Claire Nightingale explains how she gave back some character to build her unique and majestic practice in London’s Royal Borough.

Based in Queen’s Gate, in the Royal Borough of Kensington, there is something distinctively regal, yet unequivocally homely about Queen’s Gate Orthodontics, established in 1989.

The premises have undergone a major overhaul, which has not been without its challenges; a basement building, an active caseload and a limited budget all added to the complexity and challenge of the project.

Claire Nightingale, owner and lead orthodontist takes up the story. ‘I purchased the practice just over four years ago and I knew from the outset that there was something special about it. I’d looked at five other business purchases before this opportunity came my way, all of which were inherently flawed, such as poor leases and over-valued goodwill.

‘However, the moment I stepped through the door, I knew this was the opportunity for me. It just had a good “feel” to it and the retiring dentist was delightful. This was important, as I was not only acquiring a building, but also a patient base, who needed uninterrupted care and a smooth handover that inspired their confidence in me.’

Cutting your cloth according to your purse

‘Despite the ambience of the practice, I knew that it did need to be updated in order to reflect my personality and commitment to excellent patient care.

‘I had very clear ideas about what I wanted to achieve, but obviously had to keep my vision in check with my budget, not to mention logistical restraints. The first thing I did was to move the back office into the reception area, as it made sense for the receptionist/secretary to be based in a patient-centred area.

‘I felt that the décor of the reception and waiting room needed to reflect the architectural beauty of central London. I chose two very bold designs for the wallpaper in these areas.

‘The reception depicts a bright modern landscape of London, and the waiting room shows audience members seated in theatre boxes, a discreet reminder of the nearby Royal Albert Hall. Our wallpaper has instigated as much conversation as our orthodontic work!’

Upcycling

‘Inspired by the regal provenance, I wanted to create a rather grand seating area for fun.

‘My budget, however, did not allow me to purchase new chairs, so I took three dull dining chairs home over Christmas and (in between two rainstorms) spray-painted them gold.

‘I then found a loud and proud, purple and red striped velvet remnant, which I used to upholster them. My “thrones” look much better than even I dared to imagine and my accountant loves the fact that my efforts at upcycling only cost the business £20!’

Updating equipment

‘The three surgeries are all small and only one has natural light, so I have kept them white to maximise the illusion of space and light. For this reason I also opted for white Corian worktops.

‘The equipment also needed updating, as it wasn’t functional. The dental chairs did not move vertically so I could not get patients into the appropriate position, which had the potential to compromise my work as well as my posture and long-term health.

‘Whilst I drew on my own ideas for décor, I knew that I could not afford to make any mistakes when it came to purchasing equipment so I appointed Hague Dental to advise and manage the project.

‘They had a reputation for being reliable and good value; I can vouch that they were both. They also had a great sense of humour and a positive attitude, for which I was grateful on many an occasion.’

The patients’ throne

‘For the chairs, Hague recommended the Cleo from Belmont with its folding leg rest. We are fortunate enough to have these at the Watford General Hospital where I work as a consultant orthodontist two days a week, so I was already familiar with their versatility and reliability.

‘Their small footprint was ideal for the size of my three surgeries. I also like the fact that it functions as a chair so that when I present clinical images I can discuss these with patients whilst they are relaxed and in an upright position.

‘The “below-the-patient” delivery system is also ideal as all the clean and prep can be done out of the patient’s sight.’

Challenges and opportunities

‘The biggest challenge whilst renovating the practice was to keep it open at all times. For this we’ve had to stagger the work (which has taken over four years) and utilise times when I’ve been away on holiday for any of the really messy work to be done.

‘Huge credit must be given to my staff, who have endured the upheaval and have never moaned or berated me for abandoning them whilst refurbishments took place!

‘As the practice is in a basement property, access is moderately difficult down a fairly steep staircase with a 90-degree turn.

‘Unlike a shop front property, we are discretely located, which makes it harder for new patients to find us. Additionally, the terms of my lease do not permit any external signage.

‘Therefore, in order for new patients to find me I printed my logo and address details on a roller blind that hangs in my waiting room window.’

Technology tools

‘With hindsight I should have been a little less cautious, and set up the IT and telephone system using one supplier with expertise in this area.

‘Not anticipating how quickly the business needs would expand, my husband and I installed the IT network ourselves. Whilst my husband is very IT literate and was able to set up a small network using only three software licenses, we do concede that we should have bit the bullet and designed a proper small business system.

‘There are pros and cons to being cautious and I guess this was a con. One positive result in adopting a piecemeal approach is that I’ve kept my sanity and never felt that the renovations interfered with my work and the level of care experienced by my patients.

‘Ninety per cent of our business comes via word of mouth so we must be doing something right and feel eternally grateful to both our patients and referring dentists for their vote of confidence!’