If first impressions are everything, then a waiting room is crucial to a patient’s experience. A waiting room sets the tone for what comes next, be it a massage or a root canal. At the same time, patients ideally wait in a waiting room for only a few minutes before being whisked away, so the room’s aesthetics must work quickly to accomplish their mission. Two waiting rooms that have nailed their designs while maintaining functionality are Still Life Massage and Float in Bellingham and Island Optometry in Anacortes. Both are beautifully designed with patients in mind, but with slightly different approaches.

When designing the waiting rooms, Shannon Fuller, co-owner of Still Life Massage and Float, set out to “create different spaces for people” because people relax differently. Most patients visit Still Life for a break from their overstimulated lives, so keeping the decor uncluttered is important to setting the experience off on the right foot. One area is lined with evenly spaced, clean-lined white chairs while another has generously stuffed arm chairs. Even with the different furniture selections, Fuller wanted to keep everything as “simple as possible.” A handful of current magazines are neatly stacked on a sleek coffee table, unlike the stacks of messy, torn periodicals that waiting rooms have become known for. Oversized windows face the marina so patients can watch boats gently lapping on the water, and Fuller tucked plants in every corner for natural greenery.

Fuller paid careful attention to the layout of the waiting rooms. She recognized patients spend only a few minutes in the areas before their appointments, so entertainment isn’t necessary, nor even sought out since Still Life specializes in relaxation, but comfort is key. As such, the chairs in Still Life are spaced with personal bubbles in mind. “People feel more comfortable in their own spaces,” she said. With all the components, you can’t help feeling and breathing just a bit better from the moment you step into Still Life.

While some waiting rooms are dedicated to creating calm, others strive to be aesthetically pleasing and functional. Island Optometry in Anacortes has been operating since 1902. For years, the practice has been overseen by three doctors before being taken over by Dr. Mel Farnsworth in 1983 and his daughter, Dr. Ashley Ayers in 2014. When Dr. Ayers and her graphic designer husband designed the waiting area, they “wanted a really clean, modern-looking office with a Pacific Northwest feel.”

They achieved their goals. The cool concrete floor is both durable and trendy. High ceilings make the space feel open, while a collection of beams and a dark grey wall behind the front desk anchor the eye. Crisp white walls don’t detract from the displays of colorful frames — after all, this is still an optometrist’s office.

Going beyond the design and what often makes a space special is its execution. Dr. Ayers called on family and friends to help in the labor of love. Her grandmother painted. Her father, Dr. Farnsworth, built the unique front desk after Dr. Ayers was inspired by a similar-looking wall. She likes the look of the “raw wood that will change over time” and admires that “it’s become its own art piece.” When the time comes to update the office, the “art piece” can be relocated and repurposed. Dr. Ayers made sure every design component can be easily updated, because the one thing that is certain in design is it’s always evolving.

In the works is a nod to Island Optometry’s rich history. Dr. Ayers plans to create a timeline-style mural featuring milestones in optometry and Island Optometry’s history. She’ll hang photographs of Island Optometry’s former doctors and shadow boxes of vintage optometry tools and glasses. The goal is to “mix modern and historic” while highlighting Island Optometry’s heritage. It’ll give patients something interesting to look at while awaiting their appointments.

One family medical practice in Yakima uses a whimsical “Hobbit-like” entrance to the kids’ playroom to put a smile on everyone’s face, while the glamorous wallpaper and lighting sets the room aglow. An open floor plan enhances the room-to-room space. Interior designer Tanna By Design re-vamped the lobby with eye-catching, functional pieces. Vinyl-planked flooring, performance fabric-covered furnishings and sturdy, long-wearing wood and metal accents are just what the doctor (and waiting patients) ordered. Modern and rustic combines for a balanced design concept that provides a comforting experience for patients and families.

When it comes down to it, there’s nothing more pleasing than spending time in a comfortable, beautiful space before an appointment, even if only for a few minutes. It may even encourage us to arrive extra early.

"When it comes down to it, there’s nothing more pleasing than spending time in a comfortable, beautiful space before an appointment, even if only for a few minutes."