Jenny Ruoho, DDS wished to start a new practice, Relaxation Dentistry, in a dental office designed to reflect her professional style — at the lowest possible cost.  She brought to the initial meeting her own sketches for an office layout in a suite she was pursuing. My job was to refine the layout and establish a firm perimeter using minimal square footage. She was working with a lease negotiator on general terms of the agreement while I worked on the plan.

Initial design sketch by dentist

Final design squeezed more square feet into the reception seating area by reorienting the front corner treatment room. This allowed adequate space for two seating areas. The initial sketch shows seating that would have seemed tight if constructed as drawn. Adding an accessible restroom and relocating the utility room improved convenience for patients and right-sized utility space. Overall square footage was not significantly increased.

Final design based on initial sketch by dentist
Final design based on initial sketch by dentist

Final appearance of the dental office design is shown in the video below.

Three schemetic plans and we were ready for construction drawings. What makes this project notable is straight-ahead logical progress from Dr. Ruoho’s initial sketches to final design and construction. Magazine clips and her own drawings established a design theme she described as “Pottery Barn”. I am no shopper, but my partner filled in the picture. A quick tour of online home furnishing sites and field research at a big blue glass barn called IKEA educated me. A video showing Dr. Ruoho’s sketches and magazine clips follows.

Dr. Ruoho controlled costs by researching and formulating practice and design objectives before involving an architect. It was clear in the first interview that she would communicate objectives and move efficiently through the design process. This helped us offer our best price for services. When we forsee an efficient process with minimal expenditure of time, our fee reflects it. During the process, she priced ideas before making a final decision. This is how costs should be controlled, one decision at a time,  during the design process, not waiting until the end.

Thoughtful cost control does not sacrifice design; it considers the price of a design idea versus its value. In this project individual ideas were valued by their contribution to the image “Relaxation Dentistry”. An example is the fireplace. After pricing gas and electric fireplaces, Dr. Ruoho chose a wall design that has the appearance of a fireplace without a working gas or electric unit. On the hearth, a wrought iron candle holder with large electric candles serves as focal point. Judge for yourself the success of her decision by looking at images included here.

Reception Seating with Candle Fireplace

Value Engineering is a service sold by construction experts. This lofty term refers to finding valid design alternatives at a lower price. In practice, it may reduce to simple cost cutting: lower price, lesser value. There is usually a lower price alternative to be found. The trick is finding valid alternatives, ones with equivalent value. Take the example of electric candle versus gas fireplace. The value is relaxing in a comfortable chair in a cozy corner. Does an electric candle detract? Think about a gas fireplace on a hot summer day. You do not need a degree in value engineering to make this decision.

Successful design for a dental office or any project must go beyond a laundry list of features. The original list for Relaxation Dentistry included a fireplace. More important than the list is the image, Relaxation for example. If a working fireplace is too expensive, take it off the list and find a valid alternative. Get the image right with resources available.