Although it is located in a former warehouse where workers fabricated tiles made from porcelain—the same material used in most fillings—Seattle Kids Dentistry is not the usual banal chamber of root canals and dated magazines. Colorful, open, high-tech, and filled with natural light, the design of the space exemplifies the clinic’s mission to make a trip to the dentist an experience for kids that is free of fear.
Located just off Puget Sound at the western edge of Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood, the project marks a second collaboration between co-founder Dr. Kristi Linsenmayer and Jessica Helgerson and her Portland, Oregon-based firm Jessica Helgerson Interior Design (JHID). Linsenmayer had previously opened a small pediatric dental clinic in Ketchikan, Alaska, and hired Helgerson—based on her portfolio of design that blends color and natural materials—to design its interior.
I’ve been in practice for 20 years, and I’m happy being in my comfort zone—that comes with good design,” says Linsenmayer, who divides her time between the Alaska and Seattle clinics; the latter she co-founded with Dr. Purva Merchant. The design of both clinics includes open spaces full of natural light, which has had a calming effect on young patients. “It’s pretty amazing,” Linsenmayer adds. “I have many special needs kids and the natural light seems to work well.”
In their previous practices, Seattle Kids Dentistry’s founders “both had that feeling that every dental office looks, feels, and smells the same,” Merchant explains. “Of course, it is a medical practice, but the first thought when you walk in shouldn’t be, ‘Oh no, it’s the dentist.’” The designer’s first charge was to make children feel comfortable, starting with views outside, as well as of other kids who are undergoing treatment. “The building had really good bones and was a blank canvas,” says Helgerson. “It was just a long, simple rectangle with a band of nice, big, steel-sash windows.”
Textures revealed and applied are works of art
Individual treatment rooms were scrapped in favor of a long row of open dental chairs. “We needed an open plan to encourage kids to watch other kids and promote behavior modeling. There are high ceilings, lots of windows, few doors, and nothing to hide.” Merchant says. A former vault, now used as an X-ray room, is one of the only spaces with a closing door, but even that door has a window so parents can peek in.
Throughout the space, JHID’s design embraces color and texture. Exposed, board-formed concrete, revealed behind old drywall, was left as-is to retain an industrial feel. “We toyed with refinishing the surface, but it added so much as is,” Merchant says. “It’s like the artwork in the office.” Yellow and purple are the signature colors that coat utilitarian things: drinking fountains, window frames, door handles, and small seating cubes for parents beside the dental chairs.
Drawing inspiration from the area’s maritime heritage, the designers commissioned a series of colorful barnacles and had them applied to the walls throughout the clinic—some three-dimensional and others painted on—by artist Carrie Merkel. To add warmth, the designers introduced natural wood throughout, including sliding barn doors, desktops, and columns capping interior walls painted white.
Proof that dental visits can be fun, after all
Technology provides distractions for young patients, but only at the right times. Television screens were placed on the ceilings to help kids cope with more serious procedures, but nowhere else. “You give kids less dental aesthetic by giving them something else to focus on. It takes away the stress of having to focus on the injection coming,” Merchant says. “We didn’t want a jamboree. That’s why we don’t have a play area or a video game station in the lobby like many pediatric dentists. We want the fun to be in the dental chair, not the waiting room.”
And, though porcelain was once fabricated in the space, the point now is to use less of it. The colorful, open, clever design at Seattle Kids Dentistry helps change patients’ perceptions of dentist visits from dreaded to fun experiences, while emphasizing the serious preventative dental care its founders provide. “It’s important not just what we do every six months,” Merchant adds, “but what the parents do everyday.”Seattle Kids Dentistry
- Designer: Jessica Helgerson Interior Design (JHID)
- Client: Kristi Linsenmayer and Purva Merchant
- Where: Seattle
- What: 2,200 square feet on one floor
- Cost/sf: $182
Key Design Highlights
- An abundance of natural light keeps kids at ease during dental visits.
- Bright colors balanced with warm textures create an atmosphere that is comfortable and fun.
- Exposed concrete walls and custom wood details by the designer capture the aesthetic of the Pacific Northwest.
- Artistic interventions, such as barnacles that adorn the walls, recall the area’s maritime history.