Feature Article - May/June 2003
Find a printable version here

Natural Wonders

Trends in interior design, whatever your budget

By Kelli Anderson

The lobby of the HealthPoint Fitness and Wellness Center in Waltham, Mass., showcases the use of natural lighting through windows to conserve energy costs. It also has an interesting example of tile flooring that offers a natural stone effect.

Current interior design trends for recreation facilities are pretty much all about bigger and better—bigger, voluminous size and better comfort. In general, designs tend toward large, open, multiview spaces that shy away from the narrow confines of the long corridor or the stingy-spaced locker room. Much like the great outdoors and the natural elements that go with it, health and fitness centers are bringing in the feel of sunlight, open space, and very often, the warm, natural colors and materials one would expect to find in the comforting arms of Mother Nature.

The seemingly endless array of programming choices these days mean that designs must take on multipurpose functions requiring flexible spaces that can go from the equipment-laden, roll-and-tumble of Pilates to the intimate, simplicity and serenity of yoga. Designing to the variety of programming needs is essential while also making room for the public's growing expectation of more value-added amenities like spas, eating areas and, for the truly well-rounded, hair salons.

Health and fitness facilities have become one-stop shopping for a multitude of needs. To accommodate demand, interior design has gone multisensory in an effort to turn a once 40-minute rushed workout into a three-hour destination hot spot.

"It's a place to meet, a place to socialize," observes Greg Randall, principal with DeStefano Keating Partners design firm of Chicago. "A social club versus just a place to throw some weights around."

But regardless of the trends, some elements of good design and updating looks never change and can be achieved even on the tightest budget. Paying attention to effective uses and placement of color, lighting and materials are key to achieving the look you want and the experience your patrons long for.

Holmes Place Health Club at River East Center in Chicago makes good use of natural light to flood a large space.

Perhaps no other element changes a space more dramatically than lighting.

"The first place to start is opportunities for daylighting," says Andy Barnard, vice president and 10-year principal with Sink Combs Dethlefs Sports Architecture of Denver. "You can do a lot with colors and materials, but to us, there's nothing that warms up a place and makes it more inviting than daylighting."

Opening up your existing facility with more windows and skylights is one way to let the sun shine in and to break up the hospital-esque feel of a long, confining corridor. Sunlight is not only beautiful and heartwarming, it is economical in the long run, too.

Newer facilities such as the Holmes Place Health Club in Chicago, for example, are designing their larger-than-life spaces to take advantage of all that the sun has to offer.

"We use a lot of daylight," says Randall, architect for the project. "We want to avoid the feel of the industrial."