high school while attending Mercersburg Academy. Dr. Caouette went on to study biology at Franklin and Marshall College, while Dr. Gibson studied biology at Washington and Lee University.

Together, they attended West Virginia University School of Dentistry, where they earned their dental degrees in 2001. They worked in various practices in the Maryland area before building their shared practice in South Carolina.

The entire planning and construction processes occurred while the doctors maintained their busy practice schedules in Maryland. In fact, they were able to make the 600-mile trip to Mount Pleasant only once during construction. Planning for the office was also handled long-distance since their dental office design team is based in Nebraska.

Unthank Design Group, led by Dr. Michael Unthank, provided planning, architectural, and interior design services for the project. As both a dentist and registered architect, Dr. Unthank guided Drs. Gibson and Caouette through the stages of planning and design.

Geri True, ASID, of the Unthank design team, served as the interior designer for the project, coordinating the selection and specification of finish materials, furnishings, and lighting with the rest of the interior architectural design.

Fig. 2: Within the private office, a separate work area is provided for each doctor.

Given the interstate nature of the endeavor, all project communication, documentation, and coordination was handled by phone, e-mail, FedEx, and digital data transfer.

Along with various support functions, the Smileworks office includes five treatment rooms (four of which are currently equipped), a waiting area, a semiprivate reappointing/payment area with an adjacent office for the practice's business manager and private financial discussions (opening photo, page 50), a consultation room, a staff lounge, and a private office for Drs. Gibson and Caouette (Fig. 2).

Fig. 3: The office plan has the private areas successfully separated from the more public areas.

Well-planned flow and ergonomic considerations throughout the office have made the doctors and staff more productive and less stressed at the end of each workday. Visual and acoustic privacy are enhanced by "layering" spaces from public functions in the front of the office to private functions at the back of the office (Fig. 3).

Technology integration is a key office component and includes individual flat-screen TV monitors at every patient chair, and clinical workstations in each treatment room (Fig. 4).

A sense of Southern charm is maintained with the use of wood-look vinyl plank flooring, rich cherry wood accents, painted architectural elements, and a soft, light color palette.

Fig. 4: Technology is integrated throughout the office.

Contemporary furnishings add a comfortable, eclectic touch to the updated traditional interior scheme. After coming to the facility, Smileworks patients often comment that the environment feels more like a spa than a dental office (Fig. 1).

Not only do Drs. Caouette and Gibson continue to pursue excellence in dentistry, they also give back to society by serving as volunteers with the Give Back a Smile program, which (through the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry) offers no-cost smile makeovers to selected victims of domestic violence. In the midst of global challenges, they truly embody a great American success story … and their office shows it!

Michael Unthank, DDS, architect, is the owner of Unthank Design Group, located in Lincoln, Neb. Geri True, ASID, serves as the company's director of interior design. Unthank Design Group provides space planning, interior architecture, and interior design services for the dental profession throughout North America. For more information, call (402) 423-3300, visit, or Unthank Design Group on Facebook.

Editor's Note: ADA Business ResourcesSM is a service mark of the American Dental Association. ADA Business Resources is a program brought to you by ADA Business Enterprises, a wholly owned subsidiary of the American Dental Association.

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