By Brian Johnson
Dolan Media Newswires
Minneapolis — Architect Bob Shaffer doesn’t mind a visit to the dentist.
In fact, he would be happy to make more such trips as he aims to take a few more bites out of a market sector that has served him well over the years: dental-office designs.
“It’s one little vein of work we do,” said Shaffer, president of Minneapolis-based Foundation Architects, who has completed hundreds of dental clinics. “We have been talking with dentists all over the state, most within range of here.”
Shaffer said the number of clinics being built “is down, from what I understand, but we are still doing work.”
It’s tough to get a handle on how much design and construction work is going on in the dental/medical clinic sector, because professional organizations such as the American Dental Association don’t closely track such activity.
Anecdotal evidence suggests it’s not exactly a recession-proof industry. Toothaches don’t magically go away when the economy is down, but that doesn’t mean dental clinics are numb to the effects of a recession.
In tough budgetary times, patients are more inclined to hold off on nonessential work, according to Dr. Michael Leonard, who practices at Chanhassen Family Dentistry in Chanhassen, Minn.
“With dentistry now, if your practice has been doing the bread and butter — of caring for people and doing the things that need to be done — a lot of people are falling back and being conscious about that kind of stuff,” he said.
“On the other hand, they are putting off more elective things. It’s like, ‘I could get a new paint job on my car or get the brakes done. I am getting my brakes done.'”
St. Louis Park-based Karkela Construction has built more than 700 dental clinics in the past 23 years, according to company president Roger Swagger. Like everything else, that type of work has slowed, he said.
“It certainly is softer,” Swagger said. “But we are seeing more projects in 2010 than we did in 2009.
“It has been a good niche,” Swagger added. “We have had to work hard to maintain it and so forth. But it is an area we are certainly known for.”
Karkela and Foundation collaborated on recent projects for Chanhassen Family Dentistry and Excelsior Town Dental, Excelsior.
Located in a small 1950s building, the Excelsior clinic was set up to accommodate four to five dentists, Shaffer said. The project team renovated the interior to make it more calming and functional.
The remade exterior, meanwhile, is more consistent with the character of downtown Excelsior, Shaffer said.
“We pretty much gutted out the inside of it, cleaned up the outside,” he said.
Leonard said design trends in dental clinics have gone “back and forth” from sterile to homey.
“Now it seems like things are the right mix,” he said. “We want things to be very uniform. We don’t want it overdone.”
With its fireplace, high windows, and black granite, Chanhassen Family Dentistry’s new space belies the stereotype of a sterile dental office. The waiting room doesn’t just have magazines; it has high-definition, flat-screen TVs that educate and inform patients on dental-related topics.
“That one has sort of a lodge feel to it, at least in the waiting area,” Shaffer said. “One of the windows is an aquarium for the kids.
“Chanhassen Family Dentistry is not ostentatious, and yet has the fireplace and some nice amenities. It’s a low-key, calm and friendly environment.”