At the 2012 Club Industry show, Club Industry offered readers the opportunity to get their design questions answered by some of the top fitness facility designers in the industry. Architects and designers Bruce Carter, Rudy Fabiano, Christa Plaza and Doni Visani offered their thoughts on fitness facility design and answered questions about difficult design issues at clubs today. After the panel, Carter, Fabiano, Plaza and Visani discussed these nine design topics with Club Industry:
1. What are some of the top trends you
are seeing in club design?
Bruce Carter: More attention is being put on design and décor than ever before. If a club is plain or average, that opens the door for a beautifully inspiring environment from a competitor. The lobby is becoming a key upscale first impression focal point just like in the hospitality industry. In addition, more social seating areas are going to be common where people can interact with other members. More space is being allocated for functional and group training. Locker rooms are more spacious and spa like.
Rudy Fabiano: The top trend is the movement from an owner-centric delivery system to a member-centric concept. Meaning that the programming, sales systems and member experience are being customized to meet individual member needs versus the general shotgun approach we used to take.
Christa Plaza: One of the most common trends right now is that a number of members attend more than one gym. There are members that want the social atmosphere and specialty of a boutique gym, and they want the large-scale amenities that are associated with large fitness facilities. For example, someone might be a member at a SoulCycle while also attending a larger facility for the pools, cardio, selectorized equipment and free-weight options.
Doni Visani: With regards to club design, we’re seeing a lot more spaces being created that promote social interaction among members. These areas are a sort of third place for club members to meet or even work as Wi-Fi and outlets are provided. We’re also seeing the underserved population (i.e. the elderly, deconditioned, obese children, etc.) being addressed in the design process. Smaller group exercise programs cater to more specific programs with their planning and design following suit. Finally, clubs are purchasing smarter equipment that better tracks exercise programs and conversely, including more functional training with low-cost equipment but with personal attention and coaching.
2. What are the quickest and highest-impact changes a club operator can make to enliven a lobby area without spending a lot of money?
Carter: New paint is quick and inexpensive. New laminate colors for the desk and accent lighting, such as pendants or drum lights, add excitement. New comfort furnishings work well.
Fabiano: The myth that we can do something great without a lot of effort is as old as the notion that you can take a pill to lose weight and get in shape. There still is no substitute to creating a well-thought-out member experience. However, with careful consideration and study, a great design can be achieved without spending a great deal of resources, but you must be willing to spend the time and money on the design process. Anything less will be a short-term solution that will age quickly.
Plaza: In order of expense, new paint color, new lighting and new floor finishes are the easiest ways to enliven a lobby.
Visani: One of the easiest ways to liven up a lobby or entry area of a club is to remember less is more and remove and de-clutter walls or surfaces and remove any visual barriers. An upgrade to the front desk (especially the countertop), a fresh coat of paint or updating the lighting scheme perhaps to include more natural light are also great, inexpensive ways to give your facility a high-impact change.
3. What are some things you can do to make the outside of your club stand out if you are leasing the space?
Carter: Often, what can be done may be limited by the landlord. If permitted, new paint is a great option. Use different colors for a change, but test colors first in sunlight. Lifestyle graphics in windows are inexpensive but add excitement and communicate that you offer a better life at your club. Accent lighting can give the exterior a new image.
Fabiano: A level of presentation that will welcome your current members every time they come to work out can be achieved with great lighting, inviting landscape and a clear, easy-to-find entrance that relays the level of customer service the prospective members will experience.
Plaza: It is important to provide great signage that has high visibility to the pedestrian traffic. Oftentimes, we find that the landlord’s or owner’s buildings allow small modifications to the outside, such as a canopy or wall element that can draw people in.
Visani: If you are leasing your space but would like the exterior to attract some more attention, providing new site and building signage, upgrading the nighttime exterior lights or creating a new entrance (one with a protective canopy or awning) are great ways to make your club stand out.
4. How can you prepare your members for major renovations and do the renovations without disrupting business?
Carter: Communication is critical. There should be no surprises. Send emails or letters letting everyone know all the positives of the renovation and any possible inconveniences that may arise. Members need to know what will happen and when. Have a sign in the lobby showing all positive aspects of changes as well.
