Dr. Tara Howell created a modern yet welcoming practice in Charlotte, NC that’s just right for her patients, team and herself.

One of the most comforting human feelings is when something’s just right: not too much of any one thing, not too little of others. That’s the feeling patients get upon entering Dr. Tara Howell’s practice, Carolina Dental, in Charlotte, North Carolina. And it continues throughout the entire facility, which feels modern but never sterile, techy but not tech-obsessed, and professional yet friendly overall.

Carolina Dental’s welcoming area is cafe-like, with exactly the right furniture and amenities to soothe patients during their brief wait. The mix of colors, upholsteries and textures would be right at home in an upscale coffee shop or, for that matter, the lobby of a startup. A cantilever-suspended reclaimed wood slab creates an iPad bar, where patients can perch on clear acrylic furniture—a clever touch so they occupy less visual space, and help keep things cozy rather than cluttered. Upholstered bench seating provides a visual ‘pop’ of bright color amid the cool-hued walls. Compact, mod lounge chairs offer a third seating option.

Moving inside, the Carolina Dental sign behind reception gets a whimsical execution that’s decidedly un-stuffy. It’s just one of the clever, personal-feeling touches scattered throughout the office, from mouthwash presented in apothecary-style bottles as you might expect in a boutique hotel, to lollipop trees for the kiddos, to the understated acrylic signage at the front door.

In the operatories, the choice of rustic-style wood flooring provides warm contrast to the unavoidable clinical elements of healthcare cabinetry. Cool greys, steel blues and off-whites provide a mix of tones so the atmosphere remains modern without becoming visually tiring. Patients can kick back and relax while they watch TV, or let their eyes bounce from accent to accent. That’s equally important for team members, who appreciate the open spaces and design choices that make it a nice place to spend each workday. There’s even a separate team entrance so they can come and go without interrupting the welcoming area’s calm

Construction was originally planned to take three months, but extended out to six due in part to an unanticipated relocation of their transformer from the electrical room to the break room, necessitating a partial redesign. It’s an interruption Dr. Howell took in stride. “Sometimes, you have to make adjustments when issues come up and try to minimize your stress,” she said. “There is almost always a solution.”

Besides advising colleagues to roll with the changes during the inevitable hiccups that occur during construction, Dr. Howell also says that proper planning before the process begins is a big step toward minimizing headaches down the road. “Consult with your equipment specialist before your design is made,” she said. “All chairs need to have a specific amount of room and space around them, for example, and here in the state of North Carolina, your panoramic machine needs to be in a separate room, which did cause some design issues.”

The $450,000 total budget also turned out to be just right, and it got a helpful stretch from Dr. Howell’s personal touch on the overall design and help from Benco Dental on getting the most from every dollar. For a considerable but reasonable sum, Dr. Howell has a practice she can call a home away from home along with her patients and team…a smart, productive space that will continue to look and feel modern, warm and welcoming for many years to come.



Dr. Tara L. Howell’s practice, Carolina Dental, was first in Charlotte, NC to offer digital impressions. She is a University of Delaware graduate and received her DMD from the University of Pittsburgh. In her spare time, Dr. Howell enjoys spending time with family, participating in community events, traveling, shopping and cycling. She’s also a diehard Charlotte Hornets fan and season ticket holder.