Calm California vibes make for a low-stress veterinary hospital


Natural materials and lighting, a clean flow, and a warm design set the stage for a relaxing veterinary experience in this 2020 dvm360 Hospital Design Competition merit award–winning facility.

exterior shot of the hospital

An IHOP restaurant was once housed in this bright, airy and open California veterinary hospital. Fresh colors, lots of windows with a clear view into the lobby, native plants lining the walkway, and accent lighting make a wonderful transition from restaurant to veterinary hospital. (All images are courtesy of Falke Photography)

Think about the last time you walked into your doctor’s office. Did your blood pressure spike or settle? For many people and pets alike, a doctor’s office is not a relaxing environment, starting with the often cold, clinical environment.

After 45 years of practice ownership and experience at Irvine Veterinary Services in Irvine, California, Edward Cole, DVM, and his wife, Pamela Cole, set out to build a warm and welcoming, stress-relieving veterinary facility.

Exam room

The practice has six exam rooms, each of which has clerestory windows as well as larger windows to bring the outdoors in. Textured windows in the doors as well as clerestory windows looking inward toward the hospital allow light to filter through to the rest of the hospital, and afford staff members a view of what’s happening beyond.

“We know how the environment and feeling of the interior of a practice contribute to the wellbeing of staff and the comfort of clients and pets,” says Pamela Cole. “We all know visiting and working in a veterinary hospital can be very stressful, so we wanted to create an environment with as much natural light as possible and a real interest in natural materials.”

The surgery suite

The surgery suite makes use of multiple large windows to bring natural light in, as well as to keep staff members and doctors in constant visual connection with one another.

This husband-and-wife duo set out to build a relaxing, stress-relieving hospital that simultaneously maintained their high quality of medicine and service. The resulting facility earned them a Merit Award in the 2020 dvm360 Hospital Design Competition. And this isn’t their first award for design excellence. They also won a Hospital Design Competition Merit Award for a practice they built in 1998.

Bringing the outdoors in

Biophilic design is the idea of connecting people to the outdoors through use of natural materials, natural light, and other elements of nature. Basically, it means bringing the outdoors in to create a relaxing, calming environment. At the heart of the project was Dr. and Mrs. Cole’s desire to build a stress-free environment relying on biophilic design.

“Life runs at a fast pace, so we wanted a facility that allows clients to slow down and enjoy individualized service in a calm environment,” says Pamela Cole. “We had a real focus on biophilic design principles such as daylighting, special texturing, and enhanced acoustical control measures throughout the facility. Whether clients walk in or drive by, the exterior and interior of the practice are designed to look fresh and welcoming and meet the high expectations of the Irvine community.”

reception area

The reception area features natural materials, providing the space with a relaxing, outdoorsy atmosphere. Natural tile floors, textured wallpaper, granite countertops, and a wood ceiling set the tone for the entire hospital.

You can find these elements starting from the outside in. The lobby features natural stone accents and flooring made of natural tile and stone. The canopy in the reception area is natural wood, textured wallpaper in the lobby mimics the outdoors, and the countertops in the reception are and exam rooms are granite, rather than stainless steel, to offer a warmer and more welcoming feel. Rich Rauh, of Rauhaus Freedenfeld and Associates, added his signature clerestory windows throughout, bringing the California sunshine indoors.

One detail that made the design challenge more difficult is that the Coles were renovating a 30-year-old IHOP restaurant shell. The cost of building in southern California is high, and space is limited, so they took advantage of what they could find. And looking at the practice now, with its upscale design, one would never guess the building was once used to serve up flapjacks and cups of joe.

Rauh was able to renovate the building in such a way as to bring lots of natural light in, including two skylights in the back of the building — again, aiming to reduce stress for employees and patients alike. One skylight is in the kennel area, and another in treatment, two places that can greatly benefit from some calming sunshine.

The cattery and dog ward

The cattery, or cat ward, gives cats a view of the outdoors with large windows, helping keep them calm during their stay, while skylights flood the dog wards with natural light.

treatment area

Four treatment tables and a conveniently located workstation outfit the treatment area, with the lab and pharmacy nearby. Medical lighting fixtures were relocated from the previous practice facility.

“Working in a veterinary hospital can be a bit like working in a pressure cooker, especially in a big, busy practice, and that stress translates to the animals if we aren’t careful,” says Dr. Cole. “It’s a challenging job at any level. So, we did everything we could, design-wise, to help our staff members to decompress throughout the day.”

Leaving a legacy

Dr. Cole began his career in Irvine in 1972; 15 years later, Pamela joined him in life and in business, taking over the management side of the business in 1987. “We have a good partnership!” she says.

By the numbers: Irvine Veterinary Services-University Park, Irvine, CA

Owners: Dr. Edward Cole and wife, practice manager Pamela Cole

Exam rooms: 6

Total cost: $2,410,000

Cost per square foot: $337 (building only)

Square footage: 5,615

Structure type: Renovation with new veterinary improvements

Architect: Richard Rauh, AIA, Rauhaus Freedenfeld & Associates

Photographer: Falke Photography

During the intervening years, the couple built and renovated a number of veterinary facilities, growing their businesses together. In 2017, the two started plans for the current facility across the street from the former location, simultaneously planning for their retirement. Knowing they were going to sell to a corporate owner, the Coles made plans to leave their practice in as good of shape as possible for the future generation of doctors, staff members, and clients.

“The nice thing about this project was having an opportunity to leave our staff and clients in the best of hands,” says Pamela Cole. “Our vision was not to receive accolades, but to complete our careers in veterinary medicine by giving our staff and clients a bright new future.”

The couple now spend their days in Pebble Beach, California, volunteering with local wildlife and marine mammal rescue groups as well as the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “We’ve been retired just over a year now, and are so happy to have left our staff members with our enduring legacy, setting the hospital up for health and longevity,” Dr. Cole says.

Sarah A. Moser is a freelance writer in Lenexa, Kansas.

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