Fabiano: Communicate clearly and often, well in advance of any disruption to services. Structure the renovations to leave options. For example, don’t do all the group exercise rooms at one time. Similarly, the greatest impact will be during locker room renovations, so that has to be planned carefully. Most importantly, you better deliver an exceptional finished product.
Plaza: Keeping clubs open during construction can be a positive thing. First, a good phasing plan should be developed between the owner, architect and general contractor. Club operators can do fun things like making a game out of when specific areas will be done. Members place their best guess in a box and whoever comes closest wins a prize. Another fun thing to do is to create a few plastic peep holes in strategic locations where construction is under way. This allows members to see the construction and gets them excited about the new facilities that they will have.
Visani: Keeping clubs open during construction can be tricky, but with a few proven methods, the doors can remain open and members happy during a major renovation. First and foremost, communicate this remodel early and often with signs and graphics, such as drawings, plans and schedules posted in highly trafficked and visible areas. Involve and include the members during this process by finding ways to celebrate the construction activities. Perhaps create new and exciting programs that have a thematic tie-in to the construction. It is also important to note that having a well-thought-out and planned phasing scheme before construction begins is the best way to ensure a smooth transition into your renovated facility.
5. What are some inexpensive ideas for how to use an unused racquetball or squash court?
Carter: One of the most popular is to convert the space to a personal training or group training area (including stretching). Adding new paint, flooring, mirrors and graphics are easy to do.
Plaza: Turn it into a functional training facility with monkey bars, TRX-type equipment, free weights and kettlebells. Because these are often enclosed spaces, this becomes the perfect location for small group fitness and boot camp-type classes. We have also created really fun cycling rooms by painting out the room, adding mirrors and designing new lighting to make the space more dramatic. The high-quality wood floors serve as a great surface for many types of activities.
Visani: If you find your racquetball courts are not enjoying the popularity they once had, or if you are simply trying to increase your member-to-square-foot ratio, you can turn them into new types of spaces that will be used and appreciated by members. One of the best ways to utilize this space is to create a new group exercise room, perhaps adding acoustical treatment, upgraded flooring or a revised lighting scheme. In the latter case, the white walls are perfect for color washing with theatrical lighting, giving you the opportunity to change the look depending on the class. A few other options are to create an indoor golf training and analysis revenue center, which could boast having the latest technology to improve your swing.
6. What colors are most popular right now for interior spaces, and how much longer will that trend last?
Carter: Earth colors, including yellow, green, tan, brown, orange and gold, are very popular. Another paint scheme option is all white with colorful accents such as orange or green, but all white can be more maintenance. Because of the environmental movement, earth colors have more longevity in popularity.
Plaza: We have been using a lot of bright orange colors in a number of spaces. This color is great if used in moderation. It creates fun accent walls and a high energy feeling. Although this is a trendy color right now, it is still in many of the top paint manufacturers’ new color palettes for the year. If the color is designed well into the space, it could last between five and 10 years. If it is overdone, it tends to be dated more quickly.
Visani: When it comes to colors, decisions are quite subjective, and current trends may not serve you in the long run. The best decisions regarding colors are made when consulting an experienced and talented interior designer who will listen and create the look and feel that the club owner wants to achieve. There are, however, some basic guidelines that can be helpful. For example, using predominantly light and highly reflective colors will require fewer lighting fixtures and generally will create a more welcoming atmosphere than darker color schemes.
7. How can you incorporate your company’s brand colors into your club design, especially if the colors are a little more vibrant than is popular today?
Carter: Some brand colors just won’t work with certain existing interior colors and, therefore, should not be used automatically just because it is a brand color. Consider using a brand color as a focal point accent color where you do not use too much of it, but when you do, use it in a very visible area.
Fabiano: Branding colors are often not special colors or necessarily the colors you want someone to live around. In fact, the logo and branding device should be prominent in the space, but not dominate the space. No modern space should be the colors of the logo unless it’s exceptionally done.
