Home Design Inspirations Careful Planning Made Second Practice Location a Space to Grow Into

Careful Planning Made Second Practice Location a Space to Grow Into

Dr. Laura Koehler standing at the front desk of the second practice she built
Dr. Koehler

Laura Vrazel Koehler, OD, saw her first practice grow so fast that she needed to rebuild within 10 years. She started planning her practice, Signature Eye Center, in League City, Texas, during her fourth year of optometry school. She hired a realtor who negotiated her first 1,750-square-foot space in a retail center still under construction. She’d be sharing the building with Starbucks and Mattress Firm.

When she gained licensure in the summer of 2008, the bank released the funding, allowing her to finally hire her contractor Mike Newhouse, owner of HM General Contractors. “He was basically working on an IOU basis up to that point,” Dr. Koehler says.

Over the 10 years she spent in that location, the practice grew. Constrained by two exam lanes, “by about year six, we were bursting at the seams. It was evident we needed room to expand,” she says.

She wanted to stay near her current clinic, so she looked at land parcels nearby. “Land was selling for $1 million an acre on the freeway next to me, but as I looked a bit further away, I was able to get a steal of a deal. I bought three city blocks (5.37 acres) for $300k, just two miles from my first location.”


Dr. Koehler and architect plavans stnading in front of a wall of paint or wood chips.
Dr. Koehler and Tatiana Plavans reviewed so many choices for this second practice build.

She called back her trusted contractor, who put her in touch with building and interior designer Tatiana Plavans. “Tatiana took my dream of a practice that looked like an inviting home atmosphere and ran with it. I requested a certain style for the outside of the office, six exam lanes and three pretest areas open to each other. I wanted barn doors that would cover the windows and external doors at night—doing double duty as frame boards and security,” she says.

wide open practice designPlavans recalls meeting Dr. Koehler for the first time. “She was dressed beautifully, with high heels and stylish glasses. She wanted a warm, cozy place, where her patients could feel at home. I soaked in as much as possible about her personality and the vibe. My design goal was to reflect her personality in an optometric office interior space, to bring everyone who enters a feel of her soul and the message she carried.”

To meet Dr. Koehler’s dreams of a rustic look with reclaimed wood and dark mahoganies, Plavans “used architectural tools to ensure security, spaciousness, functionality and workflow.”


soaring ceiling in the optical space
That ceiling just soars.

The one area where they disagreed was on the open ceiling. “I really had to battle everyone for an open ceiling concept,” says Plavans. “The structure was there. It was beautiful, new and already paid. The only one thing we had to do was not to hide it behind another dropped tiled ceiling we see so often in medical spaces.”

Dr. Koehler says she trusted her designer, especially after seeing the “incredible sketches and gorgeous details beyond what I had imagined. But she twisted my arm on convincing me with the open ceiling with bright natural wood.”


Signature Eye Center in its second practice location The new practice is huge. At about 5,000 square feet, it’s roughly three times the size of the old space. The ground floor has 4,000 square feet. “Downstairs I have the open concept optical with reception area and front desk, kids’ playroom and lab with dispensing bar. We have three private office spaces for doctors, insurance and the office manager. There are three pretest rooms, a clear glass-enclosed contact lens area for storage and training, six exam lanes, three restrooms, and kitchen breakroom and another lab that we use for storage.

There are another 1,000 square foot area upstairs that includes the owner’s office “with an amazing window that looks out onto the optical.” There’s a full bathroom and shower, two storage rooms and an IT room. “The contractors fully decked my walk-in attic, accessible through a door upstairs,” she says. That attic offers about another 1,000 square feet of storage space.

The open optical and soaring ceilings are a favorite feature, and she’s glad she listened to Plavans. “It’s simply breathtaking. Every patient who walks in for the first time stops in their tracks and looks around to take it all in. Five years later, patients still shower us with compliments all day long.”

sliding barn doors reveal exam lanes in light airy office
The feeling is light and airy throughout.

The practice has been roomy and can accommodate new growth. She now has a staff of 10 to 12 people, “and we don’t trip over each other. We effectively run a two-doctor schedule,” she says. The luxury vibe of the location enables the practice to sell more high-end eyewear, too.

The practice is also a key part of the community. Each year, she hires a high school student to assist with tech duties after school and during breaks. “We love watching these students grow into young adults as they start their universities and future careers,” she says. And the community reciprocates the warm relationship, continually awarding the practice the Galveston Daily News Reader’s Choice Best Eye Doctor/Best Optical designation.

Read other practice design stories on WO here. 



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