Interior design trends may be less fluid than fashion trends, which change with each season, but that doesn't mean club owners can stick with a 20-year-old design in their facilities. Because design plays a role in making members and potential members feel comfortable, keeping up with today's most popular design choices increases a club's potential to attract and retain members, experts say. With the tough economy making it even more important to spend money wisely, knowing the latest design trends when it's time to renovate or build a facility just makes good business sense.

On the following pages are five trends that designers and architects say will help clubs appeal to a broader market in today's world.

LUXURY LOCKER ROOMS

Locker rooms were once an afterthought at many clubs, but now they're often the central part of a renovation or new construction project. Club owners are spending more money in this area, often creating a more luxurious look to the locker facilities. Some club owners may be hesitant to spend the extra money here, but club operators can't afford to overlook this area of the club, says Bruce Carter, owner of Optimal Design Systems International in Weston, FL. Carter has seen this trend across the board — from small clubs to larger, upscale chains.

“The finishings in the locker rooms have gone from plain and average to spa like,” says Carter, who has seen an increased use of rich color schemes, bowl sinks, glass mosaic accents and special accent lighting. “Some people may not like gyms because they think of them as stinky, smelly sweatboxes, but when they walk into a beautiful locker room, that image totally disappears.”

For example, mosaic tile covers the floors and walls of the locker rooms at Luxe Fitness in Westerly, RI. The 22,000-square-foot club, which opened in April, pampers its members with granite countertops, 46-inch LCD screens, double sinks and changing rooms.

Owner Mike Petrello Jr. says the locker rooms were the most expensive part of the project, but the investment was well worth it.

“Locker rooms are the only place that clubs can go above and beyond,” Petrello says. “They separate the nice places from the average places. I think it's a super selling point.”

WIDE OPEN SPACES

Club owners once tried to cram as much equipment as possible on the fitness floor, but they're increasingly trying to “open” their design, says Hervey Lavoie, president of Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative, an architecture firm in Denver.

“Club operators who are focused on member service and member experience are finding that congestion on the fitness floor is a major negative,” he says.

Clubs are paying more attention to adequate spacing between machines and adequate circulation paths to and from machines, he says. They're also creating separate clusters of machines rather than simply lining up rows upon rows of equipment.

Although many club operators are tempted to buy more equipment to put in open floor space, some facility owners are setting aside space for stretching/core/functional training. They're also opening their design by removing doors. The Piedmont Hospital Health & Fitness Club in Atlanta, which has 1,800 members, is one fitness facility that has gone in this direction. The facility implemented this design trend when it began renovating 25,000 square feet in October 2006.

“Our goal was to have a free-flowing facility with better space utilization,” says Jennifer Hopper, manager. “Before the renovation, our members had to walk through many sets of doors, which made the space feel very enclosed. We wanted to make our space more open and inviting by being free of doors except for into the classrooms, our offices and the pool area.”

Hopper says she was initially concerned about the lack of doors leading into the locker rooms, but so far, it hasn't been a problem with her members, who were kept informed with a newsletter detailing each phase of construction.

GOING GREEN

Club owners are paying more attention to sustainable design, Lavoie says. In the near future, going green will no longer be optional for responsible owners and operators, he says.

Gary Graham, a principal with Graham/Meus Inc. Architects in Boston, has also seen a green trend for health clubs. Two of his clients — Summit Health in Bedford, MA, and the Boar's Head Inn Spa in Charlottesville, VA — adopted healthy materials and used green design technology in their renovations.

“Green design or sustainable design applications are not only the moral thing to do, but also in an age when everyone is becoming aware of the threats of imported oil, global warming and sick building syndrome, a green health club is an excellent business and marketing strategy,” Graham says.

Graham's clients are investing in low-flow shower heads, waterless urinals, compact fluorescent light bulbs and sustainable flooring products, such as bamboo flooring. Some clubs are taking the sustainability trend even further by investing in high-performance boilers, air-distribution systems, insulators, photovoltaic-solar collectors, wind turbines and geothermal systems.

The Good Shepherd Medical Center in Longview, TX, is pursuing silver Leadership in Energy Efficient Design (LEED) certification for its $21 million, 75,000-square-foot Good Shepherd Institute for Healthy Living. The facility, which will open in September, will feature solar heating, solar lighting, energy-saving products and recycled materials.

“This is going to be the first LEED-certified green building in Longview,” says Craig Ayers, director of plant operations and construction for the facility. “We are concerned about being green, and we wanted a top-notch facility.”

HEALTHY LIVING

Going hand in hand with green building design is the trend of providing healthy living options in clubs. Clubs are offering services such as holistic healing, nutritional counseling, smoking cessation, meditation, relaxation, stress control and therapeutic massage, Graham says, all of which require space within facilities. The addition of mind/body studios and smaller spaces for classes, individual counseling and specialty spa services are becoming popular, he says.

