8 quick makeover ideas

8 quick makeover ideas

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May 01, 2001
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By Sarah A. Chadwick, associate editor

Is your practice crying out for a new look? And is your budget screaming, "No!"? Well, help is here. Our team of design experts, all members of the Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board, knows you probably can't afford a complete hospital overhaul. But you can give your practice a makeover--just take it one room at a time. These eight tips will help you get started:

1. Buy a bucket of paint. "Without a doubt, giving your walls a fresh coat of paint offers the best bang for your buck," says Wayne Usiak, AIA, owner of Wayne Usiak and Associates/BDA Architecture in Albuquerque, N.M. Usiak suggests repainting your reception area and exam rooms in an inviting color, then adding a chair rail or decorative wallpaper boarder around the room.

Dan Chapel, AIA, NCARB, owner of Chapel and Associates Architecture in Little Rock, Ark., agrees, but warns that too many decorative elements on the walls could undermine your efforts. "Thirty years ago, exam rooms were built small, then wallpapered with an animal print or bright plaid motif," says Chapel. "These large designs scream, 'I haven't been touched since the '70s!'--and they make small rooms look even smaller. Instead, I recommend a simple coat of paint and tasteful artwork." A gallon of paint costs $15 to $25--well within your budget.

And yes, you want the public areas of the hospital to look nice for clients, but don't overlook your staff members, Chapel says. "Team members often spend more time at the clinic than they do at home, so make the working areas of the hospital pleasant as well," he says. "A fun and relaxing shade costs the same as white paint, so use color to spruce up your working areas."

2. Look to the floor. Replacing flooring in your reception and waiting areas and exam rooms isn't exactly cheap, but the change makes a huge impact on pet owners' perceptions of your practice, says Dr. Dennis F. Cloud, owner of four St. Louis-based hospitals. "Pets that visit the hospital generally lay on the floor, so pet owners are always glancing in that direction," he says. "Make sure your floors are clean, a warm color, and a nice texture."

John Knapp, AIA, of Knapp Schmidt Architects in St. Paul, Minn., recommends using commercial sheet-vinyl floor coverings for durability. "Vinyl coverings come in a variety of colors and styles, and they're designed to withstand daily cleaning," he says. "But beware of economy kitchen vinyl--it won't last long."

High-quality sheet-vinyl flooring costs about $2.50 to $4.50 per square foot, and it only takes a few days to install. You also can tackle the project in phases, so your entire hospital isn't out of commission simultaneously.

3. Lighting sets the tone. Many people only think about lighting in terms of what they need to work. Think again. The right kind of lighting sets the mood for your practice. "Using different levels of light and light fixtures in your reception area and waiting room creates drama," says Usiak. "In the seating area, use incandescent lamps to set a more homey mood. Then combine different kinds of lighting fixtures to create interest. For example, use recessed, pendant, chandelier, and track lights."

Chapel agrees that lighting helps set the tone for pet owners. "Using incandescent lights in the reception area makes a nice transition from the kind of lights clients use at home to the brighter fluorescent lights you use in the treatment and surgery areas of the hospital," he says.

And for the exam rooms, Knapp says changing lighting can be as simple as changing the color of the light you use. Light bulbs come in color temperatures that range from a cool blue, to white, to a warmer yellow. In the exam room, consider using a four-tube fixture instead of two tubes to provide more light for exams.

4. Replace ceiling tiles. Take a second, and gaze upward. Are your ceiling tiles sagging? Are they marred with stains? If so, it's time to replace them with new acoustical tiles, says Mark Hafen, AIA, a principal of Gates Hafen Cochrane Architects PC in Boulder, Colo. This project will run you about $2 per square foot.

"While you're at it, consider hanging acoustic ceiling baffles in the reception area and runs to muffle sound," says Hafen. "Baffles cost about $40 each, and you'll need the same surface area of baffles as you have of square-foot floor space. Also consider hanging sound-absorbing fabric on the walls in the reception area, runs, and boarding areas."

5. Pop off a countertop. If your exam-room countertops are avocado green, poppyseed orange, or glitter-flecked white, it's way past time to replace them. Step out of the '70s, and install more modern, warmer-toned countertops. "Aside from really dark hues, just about any color works well," says Usiak. "Darker colors, such as black and dark burgundy, show more scratches." And just replacing the countertops--not the entire counter or cabinetry unit--will save you a bundle of money. Countertops cost about $300 vs. $1,500 to replace the entire cabinet.

One warning: Don't let current color trends influence your decisions too much, Hafen says. "Practice owners often get sucked into color choices that are too trendy, then they end up living with the colors way too long," he says. "If you want to use a trendy color in your décor, the best approach is to choose a fairly neutral color for your cabinets and counters, and use the brighter color on the countertop--which is easier to change," he says.

6. Clean up the clutter. Take a minute to stand back and critique your reception area with an objective eye. What's the first thing you notice? If it's the printer, photocopier, and fax machine sitting on the desk or the bulging file cabinet behind your receptionist, then you've got a problem with clutter. "An unkempt reception desk sets a bad tone," says Usiak.

If the problem goes beyond file management, Usiak recommends buying a new reception desk with cubbyholes to store the printer, fax machine, and copy machine. This kind of desk costs between $200 and $500 per linear foot. And he says a flat-screen computer monitor saves your team lots of space, although it's not cheap. Flat screen monitors usually set you back about $600.

7. Take a look in the mirror. OK, the way you and your staff members look isn't really a hospital design issue--but it makes a huge difference in clients' perceptions, Dr. Cloud says. "The cheapest thing to remodel is yourself," he says. "Buying a nice lab coat, dress slacks, and shirts for the doctors and matching scrubs or embroidered shirts for your team members will give your practice a sharper, more professional look."

8. Step outside. A lot of attention goes to the inside of the clinic when the outside is what clients see first, so Chapel recommends you look outside first. Do you see peeling paint or cracked shutters? How about potholes in the parking lot, weeds in the landscaping, or missing letters on your practice sign? "Fixing these problems gives your practice a fresh look," says Chapel. "The outside influences clients' impressions of what's inside, so maintain it well."

If you don't know where to start, try this: Photograph every area of the hospital, starting in the parking lot, then study the pictures. "You see your practice every day, so you stop noticing details. Looking at pictures often makes the problems glaringly obvious," Chapel says.

Once you've identified key problem areas, Usiak suggests you list the estimated cost of each project, and pick the top three fixes that fit your budget. Then, if you have money leftover, tackle the fourth item on your list, and so on. With this approach, you'll make the most of your money--and of your facility.

May 2001 Veterinary Economics