These curves are all smiles
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 11/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Dentistry has come a long way since the days of yore, when teeth were extracted with some string, a doorknob, and a prayer. Dental-office design, alas, hasn't advanced at quite the same pace—nor to the standards of savvy patients increasingly accustomed to spalike health-care facilities. "I always found dental offices so cold and alienating," says the namesake principal of David Hu, Architect. "There just had to be something better."
And so there is. Witness Hu's design for New York prosthodontist Dr. Richard Lee. No need to grin and bear it here—the curvy interior is lush and comforting while still communicating cleanliness and efficiency.
Hu's lobby looks boutique-hotel chic, with dental models displayed like art on shelves housed behind crescent shields of bent acrylic. Flooring is flecked white vinyl, wall covering is wool and silk, and a pair of dainty armless chairs is silhouetted against a wall of milky structural glass.
This concave wall separates the lobby from the treatment area, funneling soft daylight into the core for the sake of both patients and staff members, who log long hours on-site. Extending the line of the wall, the lobby's dropped ceiling unfurls in a wave along the corridor to the operatories. The 6-inch drop accommodates the AC return to keep the upper plane free of visual intrusions. "With obstacles like mechanicals and direct lighting eliminated, the ceiling becomes a serene, calming swath," says Hu. "It really has an impact."
So does openness. Of the four operatories strung along the southern window wall, only one can be fully closed off; the others connect to the corridor via full-height doorways. The walls between treatment rooms stop 15 inches to 2 feet shy of the windows, creating the illusion of greater fluidity. "The configuration enhances spatial flow, making a 900-square-foot space seem much larger," says the architect.
In all four rooms, patients reclining in ergonomic calfskin-upholstered chairs can delight in 18th-floor views of the skyline, which smiles in through the expansive windows. And Hu didn't forget creature comforts. "Fabric and wood are no longer perceived as taboo in health-care facilities," he points out, and the wool wall covering and sinuous maple cabinetry he selected would look right at home in a downtown loft.
He lavished special attention on millwork and cabinetry, especially after discovering the relative affordability of a custom solution. Specialized units accommodating computer, phone, and pull-out trays for dental equipment stand closest to the patient's head. For side cabinets, he cut loose with subtly arcing quarter-cut maple topped by low-maintenance plastic laminate. "The curvature follows the equipment's ergonomics and nods to the graceful movement of dentists in operation," he says.
To ensure functionality, Hu made full-size mock-ups of cabinets, counters, and walls. He adjusted shapes and proportions to the client's satisfaction before final versions were fabricated, ensuring a remarkably painless design process—no laughing gas required.
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