It was a collaboration of kindred spirits, a collaboration of friends.
photography by Mitchell Snyder.
When Dr. Cherri Trusheim, owner and founder of the Urban Animal veterinary practice on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, set out to build her new business she wanted to break from the norm. Her approach to animal care (smart and sensible) and business (affordable fees and no appointments) represents a welcome departure from business-as-usual. So why shouldn’t her brick and mortar location express that innovative spirit as well?
Goodbye to the stale and anodyne and hello to the fresh and authentic. (See full image gallery here.)
Cherri turned to two designer friends to make it happen: Tiina Ritval, project designer with GGLO, an integrated architecture, interior design, landscape architecture, planning and urban design firm, and Sarah Littlefield, picker and interior designer of Seattle Junk Love. The two hadn’t met before the project, but they both share a friendship with Cherri and – as they would soon discover – parallel design instincts.
“Working with Sarah was exciting,” said Tiina. “Our approaches meshed really well. We had these in-depth conversations about aesthetics and what we were driving towards and our choices were completely aligned.”
“Right away Tiina had a real vision for the space, how the adjacencies should work, how space allocation should happen,” said Sarah. “And she was totally committed to the look and feel that Cherri was after.”
The pre-existing condition of the space couldn’t have been further from the trio’s vision for what was to come. Drab finishes, low ceilings, dull carpet, little natural light, medical monotony to the extreme.
“We’d ask ourselves, ‘what kind of space do we want to hang out in? What would our friends and others on the hill appreciate in a space?'” said Sarah. “We took our cues from bars, hotels, restaurants and commercial places we love. Not other veterinary clinics.”
“The space had to be unique to Cherri,” Tiina said. “It needed to communicate her aesthetic and her ideas about how she wants to practice, apart from the norm. And that needs to be apparent the moment you walk through the door.”
The design is light-hearted, playing old and new off one another: vintage found objects juxtaposed with stainless steel finishes, salvaged palette wood wainscoting arranged in clean modern lines, a vintage photo booth placed adjacent to a front design adorned with iMac and iPad, nostalgic photos of pets and owners displayed in a paper-less, wired office, and most importantly, a groovy, warm, welcoming front-of-house juxtaposed with a clean, sleek, state-of-the-art operating room in the back-of-house.
As the project designer, Tiina’s challenges centered around light and space. The clinic has few windows, and many were covered by lab rooms in the space’s previous incarnation. So Tiina’s first move was to remove the labs from the exterior wall and replace them with a long, light-filled hallway. Exam rooms moved to the interior wall. Tiina also removed the low hung ceiling, adding airy volume to the space. With a long list of program elements for the practice, every square inch had to be used wisely – even a low storage space in the back transformed into a compact laundry and mop sink.
“I think one of the most successful parts of the project architecturally is the hallway,” said Tiina. “The accented wood wall and rhythm of barn doors work very well. And the peekaboo window into Cherri’s office at the end of the hall allows her visibility into the practice’s waiting room.”
Tiina’s work on the project manifested the core values of her firm, GGLO. As a truly collaborative effort between Sarah, Cherri, Tiina and Hammer & Hand, the project aligned with GGLO’s commitment to integrated design, and design for the human experience. The foray into design for the animal experience was new, though.
“That was really fun to think about how pets would react and feel in the space,” said Tiina. “What would make them more comfortable? Because we’re new to the animal care design field, I think we were able to approach this project with a fresh perspective.”
Sarah’s approach to the interior design at Urban Animal was more like jazz. In her work she starts with a concept for the vibe she’s going for and then prepares to improvise. As a picker and collector, she does have a stockpile of found objects and materials waiting and ready to go, but every project is unique and demands something special.
“I’m at the whim of what’s available,” Sarah explained. “A lot of this work is done on the fly. And when I identify a need for the project, the question becomes ‘how far do I have to go to find it?”
Sarah plans the finishes for a project (like the palette wood salvaged from a commercial door company) ahead. She selects some fixtures (like the 10 matching cone light fixtures that allude to the protective cones that go around dogs’ collars), artwork (like the 50s paint-by-numbers pieces) and furniture from her own collection.
“I have a chair collection problem,” Sarah admitted. “Fortunately, here it was an opportunity.”
The rest she sources from estate sales, a Northwest circuit of antique shops that she makes regularly, and serendipitous encounters. Sarah sourced the 150+ photos for the custom-designed owner-pet wallpaper from all over the country – estate sales, auctions, and flea markets.
“With this custom wall treatment I really wanted to reflect the uniqueness of the practice, and the bond between humans and pets,” said Sarah. “It becomes this subtle celebration of that age-old relationship and the importance of animals in our lives.”
In the end, Sarah’s aim was to create a space that’s bright and cheerful.
“There’s so much theory about animals and what makes them happy, but dogs aren’t too concerned about finishes and interior design,” Sarah said. “They pick up on cues of their owners. The functionality of the space as a veterinary practice is key for the animals. The emotional stuff is more for the humans, but that puts the animals at ease, too.”
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