What’s New in Office Design?

What's New In Office DesignHow professional designers use new and unusual materials to create a memorable office design.

Barbara L. Wright, C.I.D.

In a slow-growth economy having an up to date office is the best way to attract attention and set your practice apart from the competition. More eye care practitioners are realizing that the look of their office needs to be on a par with national chains like Starbucks, Pottery Barn and Lenscrafters if they want to attract and keep patients.

However, your independent eye care practice has to be even better than the chains. Your office needs a unique look and personality that truly reflects your practice. That'™s the thing that makes patients totally confident that they are getting excellent value for their money.

One of the ways professional designers create unique and memorable offices is by keeping up to date on the latest products. Unusual and stylish materials can make a statement that gets you noticed and still stands the test of time. Here are my tips on what'™s new for eye care interiors.

Chairs are an often over-looked or last minute element in the design of an office. Yet when a patient sits down to try a $400 frame on a flimsy $200 chair, it'™s no wonder he or she has trouble believing that the frame is really worth that price. Having sturdy, fashionable high-quality chairs with custom upholstery tells the patient that you care about quality and sell high quality frames.

There is a dizzying array of commercial-grade upholstery fabrics available so it really helps to have a designer edit down the choices for you. The newest designs most suited for eye care offices are simple modern interpretations of natural forms and patterns. Stripes and geometrics in rich deep colors that accent the color scheme are also good choices for waiting room and optical seating.

Never use typical œoffice style seating from an office warehouse store in your waiting area or optical if you want to make the right impression. Invest in high quality chairs and they will look better, be more comfortable and last much longer.

Energy-Saving Lighting
Before 2009 we would never specify dimmers on fluorescent lights because they flickered, caused an annoying buzz and were expensive to boot. Now lighting technology has finally developed to the point where you can successfully dim fluorescent lights. No longer must you use energy-hogging incandescent lights in the exam room.

Halogen lighting continues to be the champ for most types of optical display lighting, but still causes heat build-up when used in locking showcases. LED'™s (Light Emitting Diodes) are becoming a viable alternative for lighting showcases without heat build-up. Even though the color of LED lighting is bit on the blue side compared to halogen, eliminating the heat makes this an acceptable trade-off. As LED technology evolves we will eventually gain the holy grail of optical lighting: perfectly balanced white lighting without the heat.

Flooring Trends
More OD'™s are requesting hard-surface flooring for the entire optical because it lasts longer than carpet. Most people love the look of hardwood flooring but don'™t realize how difficult and expensive it is to maintain in a commercial setting.  Hardwood and engineered-wood (like Pergo) flooring now take a back seat to wood-patterned luxury vinyl for retail interiors.

Today'™s luxury vinyl is nothing like grandma'™s linoleum. The newest vinyls are designed to look just as good as the real thing but are quieter than a wood floor, easier underfoot and require minimal maintenance. They even come in planks with beveled edges that make the floor look like real hardwood. Luxury vinyl also comes in stone, marble, slate and even metallic and pearl looks. These are great for setting off a high-end boutique in the optical.

In commercial carpet bold abstract patterns, nature-inspired patterns and colorful geometrics provide an exciting new range of choices. Modular tiles are becoming more affordable and most are available in the same beautiful patterns as broadloom carpet. Carpet tiles can be a good choice for high traffic offices because it is easy to replace a few tiles at a time wherever the most wear and tear occurs.

Being Green is Easier Than Ever
Sustainability is no longer just a trend; it'™s a movement. Manufacturers of carpet, vinyl, wall covering, paint and furniture have changed both their processes and raw materials to make their products more environmentally sound. More recycled fibers go into commercial carpets now than ever before.

If the carpet you install today is from a manufacturer with a recycling program, they will take back that carpet when you replace it in eight or ten years and recycle it into new product. Ask your carpet dealer or contractor if the carpet you are buying has a recycling program.

Carpet glue and paint used to be big offenders for giving off odors and VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds) like formaldehyde into the air in new offices. Now low-VOC carpet glue and paint are readily available so your new office can have a healthier air quality right from start.

Architectural Resin Panels
Decorative resin panels bring light, texture and pattern to interior spaces and are especially effective as translucent privacy dividers for small spaces like contact lens training. All manner of natural and man-made materials can be sandwiched between layers of poured resin providing a touch of the unexpected. Panel designs range from reeds, leaves and flowers to industrial mesh, ice cubes and more.

Counters and Cabinets
Although granite is still a very popular choice for reception counters, Italian-imported quartz surfacing is a new and appealing option. It is durable and attractive at a lower cost than granite.

Plastic laminate manufacturers like Formica find design inspiration from across the globe with exotic wood laminates like Couture Wood and Elegant Rosewood in a new œLuxe finish reminiscent of fine furniture. They offer a variety of finishes on their stone patterns from honed and sculptured to riverwash. WilsonArt'™s Luna Series, inspired by the surface of the moon, features subtle metallics and textures.

Using unusual, eye-catching high quality materials requires a higher initial investment in your office design. The payoff is an office that stands head and shoulders above the crowd bringing you increased referrals and more sales for years to come.

Barbara L. Wright, CID is an award-winning certified interior designer who has designed more than 600 eye care practices. She is the author of Optometric Office Design Process & Pitfalls and president of Barbara Wright Design, specializing in optical office design since 1984.

Get Barbara's free report, 7 Common Office Design Blunders, at http://www.BarbaraWrightDesign.com

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