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Since their inception, private clubs have been a place for members to gather to share ideas, close business deals, enjoy golf and sports activities, socialize among friends, and especially in more recent decades, spend quality time with family. But regardless of how much the main function of private clubs has evolved over the years, one common thread remains—it’s all about the culture, relationships, and experiences that form on club grounds.
Certainly, the most important aspect of those experiences is the people who are involved. Lasting memories are created with friends and loved ones who are surrounded by caring and attentive staff. But in addition to ‘who’ is involved, private clubs must also consider the ‘where’, ‘what’, and ‘how’—where are members spending their time, what feelings does the environment evoke, and how can the physical form of that space influence their experience?
Famous designer Charles Eames once said, “The details are not the details. They make the design.” The beauty of thoughtful design is that it tells a story of a particular space; it calls on its history, proudly displays its culture, and curates different feelings unique to each person enjoying the space.
Of course, different experiences warrant different atmospheres and design aesthetics. A space meant for dining is treated much differently than one used to conduct business meetings. And even dining spaces themselves aren’t all created equal—adult casual dining areas require a different aesthetic than a family dining area suitable for children or an upscale dining space meant for special events and intimate dinners.
“Thoughtful design isn’t linear—it’s multi-faceted,” notes Chambers’ Director of Architecture and Principal, Lee Hyden. “There isn’t one element or design detail that creates the atmosphere of an entire space, but rather many elements that work together.” When considering design, it is often easy for bystanders to notice interior details—the carefully curated artwork on the walls, custom carpets with unique designs, sophisticated light fixtures, comfortable seating, and so on. But what are those details if not complemented by a particular roof pitch, clerestory windows, hipped dormers, or engaged columns? These are specific architectural elements that can have a profound impact on the geometry, form, and function of a structure. And though they aren’t always the first elements to catch the eye of a passerby, the experience of the space wouldn’t be the same—and in most cases function properly—without them.
The word architecture can be simply defined as the art or practice of designing buildings. Aside from this traditional definition, the term can also refer to the careful and complex design of any kind of structure (i.e. information architecture, chemical architecture, etc.). In any instance, it’s much more than bricks and mortar. It’s a true art form where careful attention to the complexities of form and function combine to create enhanced spaces and experiences.
Many private clubs have been around for decades (and some, for over a century!). Over the years, clubs have adapted to the changing needs of their members, including expanding their facilities when significant membership growth has occurred. In some cases, this may mean expanding a clubhouse’s building footprint, adding another level on top of the existing clubhouse, or building an entirely new structure for new amenities. No matter what type of growth or expansion, it is crucial that the architectural integrity of a club’s facilities remains consistent and that they complement the club’s culture and surroundings.
The architectural expression of culture can be achieved in a myriad of ways—from utilizing regional and local materials; to integrating design elements that celebrate a vernacular style; to considering massing, forms, and dimensions that relate to a building’s surroundings. As a structure is formed (and expanded), these elements can add to the character and culture of the facility; however, if these elements do not remain consistent throughout a clubhouse’s transformation, it can become relatively obvious. A change in building material, variation in shape, or shift in color on a building’s façade can indicate where a building was expanded throughout the years and may even speak to when this expansion occurred, i.e. when a brick popular in the 1970s is suddenly adjacent to a locally sourced stone.
This concept was at the center of the design for the recent renovations at Huntington Crescent Club in Huntington, New York. When the Club experienced an unfortunate roof collapse over the Men’s Locker Room, the first instinct was to repair the damage. However, forward-thinking club leadership recognized this devastating event as an opportunity to assess the club’s facility needs holistically to not only include necessary infrastructure upgrades but also further elevate the member experience. Chambers’ design team also saw an opportunity to introduce architectural elements that would create a sequence of new experiences throughout the facility.
