Revitalising an older building for your practice

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revitalising an older building
Renovating the 1911 building that now houses Coburg Dental presented a number of challenges.

It’s no easy feat—revitalising an older building so it retains its original charm. Here are two dental practices that did it right. By Kerryn Ramsey

When your practice is located in an older building, there are plenty of pros—and cons. The challenge when renovating is to keep the charisma of the original building but seamlessly merge it with the sleek, modern look of a contemporary practice.

110 not out

Coburg Dental Group is located in a building constructed in 1911 that has operated as a dental practice since 1922. 

revitalising an older building

“I believe we’re Australia’s oldest continuously operating dental practice,” says owner and principal dentist Dr Jeffrey Kestenberg. “The building had some minor renovations in the ’70s but it needed a good overhaul. We were providing high-quality treatment, but the premises didn’t reflect our business philosophy.”

In 2010, Dr Kestenberg approached Sam Koranis from Medifit with a few design ideas. The building has a historical overlay, one step down from a heritage listing. Dr Kestenberg wanted to revive the exterior with new apartments connected to the original building. “The council gave us a really hard time,” he says. “There were so many bureaucratic hurdles to overcome that I eventually gave it up and left it for a few years.”

Eventually, Dr Kestenberg decided to just renovate the existing building. Not only is it unique and very distinctive, it’s a local landmark in the middle of a street of shopfronts. Medifit designed and oversaw the build and fit-out, equipping the practice with Anthos gear. Work began just before the first COVID-19 lockdown, but they still managed to have it completed in 12 months.

“There were plenty of surprises once we began work on site,” says Koranis, managing director of Medifit. “The building was found to have significant structural damage with some major wooden beams completely rotten, and a wall on the verge of collapse. Remnants of previous works completed over the building’s 110-year history had to be removed and remediated before we could begin fitting out the space. The biggest challenge was maintaining the historical aspects of the building while accommodating our clients’ requirements for a contemporary practice.”

Modern update

The exterior of the building has retained its original look with everything repaired, restored and freshened. The interior has been reworked to support six dental treatment rooms, two consulting rooms, and a sleek new reception/waiting area. There are also new staff rooms, bathrooms and storage spaces, with a spacious and modern look. The surgeries are soft white with black cupboards. The other rooms are anchored by black floors with white cupboards and walls. Pops of colour enliven furniture while timber benchtops add warmth to the space.

revitalising an older building
Inside Coburg Dental, patients are greeted with a contemporary and welcoming design.

Most of the original windows and external doors have been restored with timber elements painted black. There’s a distinct difference between the historic exterior and the new interior, but no disconnect. Every aspect of the old building that staff and patients love was restored. The interior is contemporary, welcoming and celebrates an exceptional attention to detail—an accurate reflection of the professionalism that patients receive at Coburg Dental.

Preserved for the future

“When I first walked into the renovated practice, I was overwhelmed,” says Dr Kestenberg. “It felt like a completely new, spacious practice. The classic exterior merges so seamlessly with the new interior, I was glad we chose not to relocate. I had been considering cutting back my hours, thinking about retirement, but I love coming to work now. Renovating the practice has really reinvigorated me.”

For Coburg Dental Group, the established location and local history of the building were compelling reasons to preserve the existing structure. “With a delicate treatment and painstaking refurbishment of the exterior, we were able to satisfy council’s historical overlay obligations,” says Koranis. “The building presents as an updated version of a timeless classic. After 110 years as a dental practice, Coburg Dental still has plenty of life in her.”

Queensland classic

In 2016, Dr Sara Tabrizi wanted to purchase a building where she could create her brand-new practice, Hello Smiles. She found one for sale in the Brisbane suburb of Hawthorne that only had one problem—it was an old 1946 Queenslander that was zoned for residential use. “The zoning was unexpected as there was a day spa operating from there,” says Dr Tabrizi. “We had to apply to council to get it rezoned. That took six months. Then we acquired a development approval to transform an old Queenslander into a modern dental practice. That was quite a mission.”

revitalising an old building
Transforming an old Queenslander into a modern dental practice was “quite a mission”, says Hello Smiles owner, Dr Sara Tabrizi.

Dr Tabrizi used Shaun Lockyer Architects, which had a track record with Queenslanders, to remodel the exterior and Jeffries Studio to design a complete interior fit-out. “Queenslanders have a soft, homely, welcoming feel, and I wanted to maintain that,” says Dr Tabrizi. “I didn’t want anxious patients to walk in and immediately think, ‘I’m at the dentist’.”

Inside job

Jeffries Studio’s re-working of the interior celebrates the wide hallways, big rooms, and high ceilings of the original building. In fact, the ceilings are so high that there can be problems getting a bluetooth connection with the overhead television. The large windows allow natural light to flood in and the views to the outside frame large mature trees. The practice has three surgeries, a small lab, and a large staffroom. Each of the surgeries are expansive, twice the size of a typical room.  “I wanted them to be less claustrophobic, and family-friendly,” says Dr Tabrizi. “When mum, dad and the three kids come in for an appointment, there’s room enough for everyone.”

revitalising an old building

Still a Queenslander

Shaun Lockyer’s renovation of the exterior is contemporary and innovative, but the heart of the Queenslander shines through. The whole building sits on stilts, like most Queenslanders, with the space under the building converted into a car park. This gives clients all weather protection since they can access an elevator to the reception area. 

“Starting Hello Smiles from scratch was nerve-racking,” says Dr Tabrizi. “A lot of time, money and effort went into creating a contemporary practice that maintains the traditional Queenslander feel. Thankfully, since opening in 2017, the business has thrived. Our rooms are full, and new patients call in every single day. It’s a dream come true.”  

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