Office of the Month: “A Headache to Design”
Orthodontist R. Scott Smith refers to his newest satellite office in South Hadley, Massachusetts, as “the flagship of my three offices.” Yet, he’s quick to add that it was the most difficult to plan. “It was,” Dr. Smith says, “a major headache that defied several efforts to make it workable for my practice.”
Dr. Smith’s practice had outgrown the 450 square-foot office he had occupied for nearly 10 years in small, affluent South Hadley. Determined to maintain his community identity by remaining in the one-quarter-mile-square center of town, he relocated to a suite in a nearby professional/retail business complex that provides one-stop shopping, dining, entertainment and health care services. “Actually, it was the attic space above a bookstore and travel agency in the tallest building in the complex,” he comments.
The location was right for Dr. Smith, but there were some big problems with the space. The rafters of the main roof between seven gabled dormers formed a ceiling that sloped to a wall a mere three-feet high. Due to the low head-clearance in these areas, some 230 square feet of walk space was lost-nearly one-fourth of the 1,130 square feet of leasable space. Working with a succession of space planners proved frustrating, producing one unworkable plan after another. “I simply didn’t have enough space to meet my needs, and I was getting nowhere trying to find a solution.”
Finally, the doctor turned to Garrett Ludwig, whose firm, Diversified Design Technologies, Inc. of Hartford, Connecticut, specializes in private practice health-care planning. “I often am asked to develop facilities for satellite operations. Invariably, these spaces are fraught with more difficult parameters than the primary office because the selection of space is predicated solely-as it should be-on location, location, location,” says Ludwig. “Spaces that are available in these demographically-ideal communities often are too small, too large or present limited design solutions for the orthodontic practice.”
A bumped head alerted Ludwig to the slope of the roof. “As a result of the loss in leasable space, it was a matter of maximizing the use of what was left,” he recalls. A 140-square-foot open space at the top of a wide, oak-finished stairway, which provides primary access to the suite, became a vital part of the solution when the building owners allowed it to be incorporated into the suite at no extra cost.
The extra 140 square feet were enclosed by constructing a wall just inside the existing railing and balusters, and installing a secured, private entry. The stairway was enhanced for visual effect and safety by installing fixed, arched-glass panels in the common wall between the stairs and the office to fill the stairs with both natural and room lighting. This stairway originally was intended solely as a secondary means of egress. It was dark and forbidding before being redesigned as the office’s primary access.
We tried a number of design solutions to provide efficient function and flow, and to make full use of the space…only to run into ceiling obstructions,” says Ludwig. “Ultimately, though, all of the low-ceiling clearances were utilized and served to support their respective areas. The foot of the patient chairs, for example, are positioned under the gables.”
Concludes Dr. Smith: “We encountered a number of stumbling blocks, but everything has turned out beautifully. The practice grew by a third my first year here. That tells me that patients and staff are as pleased with it as I am.”