“One major element of the Plan included changing the original sloped mansard roof to a new gable roof inspired by the shingle style architecture that is prominent on Long Island,” says Hyden. “The significant exterior enhancements also included relocating the main entry axis and adding a new porte cochere to create an enhanced first impression.” Once inside the front door, members now experience an expansive entry lobby with dramatic cathedral ceilings and indirect natural light, creating a vastly different atmosphere than before. In addition, the new entry design encourages a natural progression from the entry to the living room and the member bar, which then flows into a reimagined member dining space that is adjacent to an outdoor terrace with incredible views of the golf course. Careful attention to architectural details has transformed the member experience and inspired a more vibrant culture promoting dining and socialization.
While there are many similarities among private clubs, no two clubs are the same. Each club has its own history, traditions, and purpose. Often, this is documented in the form of mission and vision statements that define a club’s reason for existence and goals for the future, which are crucial elements to consider before beginning any type of renovation or design project.
“When designing a space,” says Hyden, “it is important to intertwine cultural elements and values into the structure and décor in a manner that celebrates the past while also preparing for the future.” This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Some clubs have magnificent art collections that can be celebrated in the design, or the Club’s brand can be tastefully incorporated into the color scheme. Location matters, too—the interiors of a club near the water may incorporate coastal elements, while clubs in the mountains should look more rustic. But this consideration doesn’t end with interior décor—the architecture is equally important. “Clubs should consider the architectural style of their existing facilities and the surrounding neighborhood in order to create a well-rounded, holistic design that complements your club, its members, and the community,” Hyden remarks.
This was particularly important to Cape Fear Country Club during the development of their Family Activity Center. As the oldest private country club in North Carolina, the Club is steeply rooted in southern tradition and wished to provide a facility that served its members’ recreational needs and offered a more casual atmosphere for its younger members. As part of a multi-phase Master Plan, Chambers developed a standalone building that would offer fitness and wellness amenities, while complementing the Club’s tennis and pool activities. The Club’s biggest concern? How to create a brand new building that would help them prepare for the future without looking like a foreign structure adjacent to their 122-year old Colonial Revival-style clubhouse.
The architecture team took great care in the details for the new building, which incorporated classic architectural details that add timeless elegance and a sense of history. Among them, the building boasts a Tuscan tapered round column colonnade, cedar shingles, and a gable roof—just like the original clubhouse. Other southern coastal architecture elements are included throughout the interiors as well, which speak to the location and clubhouse surroundings. In addition, Neo-Colonial rectangular windows with double-hung sashes offer ample opportunity for natural light to pour into the spaces inside. The result is a beautiful structure that reflects Cape Fear’s inherent culture while creating an optimal environment to carry out the Club’s continued legacy.
And just like clubs, architecture is all about relationships. So, when constructing a new building, it is crucial to consider the foundation on which the building is built, as well as how that structure relates to the site. In the case of private clubs, there are often many components to consider. Tennis courts must be situated a certain way to respond to how the sun rises and sets on them; recreational facilities are often nestled between pool, tennis, and sports related amenities to capitalize on natural synergies; and clubhouses are situated to respond to the ground beneath it, as well as maximize views to golf courses and vistas throughout the club’s property.
In the case of Cape Fear Country Club, this was a significant consideration in addition to ensuring the building materials matched the existing clubhouse. In fact, the Family Activity Center replaced the previous pool building, which was located between the pool and tennis courts. When designing the new L-shaped structure, the pool and tennis courts were largely untouched, meaning great care was taken to ensure that the building fit within the available footprint—and that it made sense with the facilities around it. Chambers placed the casual dining and pool bar adjacent to the swimming facilities to replace and enhance the previous snack bar. The other side of the building runs perpendicular to the Club’s tennis courts with a tennis viewing patio on the lower level. In addition, outdoor stretching areas were included off of the fitness facilities so members could view the tennis and pool facilities from above.
Another great example is the new Riverside Clubhouse at Greenville Country Club in South Carolina. Faced with significant infrastructural challenges and an array of changing member needs, the membership ultimately voted to tear down the Club’s Riverside Clubhouse and rebuild. This provided an opportunity to position the new building appropriately on the site to maximize views of the golf course. Though the building is two stories throughout, it is situated on sloping land that leads to the golf course.
