A centerpiece thats good for business


An aquarium gets veterinary clients in the door. Great pet care keeps them there.

Dunwoody Animal Medical Center by the numbers

Owner: Dr. CL Johnson III

Associates: 1 full-time

Hospital team: 12 full-time, 10 part-time

Practice style: 100 percent small animal

Building size: 1,704 square feet

Parking spaces: Shared parking in shopping center plaza

Construction: $488,000 (building only)

Site improvement: $40,000

Professional fees: $150,000

Equipment: $200,000

Furnishings: $10,000

Computers: $30,000

Architects: Primary: Shawn Rainey, Blue Frog Construction LLC, bfrog.net Secondary: J. Christopher Kacena, Kacena Design, kacenadesign.com

On first glance, you might think you've stepped into an aquarium attraction rather than a veterinary hospital upon entering Dunwoody Animal Medical Center in Dunwoody, Georgia. Cool blue tiles evocative of the ocean surround the reception desk. Bubble-like pendant lights hang from a wood-slat ceiling. Transom windows with wavy blue glass cover the doors and windows. And the piece de resistance is the ultra-large salt water aquarium that acts as both a centerpiece for entertainment and a room divider for waiting clients.

Exterior after renovation: The 3,602-square-foot leasehold practice needed a makeover. Set in an affluent neighborhood in Georgia, with destination shopping areas nearby, the practice needed to stand out. New blue signage stands out from the dark brick columns, making a more welcoming entrance. Three dormer windows and curved arches add interest to the façade.


Dr. CL Johnson III acknowledges that the aquarium was a pricey investment, one he didn't have to make in order to build a great animal hospital. But, having an aquarium in his practice was a long-time dream.

Dr. Johnson says he has had clients bring their children and grandchildren in just to see the fish. And people stop him in restaurants just to chat about the aquarium. “Anything that gets people talking in a good way is good for business,” he says.

A soothing space to wait: Wavy blue acrylic inserts (1) in the exam room doors, blue tile (2) surrounding the curved reception desk, and glass orb pendant lights (3) with bubbles inside add to the nautical feel.






The aquarium acts as a peninsula room divider for the roomy reception area. Dr. Johnson says he's a big fan of an open reception area and chose to dedicate a larger percentage to the reception area than is recommended. “I know the reception area isn't the money maker for the practice, but I like giving people space,” he says. “It's an open, airy feeling that welcomes people in.”

And the water theme helps as well. “I'm a big fan of water, I find it so calming,” he says. “Apparently my clients do, too. I get a lot of comments about how peaceful and relaxed the reception area is, and that sets the tone for the rest of the hospital.”

Under the sea: The reception area offers lots to look at and talk about. From the wood-slat ceiling to the 300-gallon reef aquarium, and all the ocean-blue accents in between, Dr. Johnson keeps his clients entertained and at peace during short waits. An aquarium might not be for you, but the lesson here is to find what you love and incorporate it into your design. “I've always wanted an aquarium in my hospital, and people visit just to see the fish,” says Dr. Johnson.

Click here to see a full tour of Dunwoody Animal Medical Center. 

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

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