Most people visit a doctor’s office or see a dentist because they must, not as a desire. This is why for multiple generations, these were sterile, no-frills places that focused entirely on utility. No more. The 21st century have brought a fresh whiff of natural light, interesting materials and beautiful colors to medical office design.
“The trend has been born from the interest we have as Americans in our health and time efficiency,” said Kathy Lenser of Kathy Lenser Interiors. “We want to try to maintain our health while in a very beautiful, soothing, calming space, where patients enter and understand they’re very important to the practice.”
Health care spaces are evolving from the generic, sterile environment into a space that makes patients feel comfortable, at home.
Attractive features, such as oversized photographs, original art and plants, enhance a feeling of health and wellness, noted Katie Skoloff, owner and principal designer with In Site Designs.
In some health care spaces, the plants are the artwork: “They’re integrated into a system that’s self-watering and designed with patterns and shapes,” Skoloff said. “Usually, these are small plants like in the Hosta family and they’re low maintenance, like succulents, which are in the cactus family.”
None of the plants used in living art have pollen, and they’re clean and simple to maintain, she said.
“Artwork in a health care environment sets the stage for hope and healing,” said Terra Dillard-Spann, administrative director of oncology services for Bon Secours St. Francis (BSSF) Health System.
“Besides being good stewards of our environment and meeting patients’ needs, we want to make this building not feel like clinical space,” said Dillard-Spann, speaking about the Bon Secours St. Francis Cancer Center, which opened in 2014.
“Cancer treatments are sometimes for years at a time, and we didn’t want to have people feel they were walking into a harsh, clinical, sterile environment every day,” she said.
Medical office furniture also has evolved. It combines the warmth of a homey environment with the need to perform and last, said Laura Williams, director of corporate accounts with CBI (Carolina Business Interiors).
“We’re seeing a trend toward more residential aesthetics, but with commercial durability,” she said. “With a hospital that is open 365 days a year and never shuts down, the furniture has to stand up to that.”
Waiting rooms where families and patients once were packed in like people at a bus station now are moving in the direction of a more collaborative, inviting space. Many new medical office buildings now have hubs with connectivity so people can bring their laptops or charge their phones while waiting.
“There are so many different types of functions that happen in a waiting room, for example, that a lot of hospitals and medical practices pay attention to that and try to create a space that will accommodate almost anyone who comes through their doors,” Williams said.
Natural light is an essential element in design for new health care facilities, said Karen Schwartz, vice president of performance management and support services at BSSF Health System.
“You look at placement for natural light and also look at when you get morning and evening light, and you position the building on the property to take that into account,” Schwartz said. “We want a really beautiful building, and we also want it to be efficient to operate.”
Research has shown that natural light helps to improve and enhance patient outcomes, Dillard-Spann said.
“It’s more expensive to add windows than to put in concrete walls, so it’s a little more investment on the front end,” Dillard-Spann said. “But it provides more benefits on the back end.”
Interior design was a central feature of these Upstate medical buildings
If you visit a recently built or renovated doctor’s or dentist’s office, medical building or even a research laboratory, expect to find some unexpected visual pleasures. Several Greenville designers and others offer this inside look at some creative uses of medical space in the Upstate:
Bon Secours St. Francis Cancer Center
“Our center is very patient-centered, so we wanted to make sure the entire experience was centered around the patient and not around the staff,” said Karen Schwartz, vice president of performance management and support services at Bon Secours St. Francis Health System.
“Some of the design elements built into this center do have a positive impact on staff and productivity and what I’d call human sustainability,” Schwartz said. “They coordinate with a design principle called the well-being standard.”
Since Bon Secours St. Francis is a faith-based health care organization, that Catholic faith also has been incorporated in the design, most notably with the commissioned sculpture, Ascending Christ by Charlie Pate, Schwartz notes. “It definitely lends to that feeling of hope and healing that we wanted to make sure our patients and visitors felt when they come to this campus.”
The cancer center is infused with natural light from floor-to-ceiling windows in as many clinical and work areas as possible.
“One really interesting design is we have natural light in the corridors of the radiation department,” said Terra Dillard-Spann, administrative director of oncology services for Bon Secours St. Francis.
