When Patricia Panucci, DMD, MS, opened her practice in Manhattan Beach, Calif, a sleek 20 miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles, she was told by peers that she would outgrow her new space in 4 years or less.

“My office is only 872 square feet,” Panucci notes. “I share a reception area, hallway, and stairway with a periodontist; so that shared space gives us an additional 210 square feet.”

Given the size of her new office, Panucci knew she would have to maximize every square inch of the space in order for the practice to succeed.

“When I first found the space, the periodontist that we signed on to share the suite with was already working with an architect to design that office,” she recalls. “The architect was talented, but didn’t really have the background in what we needed, from a small-space perspective.”

Lighting and electrical wiring issues soon became a concern for Panucci when working with the architect, as they suggested closing in the vaulted ceilings within her suite to hide wires and other hardware components. “The vaulted ceilings in the office were one of the most attractive features of the space. It would have halved the size of the already small room if we closed them in,” Panucci recalls. “I quickly realized I needed to hire someone who understood what I needed and who knew how to make the space work for me.”

Panucci enlisted the help of Green Curve Studio Inc, Portland, Ore, to consult on the architecture and interior design of her new office. “Having one company do it all made the process very cohesive, streamlined, and organized,” she notes.

In addition to leaving the vaulted ceilings exposed, the designers at Green Curve Studio suggested a mural be added to the farthermost wall. “When you walk into our treatment area, the first thing the patient sees is a beach scene that takes up the entire west wall of the room, from floor to ceiling,” Panucci explains. “Putting an infinite view on the wall makes the space seem much bigger than it is.”

Another issue Panucci had with the small footprint of her office was patient flow. She was concerned about how patients would move about the treatment area without bumping into each other or her staff.

“There wasn’t a distinct area for patients to enter and to exit,” she notes. “We had to figure out not only where to put the chairs, but how to angle them so that there was enough space for us to work and for our patients to feel comfortable.”

As Panucci explains, Green Curve Studio devised a diagonal placement of the four treatment chairs, complementing them with slender, custom-made side units that fit within the designated spacing parameters.

Over the course of several weeks, the design team at Green Curve Studio helped to answer a number of concerns Panucci had with her small space. However, as she settled in and started seeing patients, Panucci ultimately made some tweaks to the office layout after realizing that certain elements didn’t flow as intended.

“Our exam room was a biggie for us,” she notes. “About 5 years in, we realized we needed to redo the design and placement of the exam room to more align with the flow and layout of the space.”

Also in the last 5 years, Panucci added some decorative patient seating in the treatment area that adds to the overall look and functionality of the room.

“We had a lot of parents bring siblings to their appointments, and we wanted to invite them back from the reception area to experience the fun that we had in the treatment space,” Panucci says. “So, we had a custom-made wave bench designed to fit along the wall facing the treatment chairs so that siblings and parents could come back and hang out. Now, the patients feel as if they’re walking into a lounge or a living room.”

With five full-time and two part-time employees, Panucci has made all 872 square feet of her practice work to her benefit. This past August, she and her team celebrated their 10-year anniversary in the space. She notes that at times it was difficult, especially as the practice grew, but she held true to some clever philosophies that helped to make the space work for her.

“Go minimal. Not just minimal equipment, but if you have a small space, it can easily look cluttered,” she suggests. “We make it a constant habit to keep our countertops clear and keep everything hidden in cabinetry or cubbies. Clutter makes a space feel very small and crowded. Keeping equipment minimal and being very organized so that everything has a place is best for a small office.” OP

Lori Sichtermann is a freelance writer for Orthodontic Products. She can be reached at [email protected].