Cramped Quarters

How to utilize small spaces

I am all-too familiar with small spaces. I've lived in New York City for more than two decades. Sixteen of those years were spent in one room.

While small can be cozy, when I go to a health club, I want space-or at least the illusion of it. And though your club may be small or your budget tight, you also want to give members the illusion that your facility is, if not cavernous, at least roomy enough to accommodate them. The good news is it can be done.

"A club with limited space can be as effective as a larger club if the owner designs and programs the space very efficiently," says Rudy Fabiano, president and design director for Fabiano Designs International, which specializes in health-club design.

Here are some points to consider if your club space is at a premium:

n Lower the scale of your entry points so when a member enters, the space seems bigger. "A lot of architecture is about relative emotion and experience," Fabiano explains. "If your entry has been tight, the grand space will seem much grander."

n Go for natural light. "In workout rooms, I would encourage not only lighter colors, but also as much natural light as possible," says Fabiano.

First off, natural light helps people's happiness levels. Secondly, it expands the space.

"Typically, you will have a window or skylight which allows light in and allows you to look out," explains Fabi-ano. "Natural light is the brightest source you can have."

n Use optical illusions. "They're not very expensive but can work wonders," says Fabiano. For instance, a frosted door with a light behind it may be just that. But "members will think it's a whole other room," Fabiano notes.

n Use nice fixtures in tight spaces. In a small space, "everything you look at becomes more important," Fabiano says.

n Work with color. Using light colors can make a room seem larger. But don't be afraid to use darker tones occasionally. "We may prefer to darken parts of a club so the lighter area looks a lot lighter," Fabiano says.

n Use indirect lighting - preferably lighting that makes you look up. That means members aren't looking at the fixture or the light source. "If you shine all your light at the ceiling, it will expand the ceiling," says Fabiano. "It gives an ambient glow which makes the room look bigger."

n Embrace multitasking in your workout studio. For example, your indoor cycling, aerobics and meeting room can all be combined, so long as you make sure the room is, indeed, multipurpose. For example, the lighting needs of a cycling class differ dramatically from the lighting needs of an aerobics class. Put one to three different lighting options within the room, Fabiano advises.

n Be smart about your equipment choices. For example, you don't need 25 bikes for a cycling class - and, therefore, the storage room for them - if you have a small club. "Be very wise and consult an equipment manufacturer about what would constitute minimal equipment for your club," advises Fabiano.

In fact, multifunction equipment may be the way to go. "With some new pieces you can have three or four different workouts just by manipulating the arms on the machine," says Fabiano. It's important to consider what constitutes a good workout and have enough pieces to accommodate your members.

n Consolidate offices. You may want to consider having a salesperson share an office with a trainer who spends most of the day on the fitness floor. You can combine the small lounge area with your juice bar and tighten that up.

"If I were doing a 5,000-square-foot facility, I would probably not have a sales area," says Fabiano. "All my sales would occur in the juice bar or lounge."

At Global Fitness, in Leominster, Mass., there are no offices, but rather three-wall spaces for sales and round tables for presentations. "It's very open," says John Bonica, vice president. Bonica and his wife share an office, which also doubles as a conference room for smaller staff meetings. The fitness director and chiropractor also share an office. One thing Bonica did do: Give the staff a break room where they can relax and eat lunch, and where sales staff can gather informally and talk about leads.

n Use mirrors wisely. "They can make a club seem larger, but they can also drive people nuts," says Fabiano. "Over-mirror a space and you lose all sense of character."

Fabiano advises that you place mirrors as close to the floor as possible. Putting mirrors three-feet high in a strip is usually not going to expand the space; it will give you a window. But bring the mirror to within six inches to a foot of the floor, where it gets reflected as more floor, and the room will appear larger. "When the mirror is up higher, you're not reflecting the room, you're reflecting yourself," says Fabiano.

n Go for high ceilings. The more ceiling height you have, the more volume you have. "The perception of space is not only based on the size of your room, but on its volume," says Fabiano.

n Sculpt space. "You can create distinctive areas without creating barriers by defining the areas with different ceiling or floor patterns," says Fabiano.

During the recent renovation at Global Fitness Center, high ceilings were retained to give an open look. Also the club itself is open. Except for the locker room and main office, "there aren't a lot of partitions," says Bonica.

n Turn your liabilities into assets. At Global Fitness, the main floor is broken up by columns, which are part of the building's architecture. Bonica compensated for this by placing four pieces of equipment back to back around the column. Bonica also "angles machines like parking spots in a shopping mall." That enables him to "keep equipment a little closer together while maintaining a real wide aisle." According to Bonica, this placement "gives a little depth to the room so you're not looking at a long row of equipment."

n Raise the floor in the cardio area. Core equipment can be six or more feet high. If a member looks across a room at equipment that is taller than he is, it reduces his visual space. "If I can get member views above the equipment, especially in an activity room where members are stationary for a long time, I can get the benefit of full space," says Fabiano.

n Get creative. In his new multipurpose studio, Bonica had a semi-circular stage built. "When you have a stage, people move closer to the instructor," he says. In cardio, kickboxing or Step, people align themselves around the stage. "The setup allows for an extra five to 10 people in the class," Bonica claims.

n Arrange your strength-training equipment creatively. While it's common to organize machines by body parts, Bonica arranges them in circuits. With three different circuits in place, his members can move independently of one another "The traffic patterns are easier to manage as well," says Bonica. "You don't have to walk all over the gym to get from your chest piece to your back piece. With a nice circuit, people will stay in a smaller area. That way the club doesn't feel as crowded."

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