Sometimes, you have to spend some money to bring in more money. That’s certainly the case with health club design, according to industry architects who recommend that club operators renovate their facilities every three years. Renovations may seem impossible as the economy continues to struggle and as capital continues to be difficult to secure, but renovations can help a club compete with the new club down the street, keep members from jumping clubs and bring in a whole new group of members.
If done correctly, sales and profits can increase 10 percent to 20 percent after a renovation, says Bruce Carter, owner of Optimal Design Systems International, Weston, FL.
To ensure the renovation doesn’t look dated in a few years, owners must be aware of current design trends and choose a design that’s not too trendy. They also must avoid the temptation of “cookie-cutter” designs, says Hervey Lavoie, president of Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative, an architectural firm based in Denver.
“There is a strong trend toward prototype designs which can be stamped out like cookie cutters,” he says. “Each brand seems determined to commoditize their image as a branding statement.”
Stressing the importance of creative uniqueness in club design, Lavoie says that often only the most enlightened and far-sighted owners remain committed to the idea that design can make a difference.
Facility designs have shifted toward a warm, inviting atmosphere in an effort to attract people who may have had a negative past experience at a club or who may feel intimidated by clubs.
How much club owners spend on design depends on their budgets. Architects can accommodate club operators with a low budget and still create a design that has the ability to change the mood of the club, says Rudy Fabiano of Fabiano Designs, Montclair, NJ.
“You don’t have to spend a lot of money to look good,” he says. “You just have to think it out [and] understand how people flow and react to things. You can do that with paint and inexpensive materials to make people feel good.”
The real trend is finding a way to bring in new members or bring back old ones that have, for one reason or another, fizzled out for a time. Following are some of the hottest design trends in 2010.
Despite a seemingly never-ending recession, the cost of going green doesn’t stop some club owners when renovating. Some owners seize the opportunity to use eco-friendly renovations as a way to market to their communities.
“I would certainly recommend it as far as marketing goes,” says Lucio Paolini, co-owner of Evolve Fitness in Cambridge, MA. “People like it when we use it as a part of our sales pitch. If you know this particular area, people are pretty connected with environmental issues here. The town practices a lot of eco-friendly things.”
Paolini installed throughout the club full-spectrum lighting, an eco-friendly lighting system that light that resembles natural sunlight and combats Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Paolini installed recycled rubber flooring, bamboo flooring, water-conserving bathroom systems and an online-based e-mail program for all membership transactions to reduce paper use. The club also features a “touchless” locker room with laser-sensored urinals, faucets and hand dryers. The new system lessens physical contact and reduces the chance of spreading germs, Paolini says.
For environmentally conscious clubs, eco-friendly paint is an easy and inexpensive way to change the dynamic of the club interior. Some paints now have milk as a base, replacing some of the toxic chemicals in normal paints. Paints with low volatile organic compounds also are a way to promote healthy indoor air quality.
Bringing the Outdoors In
The green movement has spawned another design trend: bringing outside elements inside clubs. Facilities located in areas that can showcase nature benefit the most from this design. Members typically respond favorably to an earthy, natural feeling when exercising in a gym, Carter says.
Gus Orlando, owner of the Gold’s Gym of East Northport, NY, kept this concept in mind when renovating his club. Walking through the facility now might remind members of taking a walk outdoors with the club’s various shades of brown, green, red and orange. Brick columns spread throughout are reminiscent of tree trunks, and the club has potted plants placed around the floors.
Another new feature is a water wall that greets guests in the lobby area and subtly screens the strength area.
“It gives you that element of relaxation,” Orlando says. “It’s also an upscale look. You don’t expect to see that water feature.”
On the other side of the strength room, members may think they are seeing real blue sky and clouds through skylights in the ceiling, but it’s an inexpensive illusion. Instead of skylights, Orlando and Carter, who did the redesign, installed Plexiglas panels in place of some of the ceiling panels. The Plexiglas has images of the sky embedded on them. Fluorescent lights above the panels shine through, creating the illusion of skylights with daylight, blue skies and clouds.
“The point is, they’re very inexpensive, but very dynamic,” Carter says. “To have a special feature in a club, you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money to do it.”
The outdoor design elements give the club a more calm vibe and eliminate feelings of intimidation, Orlando says.
“If your place is clean and crisp and appealing, you’re going to hold onto your people and get new people,” he says.
Renovating a club to take advantage of natural sunlight also brings the outdoors in. That’s what Lavoie did when designing Stone Creek Club & Spa in Covington, LA, which opened in 2008. The two-story facility has natural lighting in every room except the locker rooms and spin studio.
“We wanted to create something that is very open with a lot of natural light,” says Stephanie Coulon, membership and marketing manager at Stone Creek Club & Spa. “We have a lot of areas that showcase wooded areas and wetland areas that are similar to a resort so that it’s a bit of an escape from daily life for our members.”
A lot of members comment about how the high ceilings make the club feel bigger, Coulon says. The attention to details, such as openness and natural lighting, has had a positive impact on members, she adds.
