Prince charming

Courtney Dental (above and opposite page) in Townsville is a Queenslander sympathetically renovated by Medifit.
Courtney Dental (above and opposite page) in Townsville is a Queenslander sympathetically renovated by Medifit.

Leadlight windows, high ceilings, original fixtures, and features- the charm factor for practices in older properties is something patients love, discovers Kerryn Ramsey

The look of a dental practice is the first thing that patients notice. Whether it’s an office, a suite or a stand-alone building, first impressions set the tone in a client’s mind-and that first impression can be very difficult to change.

This could be why so many practices choose a sleek, contemporary look. Pristine white walls, unobtrusive lighting, designer furniture and the latest technology all give an appearance of serious professionalism. This style is sophisticated, cosmopolitan and modern.

Then there are those practices that do things a little differently. Positioned in older buildings and sympathetically renovated, they celebrate their history and revel in their old-world charm.

Dr. Craig Courtney owns Courtney Dental in Townsville, North Queensland. The practice is situated in an old Queenslander-a timber or weatherboard house set on high stumps to allow cooling ventilation under the building. “The house is over 100 years old and was moved here from Charters Towers,” says Dr. Courtney. “No-one is sure of the exact date but it’s been here as long as anyone can remember.”

The building was originally owned by another dentist who lived in the house and used a shack on the front of the property as a surgery. Eventually, Dr. Courtney purchased the property in 1992 and began planning the design of his new business.

“We looked at all the different possibilities and more than one person informed me it would be cheaper to knock it down and build something new,” he recalls. “Though, honestly, that was never really an option. I and all of my staff love the old place and really wanted to keep it as original as possible.”

The renovation took a full six months and Dr. Courtney used local suppliers to source period features. The windows on the old building all needed extensive work. “That was a really big job. All the windows had to be taken off, the glass re-puttied, the frames painted and then they were all re-hung. We didn’t cut any corners.” In addition to this, a stunning stained glass window was created for the surgery by Townsville Stained Glass.

One of the advantages of an old Queenslander is easy access to the ceiling space and under the floor. This made the fitting of pipes, plumbing, lights and ducted air-conditioning extremely simple. It’s a much more efficient way of heating or cooling the space, compared to tradition HVAC systems, perfect for this practice.

The sympathetic design of the Townsville practice was created by Medifit Design & Construct, whose team clearly understood Dr. Courtney’s love of the old property. One of the most important elements was getting the colour scheme just right. “The colour palette must consider all aspects, including heritage, the client’s requirements, his patient demographics and the context of the practice in its locality,” explains Geoff Raphael, Medifit’s design director. “In heritage design, modern colours can be used very successfully but with this straight restoration, complementary heritage colours were perfect for the exterior.”

The patient’s response to the renovation has been very positive. “This practice has great warmth and personality,” says Dr. Courtney. “Most of our patients appreciate that we took the time to keep it as original as possible. It’s not a clinical look; it’s very laid-back.”

A central feature of the building is a large saltwater tropical fish tank that serves double duty as a noticeboard. “We have a board above the tank where we put photos of all our exploits. It might be some shots of our latest fishing trip or a mug shot of one of the nurses enjoying herself a little too much at a party,” says Dr Courtney with a laugh.

Another charming old dental practice in the Melbourne suburb of Greensborough is Diamond Valley Dental Group. The building was originally a family home built in 1920 and now owned by Dr. John Boucher. “I’ve been in this building for 36 years,” says the dentist. “It’s grown organically around me. It’s definitely part of the community and people identify it with ‘old Greensborough’. It was one of the first buildings constructed on this particular hill.”

The classic white weatherboard practice has just had a big paint makeover this year. “We changed our internal colour scheme and renewed our signage. The structural work took place prior to this-over the past few years. We replaced the original corrugated iron roof, re-stumped the main building and replaced the surrounding verandah.”

The client list at Diamond Valley is long and very steady. “Personally, I’m seeing the fourth generation of patients. My previous partner was in the area from 1953 and there are families from back then who still visit us today.”

Another practitioner, Dr. Arthur Walsh, spent 21 years working in England before moving to Australia. He purchased Whitehouse Dental-another classic Queenslander-in the Brisbane suburb of Chermside just two months ago. The building was constructed in 1932 and features high ceilings and both leadlight and porthole windows.

“I was working for a corporate in England,” says Dr. Walsh. “It was in a shopping center and I felt like everything was tiny, everyone was squashed and there wasn’t enough room. It’s so different working in an environment with a homely atmosphere. I adore having all this space.”

The expansive garden around the freestanding building was a big selling point for Dr. Walsh. “The gardens are a real highlight of the property and I intend to make them much more inviting to people. I would love it if people could just sit outside and enjoy the scenery.”

The practice is painted in soft, friendly colours and has a distinctly beach-house feel. “I was attracted to the building immediately and I plan to make it even better. I think it affects the staff and the patients in a very positive way. The mood and feeling in the practice is much more relaxed than in any other practice where I’ve worked.”

And that is the advantage of an older, more homely style of dental practice. While the sleek and seamless contemporary look can give patients confidence in the professionalism of their practitioner, it can also be a little cold, placing an invisible barrier between the staff and the patient.

A cozy dental practice full of original fixtures and features and a warm colour palette is immediately welcoming. It is familiar and patients tend to relax in comfortable surrounds.

“Patients react very favorably to this wonderful old Queenslander,” points out Dr Walsh. “The house becomes a focal point and starts a conversation between them and my staff. Rather than being cold and clinical, it is warm, welcoming and familiar. I really think it helps patients understand that the people who work here are just like them. And who could be afraid of that?”


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