The design of the new building boasts Southern Georgian style architecture with white painted brick nestled into the sloping ground. At the front entry, the design gives the Clubhouse a residential feel with only one story visible and multi-pane windows designed to embrace the feel of double hung windows that are typical of homes in the neighborhood. In contrast, the rear façade of the building is a two-story structure that incorporates large panes of glass, terraces, and patios in every space that overlooks the course.
Just as it is crucial to design the exterior of a building with its outdoor surroundings in mind, it is equally important to ensure that the interior layout and spatial needs speak to the exterior—and that this ‘conversation’ makes sense. Therefore, architects, space planners, and interior designers must work together to continually massage the interior and exterior design requirements and consider the design from both the inside-out and from the outside-in.
Let’s focus on the exterior for a moment. The façade of a building includes many elements, such as roof lines, window placement, entry points, and the like. But as each of these elements comes together in a design, an architect must ensure they work in conjunction with what is occurring inside those walls. For example, the placement of a window may look aesthetically pleasing in a particular location on the exterior wall; but if that wall houses a locker room on the other side, then a window is probably not the best option. At the same time, if a structure is designed solely from the interior, it’s exterior façade may end up looking disheveled and leave passersby wondering, ‘What were they thinking?!’
This concept then translates into interior architecture and design to consider spatial adjacencies from the left and right, as well as from above and below—not only from a functional or operational standpoint but from a convenience standpoint as well. For example, the ideal location for a kitchen is in the center of a clubhouse so that dining and banquet spaces can all be serviced in a timely manner. It also makes sense to design a youth activity room near the family casual dining area since the primary user group is the same. On the other hand, an active and vibrant group exercise/fitness area should not be located directly above a private dining space meant for quiet, intimate, or special occasions. Private clubs are places where shared experiences and shared activities occur—and architecture is about designing experiences that optimize those activities.
Recently, Chambers completed a clubhouse renovation and addition for International Country Club in Fairfax, Virginia. The redesign utilized the majority of the existing building footprint to redefine spaces for improved member and guest circulation, as well as enhanced the efficiency of travel for staff servicing the banquet spaces and reimagined dining spaces, which surround a central kitchen. A reconfiguration of the existing banquet space also allowed for the addition of a dedicated Pre-Function area, which was previously lacking. With this new design, both the Ballroom and Pre-Function spaces now have direct access to the existing Covered Terrace.
To address the membership’s needs for a dedicated Pub and additional casual dining space, the design also incorporated an expansion to the building with a covered outdoor terrace. Existing exterior materials determined the building façade selections so the addition blended seamlessly. The new Terrace flooring provides an enhanced appearance and simple cable railing improves the view. The Terrace can be accessed from the three adjacent dining spaces and captures the breathtaking views of the golf course to further elevate the dining experience in all venues.
“From an architectural standpoint,” Hyden notes, “this expansion was thoughtfully designed to incorporate horizontal design elements, patterns, and window openings as a nod to the Prairie Architecture influence of the existing Clubhouse. Additionally, we incorporated a stone retaining wall to capture an event patio that extends along the gently sloped perimeter of the addition.” The horizontal stone masonry of the retaining wall subtly relates to the existing brick horizontality, and the coloration in the stone relates to the colors within the surrounding site. By re-evaluating the existing square footage, embracing the architecture that was already in place, and truly maximizing the potential of interrelated indoor and outdoor spaces, the member experience has transformed.
The nuances and intricacies of architecture and design help create the environments for thoughtful activities to occur—defining, refining, and enhancing spaces to foster community and strengthen social experiences and personal connections. Ensuring the architectural design of your facility reflects your Club’s culture and its surroundings can not only contribute to the beauty of the structure itself, but the beauty that occurs among people within the walls as well.
Is your club designing thoughtful spaces? Leave a comment below!