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A Locker Room to Love

Taking a cue from premium day and destination spas, the designers of club locker rooms have moved beyond—well beyond—creating the simple, functional spaces that have been so common in the past. Today, they’re designing retreats, oases, soul-satisfying escapes that have as much to do with prospect-appeal and member-pleasure as any other part of the club.

The designers are justifiably proud of their creations. And club owners are appropriately proud of their jewel-like showcases.

If you’d like locker rooms that enhance your self-esteem: read on.

“Most people aren’t too fond of exercise, so we want them to be comfortable in these spaces,” explains Bruce Carter, the president of Optimal Design Systems International, of Weston, Florida. “But if they fall in love with the locker room, they’ll return to the club.”

Hervey Lavoie, the president of the Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative, in Denver, Colorado, concurs. “Clubs should invest in locker rooms because they’re an important component of their brand’s message, and of the member experience. When they don’t measure up to expectations, members vote ‘no’ with their feet.”

Locker rooms may once have been considered a bare necessity—not unlike free weights, treadmills, and towels—but that time is long gone. Now, they’re an open-ended opportunity, a chance for clubs to differentiate themselves in a positive and productive way.

“Locker rooms deliver a high perceived value, and can impact membership sales as much as an impressive fitness center floor,” suggests Carter. “People tend to join faster when a club has a beautiful locker room.”

To find out what it takes to develop a warm, welcoming, and rewarding locker room environment, CBI asked three of the industry’s leading architects and designers—Carter, Lavoie, and Rudy Fabiano, the owner of Fabiano Designs, in Montclair, New Jersey—two simple questions: “What club locker room that you’ve worked on recently are you most proud of?” and “Why?”

‘Really beautiful!’

The Gainesville Health and Fitness Center (GHFC), a three-site operation in Gainesville, Florida, is currently involved in a three-year renovation and expansion of its flagship 78,000-square-foot, multi-purpose property. And founder and owner Joe Cirulli is very clear about he wants for the club—“a world-class facility that people would never expect to find in Gainesville”—as well as its locker rooms: “When people walk into the locker room, they should say, ‘This is really beautiful.’”

His architect, Fabiano, gave himself a single, overarching objective: “Everyone will look and feel great in these spaces.”

Bringing his creativity to bear on the 2,500-square-foot men’s and women’s areas, he emphasized openness and a logical traffic flow, beautiful accents, and high-performance equipment.

“Creating a great locker room involves taking the time to think things through; designing a very personal space; and developing what is, all told, a very attractive and efficient environment,” says Fabiano. “Here, we’re creating a powerful impression that reflects luxury at a midrange price point.”

Among the highlights are individual changing rooms that feature backlit, frosted-edge, full- length mirrors, which provide an attractive, shadow-less reflection; highly decorative pendant lights in open areas; and, for ceilings, cove lights to produce a halo-like effect. Elegant vanities and handsome grey tile compound the premium look.

On the pragmatic and practical—as opposed to aesthetic—side, the locker rooms will utilize a new portable fan system that mitigates bacteria and odors. GHFC is also installing a new technology— high-density foam, with integrated water barriers, to frame shower components, which will prevent water from seeping into the walls, min- imize mold, and maximize longevity.

“This is really cutting-edge, and will make a big difference in the long-term performance of the showers,” observes Fabiano. “While finishes can do a lot, it’s just as important to ensure that the infrastructure is in good condition. In locker rooms, it’s not just about what we see, but also about what we don’t see.”

The multi-phase GHFC project is expected to be completed this December.


‘Pushing the envelope’

Although the locker rooms at the Newtown Athletic Club (NAC), in Newtown, Pennsylvania, were renovated just eight years ago, several changes—growth in the club’s membership and increased utilization— have prompted Jim Worthington, the owner and president of NAC, to turn his attention to them again.

Now, the main building of the NAC complex is being expanded from 115,000 to 143,000 square feet, and the men’s and women’s locker rooms nearly doubled in size—from a total of 4,800 to 9,430 square feet.

“Our growth, coupled with a change in direction to position NAC as a lifestyle club, required an expansion and upgrade, even though our locker rooms were still quite beautiful,” explains Jim Worthington, who’s also a member of IHRSA’s board of directors. “We want to offer locker rooms that compare with those in a resort or a very high-end spa.”

Lavoie has delivered, crafting a five-star member experience by focusing on three areas: functional traffic flow into and through the changing spaces, social lounges, and wet areas; user-friendly detailing of high-touch items, such as benches, vanities, locker security, showers, and toilets; and brand-appropriate styling, employing a classic color palette utilizing timeless, high-quality materials.

