A FAILING SUCTION MOTOR would seem unlikely to provide a spark of inspiration. For Dr. Tin D. Lam, though, the faulty device would, over time, lead to an entirely new, up-from-the-ground dental practice.

At the time, he was in a space better suited to the Reagan era, struggling to find a way to update his equipment and office design without interrupting the care of his patients at Cornerstone Dental in Harrisburg, North Carolina, a northeast suburb of Charlotte. The suction motor was the canary in the coal mine: As other equipment began to peter out, Dr. Lam determined it would be more cost-effective, and less painful, to do a full new build.

The result, this stand-alone, 5,000-square-foot, 12-operatory edifice, cost roughly $2.9 million (including new equipment). The shared vision of Dr. Lam and his interior designer, Angèle Hashoule, encompassed a spacious office with airy 12-foot ceilings to combat patient claustrophobia. Matching arches in the floor and ceiling add to the plein-air quality of the surroundings, while less attractive elements—machine and utility rooms, for example—were tucked safely out of public view.

Dr. Tin D. Lam’s New-Construction Tips

Comprehensively survey your land before getting started—you don’t want later to discover you’re atop ‘bad soil.’ Then plan ahead, stay involved, inspect every inch of the way—and budget an additional
15 percent over what you think it will cost. Also realize it may take twice as long as you think, or as has been promised.”

The marriage of efficiency and aesthetics is what makes Dr. Lam proudest of his new space, which opened in March 2021 after two years of construction. It’s “designed like a racetrack,” he says, “to ensure efficient ingress and egress for patients and staff, and to centralize equipment, supplies and sterilization for all operatories.” Everything a doctor or hygienist might need is within reach of the operatory chair, he notes, adding that he and his design team placed the consult room close to the business office to further streamline operations.

As for those aesthetics: The cool blues and mixed metals and woods throughout Cornerstone Dental Group exude visual calm—a result that took a bit longer, and cost a little more, than Dr. Lam had accounted for. The design, while beautiful, was built on “bad soil”—a problem, he discovered, that had long plagued the area. Ensuring structural integrity tacked on an additional four months and $150,000. Regardless, the finished product is well worth it, paying daily dividends for patients and team members alike. “The entire office, from hallways, consult rooms, sterilization and treatment rooms, were designed with colors, patterns and visual features that subtly [show] elegance and excellence,” Dr. Lam says. “The idea is to make [patients] comfortable and forget they’re in a dental office.”