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Design experts say hotel fitness centers are becoming as important as other public spaces such as food-and-beverage outlets, which is why hotel gyms should be designed in thoughtful ways.

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REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Health and fitness is becoming more important for travelers, which is why hotel gyms need to be as thoughtfully designed as any other part of the hotel would be.

Dwayne MacEwen, principal at DMAC Architecture, said it’s no longer acceptable for fitness facilities to be tucked away in the basement or a small, dark and dreary room in the hotel; it needs to be out in the public space, by the pool or adjacent to a food-and-beverage outlet.

Lighting is one important aspect of a good hotel gym, he said. When people are working out and checking their form in the full-length mirrors, they want to look good, which means using the right lighting to make people’s skin tones look good.

“You can’t use commercial corporate lighting,” he said. “We build it like we’re designing a restaurant or any public space where people want to look good.”

Marc Ciafardini, senior interior designer at Wilson Associates’ Dallas studio, said “natural lighting and views of the outdoors are a must,” in an email interview.

“Owners understand the importance of providing spacious fitness centers with surrounding views, even if it means sacrificing square footage of guest rooms to accommodate this space,” he said. “Health and wellness have become increasingly important to guests. At Wilson Associates, we work very closely with fitness consultants to ensure the design and selection of equipment are optimized for the space and the property’s clientele.”

Lesley Hughes Wyman, co-founder and principal at MatchLine Design Group, agreed that the fitness center should provide plenty of natural light and access to the outdoors.

“Motivating guests to use the fitness center is about what ambiance is created in and for the space. If the space has a view to a terrace or connects to an outdoor activity hub, such as a pool area, the more appealing the space is,” she said via email. “A definite ‘no-no’ is locating the fitness center in the basement in the building. The connotation in and of itself, of having to go down to a basement is unappealing. It’s dark and isolated, what’s motivating about that?”

Location, experiences and amenities
Fitness centers should be in a central location in a hotel, but that doesn’t mean “all fitness activities need to be located within four walls,” Sara Talleux, principal at Simeone Deary Design Group, said via email.*

“We are increasingly providing clients with experiential ideas such as incorporating branded bikes as amenities, (which are) perfect for local curated bike rides to developing creative jogging paths and fitness excursions that offer guests a unique way to work in their workout,” she said.

Gayle Evasco, project designer at Wilson Associates’ Dallas location, agreed, adding that fitness centers can take up more space in a hotel, “especially if they are part of a larger wellness zone that incorporates the spa, pools, relaxation areas, etc.”

Another part of the fitness experience is staying hydrated. Ciafardini said “a dedicated line for filtered water service is more desirable than bottled water” in the fitness center.

“If possible, fitness centers should offer a space to cool down and/or stretch, and provide attractive towel storage/dumping stations,” he said. “It’s also key to have the highest ceiling possible to account for all types of equipment. Also, guests will appreciate a ceiling that doesn’t look like a corporate office, so avoid (acoustic ceiling tiles) if you can. Lastly, two-to-three TVs maximum are all you need; it’s not a sports bar.”

Workout motivation
People need motivation, energy and a good attitude to get up and hit the gym, which is why it is important to create those feelings through the design of a fitness center, sources said.

Evasco said wellness is integrated into every aspect of the spa/fitness center area of a hotel, and colors in these areas can be “a zen/calming atmosphere and color palette” or “lively, bold colorations and patterns,” she said via email.

Ciafardini suggests “making the fitness center a design statement.”

“Maximizing the glass beyond a glass inset or sidelite makes it far more appealing and engaging,” he said. “It opens up the space and is more inviting to passerby. Sport flooring comes in a lot more options, which can let the designer create something more interesting and attractive than in years past.”

Understanding the hotel, the fitness space and how it will be used is important to know before starting on a hotel gym design project, “so that it functions perfectly for their needs,” Talleux said.

“It is only then that you can begin to incorporate the layers and elements that add the beauty or aesthetic that is important to that particular space,” she said. “Otherwise, you are just designing for design’s sake. In the case of a fitness center within a hotel, we may take into consideration everything from incorporating the overall look and feel of the hotel to provide some level of continuity to concepting the space as a destination fitness center for guests and locals with a specialized workout component.”

*Correction, 12 March 2019: This story has been updated to correct a company's name.

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