Built From the Brand Up

When it comes to designing the perfect gym, brand must be considered.

People don’t usually gush about a gym’s architecture and design like they do the Eiffel Tower. But could that change?

The Taj Mahal and Eiffel Tower are well-known because they are unique. Both leave a lasting impression and have a brand that’s clearly their own — and your gym’s curb appeal can do the same by beginning with a solid foundation.

Photo courtesy of DavidBartonGym.

Photo courtesy of DavidBartonGym.

The base however is not made of stone, cement or iron. Instead, it’s comprised of your brand. “[We always have to remember to keep] the brand in mind and that we want members to think of coming to the gym as a gift, not a chore,” said Kevin Kavanaugh, the president of DavidBartonGym. “We build them a place that they feel at home in; that when they walk in the door they are excited to be there. Architecture is the thing that helps us place new gyms. We need to be in locations that have history and personality, that are iconic and embody similar brand values.”

Kavanaugh explained how each gym has a unique and specific personality. For example, while the DavidBartonGym in Chicago has a modern, industrial edge, the Astor Place location in New York resembles a church taken over by gothic punks. As the gym looks to open a new location in the historic Limelight area in New York this month, it too is seeking to keep the brand intact while retaining its own personality. But the brand isn’t just about looks.

Kavanaugh said the senses — touch, feeling, hearing — are part of the brand as well and must be carried over into every location. “We spend the most time making sure each gym is unique,” he said. “Ensuring that they embody the local neighborhood values and qualities. This is not just done with design that is completely visual, but often with things that tantalize the other senses … We make sure that the staff is welcoming, that the locker rooms are nicer than your bathroom at home, that the music allows you to get lost in your workout, that the towels are soft and the equipment is state of the art. We like to provide an overall experience for members.”

The Los Angeles Athletic Club’s architecture is also based off of its brand. And its brand is based off of an idea borrowed from Trader Joe’s: create a fictitious person and cater to them. “Every decision [Trader Joe’s] makes is based on appealing to this single person,” explained Cory Hathaway, the assistant manager of the Los Angeles Athletic Club. “We copied this technique. Our fictitious person is a serial entrepreneur who lives in a loft condo in a historic building redesigned by Kelly Wearstler. We try to align all of our decisions around this fictitious person.”

For Hathaway, there are three key ingredients that are incorporated into every interior space at the Los Angeles Athletic Club: rooms are comprised of 80 percent historic/traditional elements and 20 percent contemporary, they are full of iconic private club elements like grandfather clocks and herringbone floor patterns — a v-shaped pattern that looks like the skeleton of a herring  — and athletic pictures and historic items are placed all around. These help keep the design consistent to the brand when remodeling.

Photo courtesy of Leisure Sports.

Photo courtesy of Leisure Sports.

By utilizing qualified designers and architects, your design elements can reflect your club and embody your brand. Leisure Sports, Inc. has worked with The Dahlin Group for that very reason. “They share our values for quality and design style,” said Ralph Rajs, the senior vice president of operations at Leisure Sports. “They were genuinely interested in understanding our business, our members and our philosophy on aesthetics.”

Plus, The Dahlin Group was local, making the company a great pick for Leisure Sports. “This helps a lot because they know the community — their name is on the project along with yours, and they are available for face-to-face meetings, which is really helpful when reviewing the design plans and brainstorming ideas,” said Rajs.

And as time goes on, a designer needs to be able to grow alongside a brand. “Make sure the designer thoroughly understands the brand so he knows how to integrate it,” said Karl Danielson, a LEED senior principal of The Dahlin Group and the architect for Leisure Sports over the past 30 years. “This is not a static process as brands grow and are refined.”

But where do you begin when looking for a designer? Hathaway said Leisure Sports chose its designer based on its ability to specifically appeal to its downtown target. “You have to pick someone who matches the overall strategy of the club,” he said. “One trick is to look at the magazines that your target market reads. Try to look at the spaces that appeal to them. Then find an interior designer who has a portfolio that matches.”

For DavidBartonGym, Studio Sofield has been its designer for nearly 20 years. Kavanaugh noted choosing the right architect to remodel your club is as important as choosing one to remodel your home. “Make sure they understand your personality so that the end result feels like an expression of your vision and passion, not another gym in your chain,” he said.

That’s what makes DavidBartonGym able to retain its brand — its uniform uniqueness. “Our best architectural feature is our ability to make each space that we take over have the DavidBartonGym look and feel without looking like a ‘cookie-cutter’ typical gym,” explained Kavanaugh.

It’s like the Taj Mahal. When you walk into the building, you know exactly where you are. You don’t mistake it for the Eiffel Tower. Your architecture and design can be the same way, leaving a lasting impression on your members that reminds them where they are.

“DavidBartonGym is known for taking over iconic spaces that are unexpected and making them the coolest gyms on the block,” said Kavanaugh. “When you are in a DavidBartonGym, you know you are in a DavidBartonGym.”


By Heather Hartmann

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