The importance of style by design

ID: What should the dentist consider when looking to refurbish the dental practice?
MM: There are two main reasons for refurbishing a dental practice:
1. Many practices come to a natural end-of-life cycle and from a practical aspect need to be rebuilt and updated in both material and technical format
2. There are many new practices opening around Ireland, and a new practice will often be located in a building that requires accommodation to the specific needs of a dental practice.

When looking to refurbish an existing practice the dentist should consider the opportunity to remodel the space in order to address specific client and consultation requirements, improvements on the layout of the existing space, and maybe a change in the way the practice is approached. For instance, nowadays waiting rooms are much more an integral part of the entrance space and much more public/welcoming environments. The reception area can be made semi-private in terms of sound and vision in order to address the privacy requirements of the client, while there can be added extras such as spaces for children to sit at computers.

Refurbishing a dental practice is an opportunity to address the functional and aspirational aspects of the environment as the dentist sees it; after that the designer is a translator of these needs into a coherent concept.

ID: What are the options available to a dentist looking for professional design help?
MM: There are various options available. The dentist can appoint an architect who will look after all the planning aspects, and most architects will work with an interior designer to address the design of the public spaces and furnishings and fittings; however, some architects are capable and qualified to do that part of the project also.

The dentist can directly appoint a qualified interior designer; most interior designers have ample knowledge of the planning process and can design the coherent concept of the project as well as detail all the furniture, finishing and fittings.

Architects, engineers and interior designers can all offer the service of project management and on-site supervision, but this part of a project, however, is best managed by the team responsible for the design.

There are also several dental equipment supply companies that consult on the equipment best suited to your practice needs, as well as supplying, fitting and maintaining the equipment to your requirements.

ID: What are some of the common decorating mistakes made by dental practice owners?
MM: The most common mistake made is that of approaching the design of a practice as an interior decoration exercise. An interior decorator is the person who comes in and adorns existing spaces with finishes and artefacts, while an interior designer or architect is someone who can see a coherent concept, all the way from planning and design through to the finishing stages.

Mistakes can be made at the design level. For example, often practice designs are too clinical in concept; the truth is most people do not like clinical environments and are often put off by the perceived unwelcoming ambience.

The other mistake is the waiting room ‘syndrome’, where you have a row of people directly opposite each other, which makes for a psychologically uncomfortable environment for anyone to wait in.

ID: What is your advice on how to avoid or correct those mistakes?
MM: Appoint the professional whose work you like best, with whom you identify and who has a good knowledge of building and project management.

ID: How do you approach the design process?
MM: Mostly the work that I do involves remodelling existing spaces and extensions to existing spaces. Fundamental to the interior design approach is understanding the existing building; every building tells its own story and it is through hearing that story and listening to the clients’ needs that a concept for the space evolves.

My approach is one of reduction. I aim for my designs to be clear, orderly and almost transparent in its way, with emphasis on how form and substance create space. I make careful choices when it comes to selecting the materials, in order to make the most of the spaces designed.

Use of space and how it is approached and experienced by the client and user are particularly important in the design. How space is approached and experienced by the user is of particular importance in my approach to design; each project has different requirements to which I apply a similar approach. There is a constant search for how a person perceives a space from within and how one space flows into the next.

I would say the projects are whole with every aspect of the design process a part thereof.
ID: As a designer, what input do you look for from the client when putting together a design plan? Where does the input of the interior designer come in?
MM: Once I have been appointed, I sit down with the client for an in-depth analysis of how the practice should work. From this we develop a brief covering size and quantity of rooms and other requirements, for example meeting rooms, X-ray facilities, waiting areas, storage and entrance arrangements. Then, if required by the project, I do a feasibility study of the layouts available and how appropriate it is to the space available. This process is part of further developing the brief. After that the design concept starts to evolve.

ID: How does your work get from being a drawing to actualisation?
MM: Working drawings are the drawings used to communicate to all the different contractors – electrical, structural, joinery and metal workers, and specialist manufacturers. You build up relationships with people who become familiar with your work. They are, of course, the easiest to work with but new people bring new ways of building. I very much rely on the input of the person building the job to get the best for my client; that way building work becomes an enabling process for everyone.

ID: Do you use any kind of specialty software program?
MM: I use Autocad for drawing. Everyone has a software package that they use but this is a drawing tool. It is not used for design work; the designer does that. We have become too caught up in computer-generated images. I prefer sketches and 3D models to explain and develop my work, but clients sometimes require more visual tools so we use 3D software programs to draw the space, which helps the client’s visualisation.

ID: What sort of time frame is required and does the practice have to close down completely during the works?
MM: The time frame depends very much on the level of work required. Everything is possible and the quickest projects on-site are those that are best planned off-site.

The practice does not have to close down but careful planning is required in order to cause the least amount of disruption.

ID:  How do you deal with client criteria such as budget constraints?
MM: A budget constraint can be very easily dealt with at the beginning of the project. One chooses carefully what aspect of the project needs a greater proportion of the budget than the others and you design accordingly. Everything can be dealt with at the beginning; it is when vital information comes at the end that things get complicated.

ID: Can you run through the work involved in one of your actual dental practice refurbishments? 
MM: Gosh, I’ll have to be very broad here as this is a vast area:
• Change of use of a commercial unit at ground and floor level into a dental practice
• Integral design of the interior, furniture, lighting, fixtures and finishes
• Planning advice and liaising with the fire engineer
• Structural design work in collaboration with an engineer
• Detailing of joinery items, including all the consultation rooms
• Liaising with consultants such as IT, X-ray and dental equipment specialists
• On-site supervision and project management.

ID: If you could offer one piece of advice to the readers of Irish Dentist, what would it be?
MM: Trust is fundamental. Appoint the appropriate person for your project. Be honest with yourself about what you would like to do and what you can do. I remember something that a great client once said to me: ‘There’s no point in hailing a taxi and running behind it’.

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