Plaza: Colors are a beautiful thing. Even if some of your logo colors may be a little outdated, you can add current complimentary colors to your entire club palette to create a new look. There is always a great and creative solution to this.
Visani: Club branding can be incorporated into your club’s design scheme in effective ways. However, sometimes, the brand colors are quite loud and vibrant and don’t exactly portray the look you’re going for, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of options. For example, you could use an outline or grayscale version of your club’s logo on building elements such as the gym floor, in the pool area, behind the front desk or even on the building itself. One could also hang (or pole mount) branded or advertising flags on the exterior of the building. Consider limiting the vibrant brand colors for printed and web marketing materials and not for the interior design scheme.
8. How do you choose a good architect and designer? And should they be one in the same?
Carter: Whether it is an architect or designer, they should have proven health club experience where they have created a number of successful club designs. The architect and designer do not have to be one in the same, and often, it helps to have a local architect that has an understanding of local codes and knows building officials, but they must have club experience to increase the optimal potential success of the club.
Fabiano: It is important to hire a professional. With most projects costing between hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions, why would you trust the management of those resources to someone who has no track record of success? Make sure they are registered, licensed or certified. Always follow up on past project success. Don’t let cost and fee deter you in your selection process. Ultimately, all the good designers and architects will cost almost the same. Remember, you will get the services you pay for.
Plaza: Architects and designers can be within one company or two separate companies. The key is that you develop the design vision together as a team with the owner, architect and interior designer. This vision should express the key space of the club, character of the club, color palette and style. It is important to understand your ideal member and what they expect to see in the character of your club. Through a number of design workshops, your ideal members can be better defined, and then the design intent for those members can be developed.
Visani: Selecting a good architect and designer who will work with your agenda and priorities is an essential part of your facility’s success. You want to select your design professional based on experience, business style and personality–ensuring they are a good fit for you. Ideally, the architectural and interior designers of a club would be coordinated and provided by the same company. However, many projects have successfully pulled off engaging these disciplines separately.
9. Are there any new trends in how cardio equipment is laid out these days or are rows of equipment still en vogue?
Carter: Because cardio equipment has individual screens, it increases the flexibility in laying out the units. Under most circumstances, putting cardio in rows is the most space efficient.
Fabiano: Rows of equipment were never en vogue, but a result of keeping the space functional and efficient. Free form organic flow is much more sexy and natural, but it does take up more space.
Plaza: Instead of designing rows of equipment, we are creating smaller pods of equipment. So, there might be groups of two or three pieces of equipment. This way, you do not get the sea-of-equipment effect, which to us makes the cardio spaces a little stagnant. It is important to mix things up for trainers and members who like to do intervals and be near selectorized and free-weight equipment. It also creates a more aesthetically pleasing space to work out in.
Visani: When considering how to lay out cardio equipment, treadmills, bikes and elliptical, rows are still the most efficient way to go because of the requirements of spacing, power, data and TV locations. However, layouts don’t need to be overly rigid. Theater-style terracing or curved rows provide a better member experience than regimented rows all facing the same direction. Some other options are to cluster the equipment and create programming and social groups or provide power outlet/data organizer solutions in low walls and floor systems to allow for the equipment to be rotated and moved occasionally. It is also important to maintain flexibility of the infrastructure so future changes will be easy to achieve.
Bruce Carter is the president of Optimal Fitness Design Systems International, a club design firm that has created about $750 million worth of clubs in 45 states and 26 countries. Carter can be reached by email at [email protected].
Rudy Fabiano, a registered architect and interior designer, is president of Fabiano Designs, an architectural firm for fitness, wellness, sports and recreation centers and spas that has produced more than 400 projects in 21 years. Fabiano can be reached by email at [email protected].
Christa Plaza is a principal and architect at Essenza Architecture. She specializes in fitness center designs and has a passion for listening to clients’ visions and turning them into built spaces. Plaza can be reached by email at [email protected].
Doni Visani is an architect and a senior principal at Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative with more than 27 years of design experience in a wide variety of project types. Visani can be reached by email at [email protected].