12 Aug

Outside Influence

Will Clubs Follow Suit?

Hospitality, mixed-use, commercial and retail design shifts reflect changing lifestyles.

Gramercy Park Hotel
The Gramercy Park Hotel in New York (top) blends seemingly disparate architectural and interiors styles.

We often think of our clubs as oases separate from much of our everyday lives.  In here, we’re away from the office, the shopping mall, the incessant checking of smart phones, the chatter of the masses.  For those who plan, design and manage clubs, however, there is a risk of becoming too insular. The truth is, from a design, functionality…experience…standpoint, there’s a lot going on out there that has a rightful place inside our club walls. Because a lot of what’s going on — in hospitality design, mixed-use and commercial development, retail and more — is both reflection of and influence on the way people (club members!) live their lives.  And we would be remiss not to give consideration to what’s likely to enhance the club experience for our members, current and future.

We turned to two ideal sources for insights on outside influences that should find a place inside clubs: Charlie Turner, director of interior design at Chambers, who brings a background in hospitality and luxury multifamily design to creating club interiors, and Dave Woodyard, formerly executive vice president of business development at ClubCorp, which owns and operates more than 150 clubs in the U.S. and abroad.  These are some of the areas of focus in non-club design that they see as having the greatest potential for influence.

Hospitality venues are successfully branding a way of life. Boutique hotels are creating branded restaurants and bars that have turned formerly default gathering spaces into destination experiences. Clubs are starting to see value in the same.

Turner cites as example The Nassau Club in Princeton, NJ, which successfully introduced Bar 6 (named for the club’s 6 Mercer Street address), a branded and intimate space specifically designed to compete with nearby upscale restaurants and bars.

“Branding a club experience will be increasingly important to the next generation of members,” Turner predicts. “It’s been incredibly successful in hospitality,” he says, “and I see no reason why it can’t translate to clubs.”

Woodyard predicts (and is already seeing) the demise of generic, cavernous and institutionally lit spaces in country, city, golf and yacht clubs. Dedicated lighting, small alcoves, wine rooms and meeting spaces … zones crafted architecturally and with furnishings to create cozy, personal spaces that can be used for a variety purposes … these are all creating a more appealing experience for the member — much like they’re finding in outside restaurants, hotels and even commercial spaces.

“Clubs can tend to look very similar from city to city,” says Turner, who likens their often “safe” design aesthetic to chain hotels — though even those are starting to take the lead from their boutique counterparts.

“Boutique hotels are often great at telling stories through their design,” says Turner, engaging guests and creating an unique connection. The Jefferson Hotel in Washington, DC, he offers as example, incorporates its location, history and stories into the physical space. Documents and other archived items are showcased throughout the hotel. A dumbwaiter in the dining room replicates one found in Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia. “People are interested in the story, which transcends into interest in — and repeat visitors to — the space.” (At the same time, he says, clubs should be cognizant of blending history with more modern aesthetics, not letting the past mire the opportunity to change and evolve.) Trendier hotels often create their own narrative with unique designs and furnishings that distinguish them in the minds of their guests.  (See also Branded Experience, above.)

“The existence of a history isn’t enough to attract and keep new members,” says Turner. “But a club that continually engages you in its story and experience — that has the potential to turn members into part of an ongoing narrative.”

Clubs have long been addressing member needs for formal meeting spaces. But as more folks telework, work out of their homes and/or simply look for more casual work spaces where they can sit or even spread out a few papers, there are cues to be taken from mixed use, hotels and restaurants and ever-evolving office spaces.  Multifamily properties regularly incorporate comfortable communal settings that can be used by working residents, says Turner. ClubCorp has dubbed “anytime lounges,” says Woodyard, areas open from morning to night and often a perfect spot for a anyone looking for an alternate place to work for a few minutes or even hours. With multiple “zones,” these spaces provide places for one or a small group of people to work or meet “that doesn’t feel cavernous and empty,” he says.

Bars that serve as central dining room features, communal tables, more lounge seating than formal dining tables — as dining and drinking continue to become as much or more entertainment as they are sustenance, the club industry would be right to follow the hospitality industry in creating spaces that address these evolving member preferences.

Silicon Valley Club
The Silicon Valley Capital Club (bottom), a ClubCorp property, captures trends in mixed-use and hospitality design that appeals to members old and young.

“Members want spaces reflective of their lives,” says Woodyard, warning that clubs that are too cautious risk losing relevancy, especially to new members. “There is tremendous potential for clubs willing to look outside their own walls at what is proving successful in the outside world,” says Turner. Both acknowledge that it may take a push (or a gentle nudge, at the least) to move clubs beyond what’s “safe.”  The successes of evolutionary moves in hospitality and mixed-use development offer proof of their potential for the club industry. Who’s ready to take the plunge?

What do you see making it’s way in? Tell us what you think!

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