The Sydney suburb of Erskineville prides itself on being design-savvy with an industrial edge—and Erko Dental fits right in, discovers Kerryn Ramsey.
The inner-city Sydney suburb of Erskineville is often referred to as a village due to its community feel, diverse eclectic population and string of shops, pubs and cafes. It has an arty, slightly left-of-centre vibe and revels in its uniqueness.
Erko Dental opened in 2014 and fits in beautifully with Erskineville’s edgy atmosphere. Owned and operated by the husband-and-wife team of Drs David Leong and Angela McCarthy, the practice happily breaks with design convention.
“From the outset, we didn’t want Erko Dental to look like a typical practice,” says Dr Leong. “We didn’t want big stock images of smiles or the colours blue and green to appear anywhere. When people walk down the street, we want them to think, ‘What’s that?’” says Dr McCarthy. “‘Is it a cafe? Is it a bar? Oh, it’s a dental practice!’ Erskineville is one of the few areas in Sydney where you could get away with this kind of approach.”
Dr Leong notes that the couple also wanted the practice to reflect their personalities. “We live in the area and wanted the practice to be a place where we liked going to work. There’s beautiful light coming in through the front windows and skylights fill the building with natural light. It was important that the practice fitted in with the neighbourhood but equally important that it was almost our home away from home.”
To create their dream practice, Drs Leong and McCarthy employed Antony Poate of Antony Poate Design to design the layout. The existing building was a two-bedroom-and-study residential terrace with a number of architectural features they wanted to keep. As the structure is long and narrow, there were only a few options in regard to positioning the rooms and incorporating necessities such as staircases and disabled toilets.
“David and Angela are very design-savvy people,” says Poate. “They have a very good sense of style with a clear understanding of what they like and what they wanted. We had a great working relationship with a lot of respect for each other’s abilities and design sensibilities.”
The design of Erko Dental utilises the existing space beautifully with the ground floor of the terrace as the heart of the practice. Large glass windows overlook the street and the front door opens into the reception/waiting area.
The flecked concrete floor has been polished to a high degree and the receptionist sits behind a pressed-metal divider. One entire wall of the waiting area is a chalkboard covered in artwork and quotes that change regularly.
“People walking past often stop and peek in to see what’s on the chalkboard,” says Dr Leong. “It’s part marketing and part fun.”
“David and Angela are very design-savvy people. They have a very good sense of style with a clear understanding of what they like and what they wanted. We had a great working relationship with a lot of respect for each other’s abilities and design sensibilities.” – Antony Poate
Behind the reception area is an OPG room, sterilising room, two surgeries and the disabled toilet. A long hallway runs down one side of the building. To keep everything connected and maintain a nice natural flow, the old stairs were demolished and moved to the back of the building. “In fact, the whole back part of the house was demolished and a new rear section built to replace it,” says Poate. “This allowed us to place all the clinical areas on the ground floor with the office, staff room and lab area upstairs.”
If the practice expands, there is the potential to add another surgery by converting one of the upstairs rooms.
While the colour palette of the practice is basically neutral, a large and vibrant graffiti mural runs down the length of the hallway. “The artist’s name is Nico and I had seen his work around the local area,” says Dr McCarthy. “I liked it because it wasn’t too dirty or grungy. I managed to get in contact with him and commissioned the work. It’s bright, colourful and geometric, and can be seen when sitting in either of the surgery chairs. It ties in nicely with the Erskineville vibe and people often comment on it.”
One nice surprise was the local council’s attitude to car parking. Many councils try to gain lots of off-street parking when any new business is proposed. However, most inner-city councils now understand and accept that creating extra car parking is simply impossible. “Erko Dental has one space at the back of the building and the council said that one space is a maximum rather than a minimum,” says Poate.
The reception area also features an exposed bare brick wall that’s mirrored in both surgeries. “We needed to construct a wall between the two surgeries so we decided to make a feature of it,” says Dr Leong. “We searched to find reclaimed brick that matched the existing building. It’s unusual to have bare brick in surgeries but it looks great and makes the room much more interesting.”
The feel of the practice is industrial chic with plenty of personal, almost eccentric, touches. The design celebrates the original building with many areas stripped back and exposed to create a link to its origins. “The mix of finishes and materials means that it doesn’t feel cold and hard,” says Poate.
“By enhancing the older, more traditional elements and combining them with a new industrial feel, the practice has a real warmth. It welcomes you with exuberance.”
The whole build only took four and a half months and proceeded without any major problems. While there’s always extensive plumbing, electrical and drainage issues associated with such a build, the project was only a few weeks over time.
“The fact that David and Angela are brave clients who could see the potential of the building made things much easier,” says Poate. “It’s hard for a lot of clients to visualise what’s possible but they were willing to take risks and embrace creativity. The end result is wonderful and they fully realised their vision.”