When Gigette Collazo Harfst, OD, spread out a number of bright color swatches in front of her staff and asked which one to select for a wall color, no one clear favorite color rose to the top. “So I said, ‘OK, let’s use all of them.’” That was the beginning of a transformation that took a nearly 60-year-old practice from drab to “happy.”
Dr. Collazo Harfst acquired Advanced Eyecare of Washington in Washington, New Jersey in 2013. “Happy is the word patients use now when they come in,” she says. No wonder: the entire office is infused with color—oranges, yellows, blues, fuschias, greens and florals. “I had a moment of wondering if I had gone too far when we started to bring in all the colors, but I think that once you introduce the really bold colors, you almost can’t go too far,” she says.
First of all, the office needed it. The doctor who owned the office for 25 years before Dr. Collazo Harfst acquired it hadn’t updated it much at all. “I found photos from the previous owner, and the wallpaper was the same 40 year old paper,” she says. Even so, she didn’t make immediate changes. “Friends encouraged me to live with the space for a while, so I waited. Then eventually we painted it a beige and sage green, safe colors,” she recalls. Another a friend stopped by and asked her what had prompted that choice. “She said, ‘You’re such a colorful person. Why’d you choose this?’”
So Dr. Collazo Harfst involved her staff. In the early spring of 2016, they started updating the look and feel of the office. “We are closed to patients on Wednesdays, so we had the new hardwood floor in the reception area put in on a Wednesday. Some friends would help me out on weekends and we’d paint a few rooms,” she says. She removed a lot of the doors so the office didn’t feel so closed off, and she added tracking lighting in the optical dispensary and in the hallways—which are now lined with Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe prints and other interesting art. She never had to shut the office down during the remodeling. “People tell me that there’s something new every time they come in. That isn’t necessarily true, but there’s always something to look at. Many patients have told me that an optometrist’s office should be visually stimulating, and that’s what they like about it.”
Around the same time, the staff dress code changed, too. Dr. Collazo Harfst has liked having her staff in scrubs so that it’s immediately clear to anyone walking in who works in the office and who’s a patient. But the scrubs they formerly wore were a chocolate brown. Now, staff members can choose their own colors—and they have chosen to go bold. One recent morning, Dr. Collazo Harfst looked around the corner. “There goes Stella in a cheetah print red lab jacket, wearing her bright red frames. Christina’s wearing fuschia and Michele is wearing a shocking blue lab coat. I tend to go with black with green and pinks.”
Dr. Collazo Harfst found that when she lightened the mood, good things happened. First, people were at ease and relaxed. The practice plays a variety of music: bossa nova, modern alternatives, oldies. They’re offered a little shopping basket if they’d like to shop for frames after they’ve completed their paperwork. There’s a coffee bar—and so much to see.
Dr. Collazo Harfst served as her own interior designer. Her mother reupholstered the furniture. She has found artwork on eBay and Etsy. A local blacksmith made her a sculpture of a pair of eyeglasses. “I’m a diver,” she says. “I like to look at items in consignment shops and antique shops and think of how they’d fit in or how I can recreate that look.” For example, the old frame displays that the previous owner had installed looked dated. But Dr. Collazo Harfst removed the backs, took them home, laid them on her driveway and she and her children spattered paint on them, inspired by Jackson Pollock. She also took out the cabinet doors and had pull-out drawers installed adding lots of space for funky frames.
“I like to say that I’m beautifying the world one pair of eyeglasses at a time. When you’re surrounded by drab, drab permeates into you. When you’re surrounded by color, the vibe is different.”
Color Fits Perfectly on Frameboards Now
“We added more colorful and funkier frames, and they’re selling,” says Dr. Collazo Harfst. She believes that the relaxed and fun atmosphere encourages patient to try on frames they might not otherwise. In her beige-and-sage days, she’s not sure that patients would have reached for a lime green as readily as do they now, she says.