In an age of smartphones, e-mail and instant communication, people are impressed with modern gadgets and the communication and privacy they allow. Club owners who take this to heart may find themselves pleasantly surprised with the result, Fabiano says.
Cardio cinema is one technological element that has been popular for the past few years, and its popularity continues, he says, adding that the offering is something people still haven’t come to expect.
"The point is that what really attracts members is that they feel like they’re working out anonymously, not being watched,” he says.
At high-end clubs, members expect the latest entertainment options. Purchasing equipment that allows users to plug in movies, iPods and watch TV creates a cinematic feeling and draws in members.
The University of Florida will open its newly renovated Southwest Recreation Center (SWRC) in the fall. Among the renovations is a 10,000-square-foot cardio room, in which the cardio equipment will be equipped with personal viewing screens.
“Almost every piece of equipment will have its own TV plugged into cable with a full array of cable channels available,” says David Bowles, director of recreational sports at the University of Florida.
Students will be able watch movies downloaded on their iPods on the TV screens by just plugging the iPod into the equipment.
“We are integrating a lot of that kind of technology,” he says.
The SWRC also plans to install flat-screen TVs in the new social lounge that provides free Wi-Fi to users and access to a Nintendo Wii gaming system.
Opportunities for Socialization
The social area at the University of Florida SWRC highlights another design trend at fitness facilities: the creation of social areas at facilities. By offering these areas, a club exudes a warm, inviting environment.
Although a nice lounge area is a good place to start, other areas of a club—in particular, the aquatics area—can offer social outlets. Renovations in this area often include creating more deck space and adding more outdoor aquatics options with more outside space.
Midtown Athletic Clubs, Chicago, has spent the last four years renovating all of its facilities, spending a minimum of $5 million and a maximum of $9 million on each club. The renovations include expanding outdoor components with resort-style pools that have dedicated kids’ areas.
Pools are the perfect places to host parties and fundraisers, says Steven Schwartz, president and CEO of Midtown Athletic Clubs.
“We try to make it a fun place to spend the summer,” he says. “It’s unquestionably brought in more members.”
Food and beverage areas also promote socializing. The size of the club and the membership demographics often dictate the type of food and beverage area that a club can accommodate. Smaller facilities may only have the space for a juice bar or an area to offer light, prepackaged foods and protein shakes. Larger, higher-end facilities might be able to offer a full-blown restaurant.
Schwartz upgraded the food and restaurant areas of his Midtown clubs to offer casual dining with foods made to order, including soups, salads and entrees.
“It’s not a juice bar. It’s a place where you actually would eat lunch or dinner,” he says. “Not a country club, but a place where you can sit down and eat with friends.”
So whether club operators have large or small budgets, they must take heed of these design trends to ensure the money they do spend is not wasted. Smart design is always important, but even more so in a recession.
Seven More Club Design Trends
1. Warm colors. If the main goal of renovating a club centers on inviting people in, the first step is creating a warm atmosphere as soon as members walk through the door. One of the simplest ways to renovate is to paint. Paint colors that are in vogue now are greens, browns, creams, burnt yellows and oranges. However, some clubs buck this trend successfully, depending on the market the club is in, says Rudy Fabiano of Fabiano Designs, Montclair, NJ.
2. Spa-like locker rooms. Locker rooms have become more upscale and spa-like. The idea is that they should be nicer than the bathrooms that members have at home. Shoot for a soothing, beautiful space with soft colors, lighting and high-end finishes, says Bruce Carter, owner of Optimal Design Systems International, Weston, FL.
3. Friendly lobbies. You have three seconds to relay who you are and what you’re about when a person walks into your club’s lobby, Fabiano says. Lobbies must be welcoming and exciting. It’s good to keep the lobby separate from the workout areas so that new people don’t think they will be on display if they become a member. Comfortable seating is important in a lobby, too.
4. Elbow room. Architects are pushing for more open spaces within a club, and that includes equipment areas. Rather than jamming all the machines close together, architects are allowing for more space between machines. Stone Creek Club & Spa, Covington, LA, ensures that its members have enough personal space so they don’t feel like they’re sweating on the people around them, says Stephanie Coulon, membership and marketing manager. More open space is also needed for increasingly popular group exercise options and functional training areas.
5. Eliminating germs and toxicity in pools. To take more control over the environmental impact in their aquatics areas, club owners are installing new systems, such as salt water and ultraviolet systems, that don’t require that a lot of chemicals be stored in the facility, Fabiano says.
6. Theatrical themes in mind/body rooms. In mind/body areas, many club owners are adding dimmers to the lights to create a theatrical environment. Midtown Athletic Clubs took the mirrors out of its mind/body areas, installed darker wood floors and used colored LED lights to create more of a theatrical feeling, says Steven Schwartz, president and CEO of Midtown Athletic Clubs, Chicago.
7. Maintaining organization in group exercise rooms. With the growing use of accessories in many group exercise classes, many group exercise rooms have become cluttered and unprofessional, Carter says. A cluttered room can affect people’s mood. More renovations are now including storage areas off to the side of the room with easy access to the accessories.