by Guest Contributor Sara Peddle
How do you create community? As a commercial designer, this is a common request from our clients: they want the public to not only use and visit their space but also keep coming back, because they feel as if they belong in it. Businesses want their customers to feel comfortable in the space, to spend time there, to connect with their staff and each other. Sounds idyllic, but how do you create an environment where this can come to fruition?
As we’ve learned throughout the past year, when isolation has taken a toll on so many people, human connection is more important than ever. Business owners are looking to help foster a sense a community in an otherwise disconnected and technology-focused culture. To achieve this, I often utilize residential design features into commercial spaces.
In one of our recent projects, Annex Fitness, creating a community and a space where people feel comfortable and at home was a cornerstone of their business model (hence, the name, an ‘annex’ to your own home!). Typically, the gym is not the first place that comes to mind when thinking about spaces where people feel comfortable, so we had to identify what exactly about a space makes people feel at home.
Create Individual Areas
Homes consist of a variety of spaces for different purposes: cooking, eating, relaxing, working, sleeping etc. To help customers or clients to feel ‘at home’ in commercial spaces, we create a similar variety of areas that have different functions – much like a home. Spaces for connection, for relaxation, and for reprieve.
While designing Annex we added several lounge spaces into the overall layout: where you can enjoy a cup of coffee and check your email after a class or meet with a group of friends and chat. For those that are needing a more private experience, we have a full separate washroom and shower, and lockers outside of the change rooms. There are also lounge chairs scattered throughout where you can sit and catch your breath after a class. Creating small areas via furniture, finishes and structure, we turn a large space into a multi-faceted experience that suits varied customer’s needs.
Creating opportunities where people can meet within a commercial space (whether it’s with staff or one other), will not only foster a sense of community but also promote repeat business.
The Annex reception desk was designed to be the center of it all as you walk in, creating opportunity for the staff to interact with their guests, in a casual, friendly way, welcoming each ‘home’. This has since become a space where people congregate both before and after a class – leaning up against the counter, sitting on one of the many benches, enjoying the complementary coffee. There is both seating and a place to get ready while chatting with your fellow fitness people.
Focus on the Feeling
You know when you walk into a space and instantly feel like you’re at home? Maybe it’s your favorite coffee shop or a local bookstore. Residential design is often focused on the ‘feeling’ of the space; clients want their homes to feel comfortable, welcoming, and reflect who they are. Therefore, when designing commercial spaces, we integrate precisely the same residential design principles into our process.
At Annex Fitness, we were lucky to have such a beautiful heritage space to begin with – towering ceilings with crown moulding, exposed brick arches, scraped paint – you get the vibe. Adding residential touches into this space that already had a lot of character helped create the homey feeling the owners desired. Some features that made all the difference: we added chandeliers into one of the barre rooms so that during class there is an option for mood lighting; we crafted luxurious residential-feeling showers with beautiful classic tile and gold shower fixtures; the doors into the studios are inspired by heritage black paned windows. All these elements combine to make the space into a comfortable and stylish experience for all.
Using the principles of zoning, interaction and emotion, we were able to design a space that fosters a true sense of community and belonging. Throughout multiple shutdowns during the pandemic, the community that Annex had built kept the dream alive and is stronger than ever. How would you benefit from being part of a such a community?
Sara Peddle is the Senior Designer and Studio Manager at Western Interior Design Group.