Feature Article - July/August 2003
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Shower Power and Beyond

Locker and restroom design continues to go upscale to please patrons

By Kelli Anderson

In New Jersey, a newly opened private health club has broken the mold. Its owner had a dream—to have showers that would inspire mouth-dropping awe and a resulting mad dash to secure membership. He virtually based his entire marketing strategy on the bet that people might just come for the unbelievable shower experience alone.

And he was right.

The fine finishes of Gold's Gym in Princeton, N.J., look like they are fit for royalty.

This vision became reality with four-foot-round-diameter shower stalls tiled with beautiful, light-blue glass mosaic tiles that one-by-one sparkle in the light. The showers, enclosed with frosted glass doors, are equipped with not one but two, three-nozzled adjustable body sprays and topped with a rainfall showerhead.

"The shower itself is a complete experience," says Rudy Fabiano, president and design director of Fabiano Designs International of Montclair, N.J. "It's visually stunning and has the capacity to massage your whole body. This is the direction we're going. We're going to provide the member not with just getting clean and changed but with an experience. You take that concept and work it through the whole locker room."

Despite recent economic woes, the recreation and fitness industry continues to experience growth in clientele from almost every spectrum. Setting your facility apart has gone beyond just a beautiful entry or the latest in programming—it's about offering an experience in a setting that is more aesthetic, more comfortable and more convenient.

Nowhere is this experience as pronounced as in the intimate setting of the locker and restrooms of your facility. It's not just about first impressions—it's about lasting ones.

The old-school assumption that function trumps aesthetics in the bathroom no longer holds water. Practical needs can be happily paired with good looks for less than you think and with the long-lasting benefits of attracting more clients and maintaining happier ones.

Oldies but goodies

When designing or remodeling locker and restroom areas, basic considerations for the heaviest used areas—usually the wet and pool areas—remain constant: durability, maintainability and cleanliness.

"You've got to keep it very polished," says Tom Poulos, an 11-year-principal with Williams Associates and Architects in Carol Stream, Ill. "But yet you want to have a little bit of flair, too. Durability is key."

Technology and materials are still basically the same, but architects and designers are finding newer, creative ways to use old standards to add some splash to durable surfaces. Concrete, an oldie-but-durable-goodie, is experiencing newfound popularity with the addition of color. Concrete floors, for example, go from drab to dazzling with integral color techniques where color is added before pouring. Broad-casting a stain over the wet concrete is another alternative, although shorter-lived than its integral color counterpart.

Concrete blocks have also gone more glam with the addition of ground clay and earth mixed into the precast concrete.

"We prefer integrally colored concrete block," Poulos says. "It gives it character. There is also burnished block and glazed block, textured and smooth—they all have color or aesthetic value," he explains, although smooth block is best for easy cleaning.

For dryer areas in locker spaces, specialty carpet is still one of the comfiest flooring choices and requires replacement about every five to seven years to keep it looking and smelling its best.

The fine finishes of Gold's Gym in Princeton, N.J.

Sleek is also chic, however, and even ceilings are getting in on the act. The superfine textures in ceiling tile, combined with very thin, narrow grids, is a current ceiling favorite, according to Poulos.

More upscale wall finishes are even turning to commercial wallpapers such as ones used by the recently relocated Gold's Gym in Princeton, N.J.

"We were going for a very residential, upscale, comfortable feel; we used a lot of wallpaper coverings as opposed to just paint," says Bonnie Vey, co-owner with husband Randy Vey. "There's a lot of commercial papers out there now that have appropriate applications in commercial environments such as ours—maintenance isn't a problem. Any club has to maintain its facility whether for paint or paper. Sometimes people focus on what's easiest to maintain but not on the atmosphere, and it's atmosphere that people gravitate to. We paid attention to finishes in the locker and bathroom environment."