AFTER GRADUATING FROM Baylor University a decade ago, Rex Wildey headed west with some friends, killing time surfing in Santa Monica, watching the wetsuit-clad locals spill out of their Volkswagen buses — the emblematic surfer vehicle since Lyndon Johnson was in the White House.

Fast-forward to 2013: Dr. Rex Wildey, now a San Antonio–based pediatric dentist in his first year post-residency, heads back to California with his wife, Jennifer, in search of inspiration for the design of his first practice.

“I’ve always liked the VW bus,” he says. “You see a lot of surfers driving them with their boards packed in. It’s fun.” His sojourn convinced Dr. Wildey to pursue a “surf shop” theme for his practice — “a relaxing atmosphere for a place people don’t consider very relaxing.”

Back in Texas, he found a beat-up 1974 VW bus for sale. “I took my truck out and towed it back, and next thing you now, we’re hoisting it into the second story with a crane.” (“You want to do what?” Dr. Wildey remembers his contractor, Brian Garrison, saying. “Let’s do it — no problem, I got it.”) A fresh coat of vibrant orange paint later, the bus is now the centerpiece of Dr. Wildey’s immensely inviting practice — completed in just three months, thanks to a preexisting shell perfect for a dental office. It opened last June.

The front two-thirds of the bus jut into the reception area; the back sticks through a wall into checkout, where kids can open the hatch and grab a prize on their way out. (A flat-screen TV is mounted inside so young patients can play video games while they wait.)

The VW is the obvious focal point of Wildey Pediatric, but the rest of the immaculate space adheres to the design aesthetic of what Dr. Wildey calls “the cleanest surf shop you’ll ever be in”: calming colors throughout, tranquil blue VCT tile in the treatment rooms and large windows on three sides of the practice. “I wanted to make kids not feel like they’re closed in,” he says. “It’s bright, airy and fun.”

Another unusual touch: two drop-down lights that are visible as patients walk through the front door. “They’re from a grain elevator,” Dr. Wildey says. “They’re explosion-proof.”

Finally, after another trip to Santa Monica with his wife, who handles the practice’s front office and marketing, Dr. Wildey came back with seven surfboards, which are now mounted throughout the space. An assortment of chairs purchased in San Antonio and refinished by the doctor himself add eclectic variety to the reception area.

The result? California dreaming in south Texas. “It’s been an awesome adventure,” says Dr. Wildey, surf patois tripping lightly off his tongue. “We just waited for a little inspiration, and then we made it work.”

Dr. Rex Wildey’s Specialty-Practice Tips

  1. THE FIRST QUESTION TO ASK YOURSELF: What is the floor plan, and how is the functionality going to work? The second: What is the practice’s central theme?
  2. THEN YOU COME UP WITH HOW YOU MAKE IT ALL FLOW. You can’t do it the other way around.
  3. COME UP WITH A BIG IDEA, BUT MAKE SURE IT’LL WORK. We had a set amount of square footage, so we had to work within that.
  4. IF YOU CAN REPURPOSE EQUIPMENT AND MATERIALS, you can make your budget go a lot farther.