Feature Article - March 2020
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Get Smart

Locker Rooms in the New Decade

By Rick Dandes

Locker room designers, and those they serve at both municipal and commercial recreational facilities, have embraced analytical research on client needs and "smart" technology, when it comes to layout, safety and maintenance of their spaces.

University of North Texas Principal Lecturer Joseph T. Walker, Ph.D., specializing in kinesiology, health promotion and recreation, has done research on client needs that, he said, "shows overall that restrooms and locker rooms (design, security, cleanliness, accessibility, location) are a significant contributor to the patron's overall satisfaction with the facility" and have a direct impact on satisfaction and an indirect impact on intention to renew membership.

According to the Washington Post, Americans spend at least 28 minutes a day, or 2% of the day, on personal grooming activities. That amount of time means significant attention should be given to detail when designing a locker room to ensure all needs are met or exceeded.

"We are trying to get away from the idea of dirty, uninviting locker rooms. That's a thing of the past," said Jason Ringdahl, principal, Barker, Rinker, Seacat, based in Denver. "What he [Walker] found out is that people mostly want to be safe, and in a clean locker room. We also believe people want exclusivity. Having amenities at your fingertips. Everyone wants things right now—convenience."

Much has been written about design trends such as larger and more open spaces in traditional locker rooms, brighter and warmer lighting, and replacing some locker room lockers with more "express" lockers in active spaces. All these trends continue to take hold and mature, said Stephen Springs, vice president and senior principal, Brinkley Sargent Wiginton Architects in Dallas. Gender neutrality demands continue the push for more family/caregiver changing rooms and cabana-style design approaches.

The first impression any potential patron would have is the overall layout of the locker room, said Jim Gabel, vice president, CannonDesign, in Buffalo, N.Y. The more logical and clearly defined the layout is, he contends, the easier it is for the user to navigate the space. Gabel also recommends a clear delineation between wet and dry areas. "Lockers will typically be in the dry area; the wet areas are where the toilets, the showers and sinks are," he explained. "These areas are now programmed in their design. The areas are more open, and there is a clear delineation between wet and dry areas."

At a minimum, added Sara Boyer, associate principal, Moody Nolan, of Columbus, Ohio, "the first impression when you walk into a locker room is to feel that the facility is clean, maintained and secure." A locker room must also comply with all applicable building and accessibility codes. Locker rooms must be durable and highly functionable.

First Impressions, High Expectations

Recreation centers continue to respond to higher expectations from clientele in terms of good impressions, approaching spa and club quality amenity and finish, Springs said. "The good news is there is so much more choice in finish materials today as compared to when most existing facilities were built, and at reasonable price points, that new or renovated locker rooms can easily look nothing like what you're used to."

An upscale finish selection approach, Springs explained, does not have to come at an upscale price. "The devil, as always, is in the details: paying attention to all the little things makes a big difference, like how finishes transition to one another, how they turn corners and terminate cleanly."

Walling has changed, as has flooring material, Gabel noted. Porcelain tile flooring can give the area an upscale look. Smaller tiles produced dirt on the edges so Gabel suggested using larger tiles, almost the size of a plank, a one foot by three foot tile with epoxy grout. "Flooring is very important in making that first good impression," he said.

The locker itself can be of a warmer material, whether it is wood or a laminate that looks like wood, Gabel said. Countertops and grooming shelving made of a nice solid surface of quartz material is something like a patron might find in a kitchen. This also gives the space more of a higher-end feel.

Selecting warm neutral colors and materials has long-term appeal, provides a sense of comfort and can result in a spa-like feel, Boyer added. Accent colors should be understated, and branding should be reserved for more public areas of a facility. Lighting should be planned to illuminate the aisles between lockers, not the tops of lockers. Supplemental lighting at mirrors is an important design feature relative to personal grooming like shaving and applying makeup. At least one full-length mirror should be located in each locker room. A well-lit locker room will feel cleaner.

The last thing about making a good first impression, Gabel said, would be making sure you have the proper ventilation in the locker room, because these spaces get really hot and humid with showers nearby. "Locker rooms typically have lots of people coming in and out. It can be heavily used, so having that ventilation is important. You don't want to walk into a locker room and smell wet socks. You want the smell to be like any other space in the building."