Into the Blue

Interior Design, Feb. 1, 2011

“One time, my doctor referred me to a specialist, and I walked in the door and saw the place was a dump,” Andreas Charalambous says. “I just turned around and walked out.”

That will never happen at Bloo Dental, a family practice by his firm, Forma Design. When you walk in the door, you feel like you’ve been transported into an octopus’s garden-or the tube of a surfer’s dream wave. Curved wall segments frame the waiting area’s long sidewall, with dark blue banquettes tucked inside. A watery projection shimmers on the canopy arching over the reception desk, while a giant abstract water graphic, impossibly azure, appears on the desk’s front panel and wraps the ex­terior of the adjacent lab.

When dentist Haress Rahim hired Forma to design a practice in the center of Brambleton, a newly minted planned community in the northern Virginia suburb of Ashburn, Charalambous discovered from Rahim’s wife that his favorite color, besides pearly white, was ocean blue. “Oh, yes. He loves to scuba dive more than almost anything,” she said, jumping into a conversation during the schematic phase of the project.

Channeling the sea comes naturally to Charalambous, who grew up on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. So that scuba discussion inspired him to use ocean imagery as a branding device. Then, flipping through a dictionary, he came across a phonetic pronunciation guide for blue and convinced Rahim that it would make a cool mnemonic for the practice.

Despite the Bloo of the name, however, the hardest-working color in the 2,500-square-foot space is white. It comes in many forms and textures, from the reception desk’s Corian pedestal to the floor tile’s subtle corallike pattern and the feature walls’ abstract anemone motif. White amoeba-shape pendant fixtures serve as functional ceiling sculpture.

The white plastic laminate on a freestanding sterilization module, which separates the open hygiene bay for children from a suite of four exam rooms for adults, is accented by a blue backsplash. Several of Maya Lin’s polyethylene stools are white-they’re scattered, like pebbles on a beach, both in the vestibule between the adult exam rooms and at the children’s end of the waiting area. But the occasional stool is green or orange.

Adding to the beachy ambience, daylight shines in from windows on two sides of the corner space. Patients can even gaze out while having their choppers documented for posterity: The digital X-ray machine sits in the open, right next to the sterilization module.

Patients undergoing more serious procedures recline in massage chairs, wearing wireless headphones and watching favorite TV shows on flat-screen monitors set flush to the ceiling. Before or after, adults are welcome to grab an espresso in the “wireless café.” A hospitality or spa aesthetic can make an important contribution to certain health-care environments, Charalambous believes. For the District of Columbia Dental Society’s convention in April, he’s booked to speak on branding and office design.

Patients subconsciously “look for clues” when they enter a doctor or dentist’s office, he says. “They’re thinking, The space is immaculate. There’s an attention to detail. So I know this person is going to take good care of me.” And they leave Rahim’s chair feeling Bloo, not blue.

Photography by Geoffrey Hodgon.