Something to Smile About
Pearly whites, sunny yellows, and cerulean blues brighten a British dental office by Studio Azzurro
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 2/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
Were it not for the toothbrush-shape bench featured prominently in the waiting area, patients visiting Houston: The Dental Surgery in Weston-Super-Mare, England, might believe they had wandered into the office of a hip graphic-design firm. Conceived by architects Christopher and Milla Gough-Willetts of the London firm Studio Azzurro, the interior's bold colors, minimalist mien, and tongue-in-cheek built-ins (no pun intended) subvert patients' expectations of a health-care environment.
Studio Azzurro was hired by husband-and-wife dentists David and Ceri Houston to convert the site—two adjacent 19th-century residences—into a treatment facility for six practitioners. Although the structure had been partially converted into a dental office when a previous owner simply installed an examination chair in his living room, the contiguous structures were never intended to be commercial buildings. So a little improvisation and a complete renovation were in order to upgrade the space into a state-of-the-art practice that nonetheless preserves a residential vibe.
The project entailed breaking through the supporting wall between the two buildings and adding steel reinforcements, improving disabled access to and within the property, and creating a landscaped parking lot out back. The architects located the reception area and two examination rooms on the ground floor and carved out space for four additional exam rooms and a separate waiting area above. Structural work alone ate up much of the budget, so Studio Azzurro chose durable, cost-efficient materials and decorative solutions. Coir rugs and studded rubber flooring throughout provide an unexpected touch and require little upkeep. "David and Ceri already work horrific hours, so it was important that the space be as maintenance-free as possible," explains Milla Gough-Willetts.
A cheery palette of primary hues enlivens the interior and clarifies circulation routes from reception to examination. "Color, which we applied almost as another material, is a great way to change the perception of a place without spending a lot of money," she continues. "And we thought it would be nice to infuse the space with color, given England's gray weather." Each of the six treatment rooms features a different hue—yellow, green, purple, terra-cotta, cerulean, or dark blue—for flooring and accents. The six check-in stations at the long reception desk are also color-coded so that patients can find their particular dentist's receptionist.
The bold, gleeful interior is child-friendly without grating on the nerves of the adult clientele. One of the Houstons' priorities was a waiting room to accommodate extended families, from young children to grandparents. "We wanted to remove the barrier and have one environment that caters to both kids and grown-ups," says Christopher Gough-Willetts. Educational videos play on the interactive media wall, while playful built-ins add a touch of whimsy: the aforementioned toothbrush-shape bench (whose bristles double as a vertical magazine holder), children's desks with toy storage, and bright red wraparound seating that curves like a smile.