The actual radiation rooms have to be surrounded by 7-to-8 feet of concrete in all directions, so most radiation departments are placed in basements because it’s more economical to design them this way, Dillard-Spann said.
“What we did instead was build our vault above ground and then we built out the thickness of the walls necessary to still be safe,” she explained. “And this allowed us to put windows in the main corridor areas in the department.”
The cancer center’s artwork also was selected for the works’ healing and hopeful qualities.
“We were very intentional on the art,” Schwartz said. “When you come into the building to the right, there’s a staircase and we had a hanging sculpture that looks like birds in flight.”
Dentists and plastic surgery offices
Young physicians and dentists are putting more attention into their offices’ interiors, opting for several notches up from the standard, basic materials, said Katie Skoloff, owner and principal designer of In Site Designs.
“They’re all working to dress up their spaces to satisfy patients and clients, so they can feel more at home while waiting for their services,” she said. “They’re bringing in colors and materials that you’d see in a more high-end environment than a commercial office.”
A doctor’s office’s cabinetry once was a standard stainless steel tubular. “Now we’re dressing up the cabinets with custom paint colors and different finishes,” Skoloff said.
Constantine Dental, for example, has a patient exam room has textured cabinets that would look at home in a high-end house. Also, there is a large living art feature, a luscious plant, placed within a patient’s line of sight.
“Waiting rooms in the hospitality spaces are having more technology with televisions and iPad stations that keep patients interested and occupied while they wait,” Skoloff said.
The lobby areas also create a boutique atmosphere with furniture that has comfortable fabrics, coffee tables, and pieces that are not identical. For instance, the Constantine Dental lobby has the sort of soft plush sofa that might be found in a family room, as well as a bookshelf with art and magazines. A plant sits on a side table, and patients can watch a big screen television.
“Lobby” is an inadequate word to describe the waiting area at the AnMed Cosmetic & Plastic Surgery center of Dr. Terrence W. Bruner. Patients enter a space with large windows and views of green lawns, trees and stones. The waiting area also has hardwood flooring, a wood paneled wall, a stone wall, an abstract painting, and flowers.
“The doctors want their clients to have that boutique experience,” Skoloff said.
Brio Internal Medicine downtown
Brio, which is part of Tribe 513 medical offices, is located on the second floor of a 1920’s building at 201 North Main Street in downtown Greenville.
The old building’s new design included retaining its original brick walls and replicating its original windows. The building’s 12-foot ceilings were opened up with trusses and exposed beams. The beams and walls were whitewashed, meaning they were painted with white paint that was thinned out so the texture, graining and knotholes would show through, said Kathy Lenser of Kathy Lenser Interiors.
“It’s a fascinating space, and we felt very honored to come into that space and bring it back to life,” Lenser said.
“Brio’s is an excellent response to the fast, upbeat culture and youthful energy of downtown Greenville,” Lenser said. “At the same time, it honors the history of the 1920s building.”
The office’s historic character meshes well with its modern purpose. It was designed with red oak flooring, and over-sized black-and-white photographs that depict images of healthy lifestyles. “There’s a subliminal message that you’re in a space that promotes life, health and vitality, and it’s very effective,” Lenser said.
A beautiful setting with natural light can improve patient outcomes and help a medical office retain staff, Lenser said, citing research she’s read. “When you have beautiful artwork, it can lead a patient, psychologically, to a better place.”
Clemson University Biomedical Engineering Campus
The biomedical facility is housed in Greenville Health System University Medical Center’s Patewood campus. Lenser, then working with Design Strategies, received the 2013 ASID Carolinas Chapter “Excellence in Design” Award for the building’s design.
A key feature of the laboratory building’s design is the use of borrowed light through exterior windows to brighten collaborative spaces in the interior of the building. Natural light moves through the lab, across the circulation and collaborative area and through the lab on the far side of the building, Lenser said.
The lab has decidedly non-beige colors and materials, including a patterned linoleum product on the floor with purple and orange colors, in a salute to its ties to Clemson University.
The cabinet tops where some microscope work is conducted uses a greenish-teal color glass that is chemically resistant, Lenser said.
“We couldn’t use art in the lab itself because there are large hoods that take up wall space,” she noted. “But there are glass door fronts as you enter ach of the labs, and the natural light comes through external windows.”