Article Date: 3/1/2008

The Art of office design Compromise
office design

The Art of office design Compromise

These four steps enabled my colleagues and I to cut costs without cutting corners.

BY COREY CHRISTENSEN, O.D., Midwest City, Okla.

Building a new office is an expensive endeavor no matter how cost conscious you may be. The good news: The following four tips can enable you to cut costs without sacrificing your new office's financial success.

1. Choose the second best location.

The street-front property of the fastest-growing area of Midwest City costs between $300,000 to $600,000 an acre. Because building our new office here required an unacceptable portion of our building budget, my practice co-owners and I decided to conduct some land research in hopes of finding a less expensive area that would still afford us the ability to attract new patients.

Through our research, we discovered we could purchase land approximately one-mile east of this "hot spot" that's easily accessible and also experiencing population growth for $113,000 an acre. As a result, we decided to erect our new office building here. Our total savings on land as a result of this decision: 63% to 86%.

Because we've only been in the new location for roughly four months, it's too early to tell if it's garnering us a large return on our investment. What I can say is that since buying land in this area, it has developed very quickly, and now purchasing prices are almost as much as the street located one-mile west. In addition, almost 90% of our patients have made very positive comments about our new practice location.

2. Negotiate with your architect and engineer.

Payment to the architect to design your building and payment to the engineer to draw up your building-site plans can range from 4% to 7% of your total building cost, based on my experience. To ensure no additional bills, one of my practice co-owners and I negotiated an all-inclusive upfront price with the engineer and architect. We accomplished this by having these professionals write exactly what they needed for the project and present it to us. Both were willing to accept a slightly reduced fee in exchange for the convenience of being paid in full.

Judging by the total estimate of both professionals, negotiating a set price enabled us to save roughly $3,000.

3. Don't select a builder based on price alone.

Although the price to construct your new building is at least somewhat based on the builder you choose, keep in mind that the finished product is largely based on this decision. Translation: If the finished product doesn't meet with your expectations, you may end up spending more by hiring additional subcontractors to make your office design match your vision. We avoided this by examining the quality and style of the other work of the builders in which we were interested. Because we wanted the exterior and interior of our new office building to have a high-class, homey feel, we ultimately chose a builder who was more experienced than the others with residential rather than commercial property. The outcome: We didn't have to hire a subcontractor, as we are very pleased with our building's exterior and interior look.

You can save money and therefore maximize the return on your office-design investment by selecting high-end materials only for patient-heavy areas.

Although, we know we saved money by doing our research, it's difficult to provide a specific number, as the cost of hiring a subcontractor to fix mistakes is relative to the specific subcontractor and the mistake.

4. Base interior cost decisions on your patients.

When deciding on the look of the interior of our new office building, we were able to save money and therefore maximize the return on our investment by selecting high-end materials only for those areas we knew patients could see or in which they would be spending most of their time.

For instance, we initially wanted bull-nose (rounded) corners on our walls throughout the office. Because bull-nose corners are more expensive than flat, 90° corners, however, we chose to place them in the reception and dispensary areas — places where patients spend the most time and are therefore more likely to notice and appreciate stylized touches — and we chose flat corners for the rest of the office.

The cost for the bull-nose corners was roughly $3.00 a foot. Therefore, each corner would be roughly $30.00 more. Between 15 to 20 corners aren't bull nose, so we saved between $400 to $600 by choosing to place bull-nose corners only in certain areas.

Because a glaze paint treatment can be very expensive, we elected to use it only in the eye-care practitioners' offices, reception area and dispensary area, as these are places patients first see when entering the office. We chose to paint the rest of the building's rooms the same color.

Painting our entire office (8400 square feet) cost between $20,000 and $25,000. To add the glaze throughout would have doubled this cost.

Initially, we wanted all our countertops and windowsills to be comprised of granite or marble. Upon discovering that granite and marble can easily cost three times as much as laminate, however, we knew we'd need to compromise on this choice as well. So, in thinking about what our patients see and where they spend the most time, we decided to use wood for the windowsills (patients don't typically eye windowsills) and granite for the front desk, exam-room countertops, the dispensary's styling tables and bathroom vanities. We relegated laminate to those countertops in low-patient traffic areas, such as staff offices, the break room and lab rooms.

This choice provided us with a 66% savings. The price quote to do the entire office in granite was roughly $32,000. Based on the patient-heavy areas we chose, we ended up spending roughly $18,000 on granite, so we saved about $14,000 there and an additional $9,300 by going with the laminate in the low-patient traffic areas.

Although the costs of office design largely depend on the area in which you want your new office building, the four aforementioned tips can save you money regardless of your practice's location. In order to make these tips work for you, however, you must:

• Recognize that there is a balance between getting the building of your dreams and the building you can afford.

• Conduct thorough and thoughtful research on each and every office-design decision.

Comfort in this balance and in your decisions will make the outcome a very rewarding experience. OM

Dr. Christensen is a 2004 graduate of Northeastern State College of Optometry. He co-authored OM's "Office Design Diary Series," with optometrists Bobby Christensen and John Smay. The series, which chronicled the move of their practice, Vision Source Midwest City, ran in the February, March, May, September and October 2007 issues and wrapped in the February 2008 issue. E-mail Dr. Christensen at

Optometric Management, Issue: March 2008