Sparkle and shine

If you’re a university student and your teeth hurt, or need a polish, you’ll want a dentist nearby. Students are busy, their mobility is frequently restricted and schools often help pay dental costs. With this captive audience in mind, Dr. Dean Gaber opened two dental clinics: one at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., and the other at the University of Waterloo (also in Ontario). Both are located in their respective university student centres and neither are what you’d expect.

A typical dental office is a strange kind of space, neither cozy — given its intimate purpose — nor stylish, which might be expected, considering the high cost of service. Up front is a reception area likely displaying outdated magazines, with workaday drilling rooms somewhere at the back. The decor is often prosaic: beige paint, a plastic laminate reception desk, an ominous wall of charts and records and inexpensive drop-in-panel ceiling tiles everywhere above.

Gaber created Campus Dentist so students could get their teeth attended to in an atmosphere of “sparkle, shine and glamour,” in the words of his interior designer, Isabelle Glinka. Lux Design, Glinka’s boutique design firm, was hired to turn the bones of each space — already fitted with the necessary walls, chairs and plumbing — into a kind of after-hours dentist lounge. Gaber anticipated that students would be taken by “bright, white and simple,” with sassy accessories and a sophisticated vibe. In both clinics, a small area is made spacious by the exposed concrete slab above. Ducts and overhead services are left exposed and painted either white (Waterloo) or black (McMaster — where the slab is 20 feet above, making the clinic feel far larger than its 485 square feet).

The clinics share a distinct visual identity despite their different size and shape: blizzard white walls, a custom reception desk with a mirrored front and a few Philippe Starck furnishings. Both entries are marked by a large mirror in an ornate frame and sheer white curtains, hung against the white walls, making everything feel softer. A perfect white plaster hand, cupped or pointing, is mounted on a wall of every operatory as a quirky coat hook. For glamour — often absent from the T-shirt- and sweatpant-clad university crowd — a series of Baroque-inspired chandeliers are hung in the short hallways.

The chandeliers at McMaster, custom made by Bob King in St. Catharines, Ont., generated the clinics’ style. Gaber ordered them before any design work began — “I have a chandelier fetish,” he confesses — and showed them to Glinka, so she and her team would understand the theme. During the initial technical design, Gaber requested chandeliers for task lighting. It wasn’t feasible, though, so giant fluorescent light boxes were hung above each operatory chair, contradicting the delicacy of the rest of the decor. It would have been magnificent, had it been possible, for students to lie back and have their dental work done by the light of an ornate glass chandelier. CI