Easy on the eyes

It was Stacey Cohen’s first-ever design for a medical clinic, and you could say that the operation was a complete success. In fact, Dr. Alan Berger, ophthalmologist-in-chief at St. Michael’s Hospital and co-partner at the Toronto Retina Institute, says the clinic, built from concrete shell out, ended up “surpassing our wildest dreams.”

Located in a mainly medical building in uptown Toronto’s trendy Shops at Don Mills plaza, the 5,000-square-foot treatment centre opened last August and has since seen a steady stream of patients. “They get approximately 200 people coming through here each day,” Cohen says. “With such high traffic, you need efficiency and a good sense of flow. You also need durable, easy-to-clean surfaces.” 

Given the number of patients who are visually impaired, not to mention anxious about their health prospects, simplified wayfinding and calm-filled surroundings were other vital requirements. To effectuate all of this, Cohen started off by sketching in a circular pathway that leads logically from the main reception and runs counter-clockwise through the assessment, diagnostic and examination room areas, then leads back out to reception. Doctors’ offices, a staff lounge/conference room, a small kitchen and a three-piece bathroom are kept private in a separate side corridor with its own access points. 

Lighting throughout the clinic consists of a mixture of natural light, fluorescents and LED pot lights, used both to aid in visual acuity and to soften any sense of medical sterility. Signage is restricted solely to the reception room’s TRI logo, which appears on a large glass panel attached to a feature wall of textured wood veneer broken into a brick pattern via quarter-inch stainless steel reveals. Close to this sits the three-person reception desk, islanded in a greige polished limestone that stands out from the surrounding walls of cream porcelain Calacatta marble. The walnut-shaded wood veneer panels are repeated behind. And, rather than a high ceiling of plain acoustical tiles as in the rest of the space, the desk boasts a pot light-punctuated dropped ceiling made from tufted leatherette upholstery fabric. The effect is upscale comfortable, and also tends to make any “reception” sign superfluous.

Like all other elements of the clinic’s finishes, furnishings and millwork, each detail was chosen, designed or custom-ordered by Cohen, who consciously sought out “classic, natural-looking materials and a dignified, neutral palette – to create a calm environment that feels fresh and clean.” 

She also ensured ease of cleaning by “floating” units, such as the reception desk,  clinicians’ desks and cabinets, above and over eight-inch-high baseboards coated in a brushed stainless-steel veneer. Walls in the interior patient waiting rooms are covered in a washable, as well as visually interesting, off-white basket-weave vinyl. Non-slip, vinyl “wood plank” flooring is used here too; back in the reception area, the floor of large, light-grey stone tiles also offers sturdy foot purchase, plus a naturally textured surface capable of hiding any high-traffic scarring. The same kind of intuitive navigational design represented by the reception desk carries through to visitor seating. Quietly colour-coded chairs are grouped according to their individual area: taupe for the main reception, navy blue and charcoal for the interior waiting rooms. 

Repetition of the overall palette and materials gives the whole space integrity, a consistency that extends straight through to the private staff area. Indeed, the kitchen and bathroom here appear remarkably similar to the examination and diagnostic rooms on the other side of the dividing wall. Recessed-handle cupboards, glass-tile splash backs behind the sinks, Corian countertops – there’s a distinct, home-style atmosphere in the public areas that Cohen purposely strove to replicate. After all, why not make the patient experience as relaxing as possible? “I wanted the place to have a modern, condo-like feel,” she says, “full of warmth and good energy.”

Cohen spent just two years working for a high-profile developer after graduation from Toronto’s International Academy of Design and Technology before launching Interiors by Stacey Cohen a year and a half ago. Relatively new to the business, she still has managed to pull off a project worthy of more seasoned colleagues. Given this is her first time at bat designing a medical clinic, Cohen’s definitely a rookie worth keeping an eye on. cI