The rooms’ features include glass lockers with keyless locks, granite vanities, wood-like synthetic flooring, and indirect lighting. Female members will enjoy private changing rooms, individual vanities, a make-up lounge, and amenity tables. When completed, the men’s locker room will include a TV lounge, and a full-height, full-width, exterior glass wall offering abundant natural light, and overlooking an outdoor patio and garden area.

“We’re pushing the envelope with this new element in the men’s locker room, and I don’t know of any other clubs that are attempting anything like it,” says Worthington. “There’s an emotional component to the locker room experience, and you want it to be positive, comfortable, and even luxurious. Creating the ‘Wow!’ factor and exceeding members’ expectations is a wise business move.”

The entire NAC project will be completed next year.

‘A special area’

The recently renovated locker rooms at the Waverley Oaks Athletic Club, in Waltham, Massachusetts, are turning heads, attracting new members, and helping it to realign its demographics. That is according to Carter and Adam Healy, the club’s general manager.

The project, designed to produce a more contemporary look, involved transforming four locker rooms into two, 2,000-square-foot men’s and women’s spaces, that have since become a “beautiful haven” for members.

The 38,000-square-foot facility, formerly a racquet club, serves some 2,600 members.

“We wanted the locker rooms to be a special area that would stand out, and be even nicer than people’s homes,” notes Carter. “We want members to be so awestruck that they think, ‘Am I in the right place?’”

Carter achieved that goal with a layout that, stipulating several sections—e.g., separate changing rooms and vanities—provides privacy and efficient space utilization. Mosaic tile accents, nonslip tile floors that resemble real wood, and dramatic wall coverings create a sophisticated, yet simple, feel.

“It’s very feng shui and very inviting, with woods and natural colors that help people relax and feel welcome,” he explains. “It’s a very comfortable, soothing, but, at the same time, a sophisticated upscale environment.”

Laminate lockers, quartz vanities, high-end wood finishes, and indirect lighting via wall sconces advance the aesthetic agenda, and new toilets, sinks, and showers complement the fresh look. “There’s a difference between ‘Nice,’ and ‘Amazing!’ and we want people to love the space, and feel good about the club,” says Carter.

That’s exactly what seems to be happening. “People are blown away by the fact that these locker rooms were created in the old spaces,” says Healy. He reports that the club has gained 500 new members since the first phase of renovations was completed in November. “With our old locker rooms, we weren’t attracting 35–55-year-old professionals. Now, our largest new member segments are 31–40 and 41–50, with a 50/50 split between men and women using the club. This is the exact demographic shift we wanted to see.”

Shortcuts to success

Fabiano, Lavoie, and Carter agree that clubs pursu- ing the “Wow” factor don’t necessarily have to marshal huge budgets or embark on a complete renovation. Even minor changes can have a major impact.

“By utilizing scarce resources to address ‘broken-issue’ items, while leaving the ‘unbroken’ parts alone, it’s possible to achieve a major locker room transformation,” insists Lavoie. He suggests looking for such things as mold, dated colors, inadequate lighting, worn carpeting, and rusty lockers.

Fabiano’s list of possible “broken” features includes chipped laminate, stained ceiling tiles, non-functional lockers, rusted metal doorframes, and chipped wall or floor tiles. Once these have been attended to, “Control the visuals with colors, light ing, and vanity tops,” he recommends, “and introduce amenities that create an ambiance that people enjoy.”

How to get the best results from your investment?

CBI’s experts advise that, regardless of the size of the project, you should work with an industry expert, discuss budgets at the outset, and minimize member inconvenience by scheduling work so that, during construction, a portion of the locker room remains useable.

“Judgment, experience, and the ability to visualize are essential to maximizing value when working with locker rooms,” observes Lavoie. “Preconstruction visualization is key to cost-effective decision making, and modern CAD software makes affordable, accurate, 3-D simulations possible.”

When selecting materials, shopping around can pay dividends, but, while cost is important, given the high usage lockers rooms receive, scrimping isn’t recommended. “So much maintenance is necessary to keep these areas comfortable and looking great, that it’s wise to use the best materials you can afford,” counsels Fabiano.

Worthington agrees. “Locker rooms have a long life expectancy, and it makes sense to invest in quality design and products.”

“Spa-like locker rooms are going to become the new norm,” predicts Carter, “and clubs that don’t have them are going to stand out for the wrong reasons.” 

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