Room 2 Change


Bryan Dunkelberger, senior associate at Sasaki Associates, has a simple philosophy when it comes to designing locker rooms. If you want people to use your locker room, then it needs to be better than their own bathroom at home.

“If you're going to skimp, then people aren't going to use it,” Dunkelberger says. “We try to treat locker rooms like they're residential in feel.”

That philosophy is the cornerstone of a number of new trends, design elements and amenities emerging in locker rooms today. Health club owners and architects are banking that offering more amenities, new experiences, additional privacy and a relaxing environment to locker rooms will help recruit new members, retain current ones and elevate their facility to new membership heights.

“People like to have a sense that their facility is something more,” says Doni Visani, senior principal at Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative. “What's the differentiation for a facility? One of them is going to be the locker room with a marked level of difference from their ordinary experience.”

Renew and Relax

So, how are clubs differentiating their locker room from the one across town? Architects and designers note that creating a spa-like experience offers one difference.

“This is the place where once you've worked out you can hang out and spend some time in,” Visani says. “You're not being rushed because it's more than a changing area.”

Think adding a sauna will transform your locker room into a spa? Think again. It takes more than that these days. New trends include adding cold plunges, plasma TVs in the steam room, relaxation and meditation rooms, social areas, over-sized individualized showers with multiple jets and overhead rain showers. Locker rooms can also create a luxurious feel through soft lighting, relaxing music and calming colors. Large, fluffy towels are a must, too, Visani says.

The Lakeshore Athletic Club — Flatiron in Broomfield, CO, set aside more than 10,000 square feet of the club's total 150,000 square feet for its locker rooms. Both the men's and women's locker rooms connect to the club's spa, which offers everything from massage to skin care treatments. Visani helped design the facility that features a relaxation area, Jacuzzi, individual showers, social areas and a shower in the steam room for cold showers.

“Everything has the feel of being upgraded and of spa quality, although it has a lot of lockers,” he says.

Natural lighting can also add to a locker room's overall ambience. Because of privacy concerns, most locker rooms are situated in the middle of the club, leaving a dark, basement-like atmosphere.

“We're treating these spaces like caves, but its part of the real world,” Dunkelberger says.

He suggests using frosted glass windows or skylights to bring natural light in without risking the privacy of your members.

Toiletries are another must, as are the “basics.” Members have come to expect swimsuit dryers, shaving supplies, tissue paper, hairdryers, shampoo and conditioner, and other daily essentials. Also, in women's areas, Visani has seen a trend towards adding more dry vanities that are closer to the mirror and higher than a sink counter. Paired with non-florescent lighting, this specially designed area is perfect for applying make-up.

Towel services are another way to turn a “basic” into an extra. Visani recommends keeping your locker room well stocked with fresh towels, heated by a warmer.

“Members can have as many as they want, and it's a very luxurious experience,” he says.

To avoid towels “walking away,” he recommends placing towel drop-off bins at multiple locations in your locker room and club — especially at exits.

Changing Rooms

While lockers rooms have conventionally been divided into men's and women's areas, nowadays family changing areas are gaining in popularity.

Fueled by a desire to make members, particularly families, more comfortable, family changing areas have become a mainstay in the industry. Many times these rooms are equivalent in size and the number of amenities offered in the adult locker rooms.

“In clubs where the family market is important to the bottom line, family changing rooms are becoming quite the deal,” Visani says. “This level of detail and quality used to be a small room on the side, and now it's a major feature.”

While some clubs will have a few separate changing “closets” outside of its traditional locker rooms, other clubs with a focus on child and family programming may have an entire family locker room, consisting of one or two changing rooms, each with a toilet, sink and shower. To decrease the chance for theft, lockers are located in common areas.

Many university rec centers are also including separate, alternative changing areas, although not for family reasons. Dunkelberger says some schools have added rooms for cancer patients who are not comfortable dressing in front of others. Northeastern University in Boston has contemplated adding separate changing areas for its transgender patrons, he says.

“We're basically seeing that if you provide small changing areas in locker rooms, they are used for a variety of reasons,” Dunkelberger says. “It could be smaller, located inside the locker room or in the general hallway.”

Out to Dry

With many of these advances in locker room design and functionality catching fire in clubs across the country, what was once an added service can quickly become an expectation. Much like how cell phones and car cup holders evolved into essentials rather than luxuries, Visani expects some trends to become standard — most notably family locker rooms and individual showers.

“[These features] become a ‘wow, that's a great feature,’ to a must-have even to compete [with other clubs],” he says.

Expect more “wow” features in the future, too, — larger vanities, temperature control systems, waterfalls, bucket showers and multi-level water temperature baths. Visani says clubs will continue to differentiate themselves through features and amenities.

It's important to remember, though, that although many clients are looking for a spa-like respite, some members will want to get in and out quickly, Visani warns.

“There will still be that duality of ‘I want to get out as fast as I can today’ versus ‘Today, I have more time, and I want to be pampered.’”

And perhaps the best advice of all, regardless of how many members or resources your club has, is to keep your locker room spotless.

“Keep ‘em clean,” Dunkelberger says. “If you could do nothing else, keep it clean.”

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On Campus

Traditionally, the health club locker room has evolved much more quickly than the university market, says Bryan Dunkelberger, senior associate at Sasaki Associates. Due to its utilitarian focus and nearly indestructible construction (many recs are built to last 35 to 40 years), campus rec locker rooms haven't been known for setting trends. However, that may be starting to change.

“There are a lot of students in kindergarten through 12th grade that belong to a health club or have participated in a health club environment,” Dunkelberger says. “They're going to go to college and expect [that kind of locker room]. It could be part of the decision-making process.”

Although locker room amenity offerings depend on a school's personality and the needs of its student body, faculty and staff, Dunkelberger expects more amenities and spa-like features to be offered. These added features can also help generate revenue, he says.

One such example is the Rothwell Club at the University of Missouri-Columbia (MU). For an additional $14 per month, students, staff and faculty can upgrade from the MU Student Recreation Complex's basic locker room to the Rothwell Club. Amenities include private cherry-wood lockers, towel service, plasma TVs and lounge areas and a number of toiletries — shampoo with conditioner, cotton swabs, body lotion, mouthwash and hair dryers to name a few. While some were skeptical whether patrons would pay for more in the locker room, the Rothwell Club has proved to be a success. Diane Dahlmann, director of MU Rec Services and Facilities, says there's been a waiting list since the club opened over a year ago.

Rec centers may be able to do even more. Dunkelberger points to health clubs successfully adding dry cleaning to its facility to better serve its members. The same thing could be done for the college market, he says.

“Because everything is becoming wired, it could be purchasing books online after a workout,” Dunkelberger says. “If you want the locker room to change and do more things, then you have to have that entrepreneurial spirit.”

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