Recently, I participated as the designer on a new club for which I was not the architect. As I studied the plans, I saw that the local architect had positioned all the service spaces (the locker rooms, utility rooms and other similar areas) along the outside wall, leaving the fitness area in the interior space without any windows.

When I commented to the architect that designing the workout floor with big windows would have made it feel more open, would have made the finishes and other materials look more spectacular and would have saved the owner on lighting, I was told that the priority when drawing up the plans was not the look of the club but just fitting all the equipment, functions and spaces in the way they were used to. The architect missed a big opportunity ­an— integrated design strategy would have created a superior, market-dominating club and substantial resource savings.

This instance demonstrates that designing or redesigning a club is not just about choosing the right colors, tile and furnishings. Decorating must be an integral part of the design of a club.

When developing a new club, relying only on colors and materials to improve already-designed architectural spaces can be the wrong choice. In new construction, nothing is yet built. Unlike renovation projects, where physical changes can be prohibitively expensive, new construction allows the designer to plan the design moves ahead of time. The issue is not to fix something to make it look better; it is to design it to be better from the start.

Hiring one professional to draw the plans and then bringing in a designer to decorate the space afterward creates more work and inferior results. Setting up your design as your architect develops the blueprints and builds the club can save you money because you will not have to fix a weak layout with décor.

For existing clubs, a simple change in décor (such as colors and materials) can be a quick way to change the look of a club without spending big bucks ­but sometimes this is not enough. So how do you know when you need a décor change and when you need a whole new design?

The English dictionary defines decorating as: “to make something more attractive by adding nonfunctional features to it.” Likewise, design is defined as: “to make a detailed plan of the form or structure of something, emphasizing features, such as its appearance, convenience and efficient functioning.” The difference is adding decorative elements to make your space more attractive versus creating a powerful space by an integrated and well coordinated design approach.

A relatively modest budget of $10-$15 per square foot can yield excellent results, redefine your looks, and keep your staff and members excited about their club. The renovation budget dictates the extent of the work possible. It may not be financially feasible to demolish and rearrange the physical spaces of the club, but that does not mean you should do nothing. In that case, a makeover just using fresh colors and new materials is a fast and effective way to reinvent your club for sales and retention.

The challenge in decorating is to work with what you have. It may not be in the budget to rebuild your front desk or replace the floor tile. However, selecting new colors that work with the existing materials and possibly re-laminating that front counter will still make a big difference.

Keep in mind when selecting new colors and materials that the modern mantra is “less is more.” Unless the scheme is sophisticated and carefully worked out, using multiple strong colors in your club will cause it to look dated rather quickly. We prefer to use a neutral base that sets up strong pops of colors, limiting bold color to only one or two selections. Likewise, introducing some eye candy through new materials (e.g. glass mosaic tiles, decorative light fixtures or flooring options) can bring a dull club back to life, especially when used in reception areas, locker room entrances and other primary spaces where most of your members will experience them.

Keep in mind that studies have shown that renovations typically boost memberships, so new paint, floorings and even tile can yield tremendous results and put you ahead of your competition. And remember that design should be comprehensive. It starts at the beginning of the process with the end in mind. It is there to create a great space, not simply to try to decorate a great space into existence.

Rudy Fabiano, a registered architect and interior designer, is president of Fabiano Designs, an architectural firm for health clubs, wellness centers, sports clubs and spas. The company has produced more than 400 projects in the past 20 years. Fabiano can be reached at Rudy@fabianodesigns.com.