Rice University in Houston is leveraging this trend through its wellness center, which offers massage therapy and acupuncture treatments to its students. These services are offered in another building, but in less than two years, students will be able to enjoy spa services in the university recreation center, says Emily Dexter Page, director of the wellness center.

In addition to adding these new spaces for healthy living, club operators are creating a healthy environment by improving indoor air quality.

“The smell of fresh paint and new carpet used to be a signal to the membership that club owners were re-investing in the facility,” Lavoie says. “The time is fast approaching when such indoor air contamination will be the basis of a personal injury claim.”

Lavoie predicts that in the future, the member claims of poor health due to “outgassing” of finish materials, paint, carpet and adhesives will be as prevalent as mold-related claims are today.

To avoid this problem, club owners are investing in healthy building materials such as paints with low volatile organic compounds. These paints now have excellent coverage, cleanability factors and colors, Graham says.

TARGET MARKET

A renovation project gives health club owners the opportunity to add more amenities and transform their space, but they must not lose sight of their demographics, say architects. With a larger number of seniors joining health clubs, some club owners are accommodating this group by putting in larger signs with bigger letters, better lighting, more social areas, handrails and shallower stairways. Generously sized, padded and raised stretching platforms have also become popular at many clubs. The platforms, which are sometimes built-in rather than treated as loose furniture, are usually positioned about 30 inches to 36 inches above the floor.

On the other side of the age spectrum, clubs are also catering to the 10-year-old to 16-year-old market through specialized cardio and weight training areas. Anita Picozzi Moran, principal for F&S Partners Inc. in Denver, says she sees this trend more in YMCA fitness centers, which often have separate locker rooms and weight rooms for the teens.

“Clubs used to target older teens but are now moving down the age scale to the tween market,” Moran says. “This trend is being driven by concerns about youth obesity and training of young athletes.”

In addition to providing age-related amenities, club operators are also trying to accommodate deconditioned exercisers by investing in stronger toilets, grab rails for non-handicapped facilities, and stepped access and egress options for swimming pools. Club owners are also purchasing bigger chairs, larger shower booths, more dressing space, changing booths, and fewer and larger lockers, Lavoie says.

“The day of the 24-inch doors and 30-inch toilet compartments are over,” he says. “One positive outcome of this trend is that normally sized folks appreciate the extra room.”

SPOTLIGHT ON EIGHT OTHER TRENDS

  • Better Lighting

    Health clubs don't have to be lit like a K-Mart, explains Robert Lisicky, senior associate for Nichols/Page Design in Davie, FL. He recently designed a club with energy-efficient lighting, indirect lamp fixtures and black lights in the spinning room.

  • Focus on Technology

    Some clubs offer WiFi hot spots for their members and have put flat-screen TVs on every wall. By investing in equipment with individual entertainment monitors, clubs also don't have the pressure of packing as many pieces as possible in the view field of the cardio theater installation, says Hervey Lavoie of Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative.

  • Lounges in Locker Rooms

    These nooks often include plants, a few couches and a TV, and are a place where members can socialize and unwind. Bruce Carter, owner of Optimal Design Systems International, says these areas can be major selling points in a club.

  • Inclusion of Nonmember Attractors

    Through renovation projects, Lavoie says, clubs are consciously creating destinations for non-member programs and activities, such as food/beverage service, retail, education, banquets, child care, rehab services, spa services, yoga and Pilates.

  • Less Aversion to Elevators for Multi-Level Facilities

    Developers of two-level clubs used to provide an elevator only if required by code. Now Lavoie says clubs are seeing the benefits of elevators for maintenance and equipment relocation.

  • Focus on Cleanliness and Hygiene

    By carefully selecting antimicrobial flooring and other easy-to-clean surfaces, club owners are keeping their clubs as germ-free as possible, says Steve Page, president of Nichols/Page Design Associates. Toilets and sinks are becoming touch-free and automatic in many locker rooms. These fixtures cost an average of 30 to 40 percent more than the non-touch-free fixtures, but they can reduce maintenance costs, he says.

  • Emphasis on European Elegance

    New York City designer Cuoco Black has seen the influence of European design on U.S. clubs. He plans to open a satellite office in Paris, and in his next project, he says his health club client is looking for a design that is “French classicism meets Hollywood modern chic.”

  • Social Areas

    Designers are creating social spaces, such as lounges, cafés, juice bars and even outdoor seating areas, within a club. Jennifer Hopper of the Piedmont Hospital Health & Fitness Club, Atlanta, says social spaces have improved the flow of her club, lent a sense of community to the facility and made its members happy.