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Designing an office that is “timeless” means that patients who walk into your practice today and 15 years from now agree that your office “looks like” your dentistry is up–to–date. That is a hard concept to imagine, and in practice is rare. Most offices after 15 years have reached a point of looking tired and dated, forcing dentists to make dramatic changes in order to reaffirm the quality and acumen of their care. And this is appropriate, because patients take cues from what they see in your office. “Tired and dated” translates to “falling behind and don't care much” to your patients.
If it is possible to design an office functionally for the long term (allowing today for evolving function in the future), then it is possible for an interior to be “timeless” as well. To do so requires a design strategy. Here are some key approaches we have found most effective:
1) Invest in the “bones.” Save on the finish.
An interior that remains interesting for many years relies more on the shape of the space than the finish (e.g., paint, wall coverings, flooring). Design elements such as ceiling soffits, up–lighting details, beams, key millwork, etc., can appeal for many years, while finish colors/materials become dated or worn over time. This doesn't mean a space needs complex details to be timeless. In fact, they can “date” a space over time. Rather, simple shapes used in strategic ways are the most effective in creating a positive, lasting impression.
2) Keep it neutral. Be selective with color placement.
We don't mean your office should be gray or beige. That's boring! Color, however, can date a space, especially palettes that become popular. (Remember teal and mauve?) It's best to develop a color strategy in which the larger investment surfaces are neutral in color and where replacement isn't a financial burden. For example, installing a neutral, textured wall covering throughout your office and selecting specific walls, seating fabric, or artwork for color accent, means you can easily update the look of your office by changing only these predetermined color accents. Maintaining a long–life, appealing neutral with changeable color accents is a great way to stay timeless.
3) Prioritize performance and maintenance.
An interior's longevity depends as much on the durability of materials used as the design esthetic. High performance and low maintenance should be paramount for any material when “timeless” is a design priority. For example, worn (lower performance) materials date an office even if they would still be appealing new. A great–looking floor material that generates high expense in upkeep will wane in its appeal, no matter how attractive. Most important key: maintain. An office, no matter how timeless the design, if poorly maintained will lose more than it gains by an obvious lack of upkeep.
4) Natural materials live longer.
Materials that are natural — stone, wool fabrics, hardwoods, etc., are perceived as current over long periods of time as demonstrated by well–maintained historical buildings with granite floors and hardwood trim. This is not to suggest that you create a historical style in your interior or avoid man–made, high–performing materials. Rather, you should appreciate how these materials (when introduced selectively and crafted well) will not require replacement.
5) Design in layers.
Timeless doesn't have to happen all at once. If the budget doesn't permit, then timeless can be designed in layers:
Layer one: Invest in key design elements. Ceiling soffits, beams, hardwood trim/cabinetry, and high–performing flooring are examples of first–layer design priorities — key/integral design elements that will unlikely be added easily in the future.
Layer two: Delay materials that can be installed later. Wallcoverings, specialty light fixtures, and nonpriority cabinetry are examples of second–layer design priorities. If they don't affect the function, then they can be added to enhance the design as dollars permit.
A timeless interior isn't a particular style or color palette. Any style or color preference you have can be developed for long–term appeal. Quality dentistry does the same and your patients recognize that by what they see in your office. Office design that is well–conceived and cared for fosters positive patient experiences for many years.
Visit www.dentaleconomics.com/downloads to view “timeless” photos.
Jeff Carter, DDS, and Pat Carter, IIDA, are owners of PDG– Practice Design Group. For information, call (800) 511–7110, or visit www.practicedesigngroup.com.