Good eye: Smart design details

June 12, 2018
Sarah Mouton Dowdy
Sarah Mouton Dowdy

Sarah Mouton Dowdy, a former associate content specialist for, is a freelance writer and editor in Kansas City, Missouri.

What takes veterinary hospital design from good to great? Small details like these.

Anyone can walk into a well-designed building and appreciate its beauty, but it takes a designer's eye (and experience) to note the elements that are particularly smart. That's why I asked Tim Parsons, AIA, lead creative designer for TerWisscha Construction, to point out some of his favorite clever and comely aspects in top veterinary hospitals. Here's what stands out to his trained eye:

1. Consistency in wood grain on cabinet doors and drawers

Sometimes, it's the little things that capture a designer's attention and praise. Parsons is impressed by clinics that have upper cabinet, lower cabinet and drawer wood grains oriented in the same direction. And to the non-designer eye, the effect is a sleek, pleasing storage space.

An exam room at Door County Veterinary Hospital in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. | Photo courtesy of Cathy Carter, Fotosold

The blood bank and cat housing spaces at Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital by Ethos in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. | Photo courtesy of Tim Murphy, Murphy Foto Imagery

An exam room at Northpointe Veterinary Hospital in Yuba City, California. | Photo courtesy of Larry Falke, Falke Photography

2. Solar tubes

“Solar tubes are a great way to bring natural light into interior spaces,” says Parsons. “And it's a lot less expensive than installing operable roof windows and traditional skylights.” Plus, it doesn't just look pretty. Natural light can boost the well-being of both patients and team members.

Natural light floods into the luxury boarding suites in Northpointe Veterinary Hospital in Yuba City, California, thanks to well-placed solar tubes. | Photo courtesy of Larry Falke, Falke Photography 3. Fiberglass reinforced plastic panels

“Fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP) panels used to be high-gloss only and conjure up unpleasant images of gas station bathrooms,” says Parsons. “Now, you can buy panels with a much higher quality appearance level, including a linen look and multiple colors and patterns.” Parsons says that thanks to these upgrades, FRP panels are becoming an increasingly attractive (and low-cost) way to provide moisture protection around areas like the janitor's sink and pet baths.

The bathing area at Northpointe Veterinary Hospital in Yuba City, California. | Photo courtesy of Larry Falke, Falke Photography