American Society of Interior Designers: Club Hopping
Icon Magazine, Winter 2007
It was a lot easier to be a club owner in the '70s. A hardworking entrepreneur could put up a fairly simple club with music and a bar and turn a nice profit. But today the nightclub business is a lot more competitive—especially in such top party cities as Manhattan, Las Vegas and Miami. In these sophisticated markets, a club's concept and design play a crucial role in its success.
Concept Is King
To create a concept that's right lor the target market and locale, it takes some upfront research. Tom Telesco AIA, president of Telesco Associates in Miami Beach, Fla., boasts an impressive club design resume, including such hotspots as Crobar New York and Nocturnal in Miami. But despite his experience, he starts any project outside his home city by visiting the area's successful clubs. What makes patrons swoon in Miami won't necessarily fly in Minneapolis or even Los Angeles.
An intimate knowledge of a club's eventual customers also makes design decisions easier. Right now, for example, Telesco is working on a martini bar in Orlando, Fla. The club's owner developed a nearby community of homes and condos and provided the design team with specific information about the customer base: 25-45 year olds earning $150,000 to $200,000 a year. Since these sophisticated patrons aren't easily impressed, Telesco's team is building in a lot of buzz-worthy features. "When people go to this nightclub, they'll never forget the experience", he says.
Once the club opens, one of the most talked about spots inside might just be the bathrooms. Plans call for high-tech surprises in both the men's and women's rooms. When a man walks up to the urinal, a plasma screen will activate behind the black glass in front of him with a woman making a clever comment about his manliness. Ladies who preen at the mirror will find themselves face-to-face with an image of a drag queen applying her own make-up.
These types of high-tech touches may soon become the norm. "A lot of the forward-thinking trends have to do with technology and lighting and environment," Goff says. Technology gives designers the power to create ever-changing—and increasingly impressive—surroundings for fickle club goers. LED lights, for example, allow designers to create precise and versatile displays. It's possible to call for something as specific as one square inch of red light next to one square inch of purple light. Other possibilities include projecting film through the lights or using them to create images.
At the Nocturnal nightclub in Miami, club patrons might find themselves feeling like they're partying underneath swimmers splashing in a pool. Telesco teamed up with San Francisco company Obscura Digital to create this near-virtual reality effect. In actuality, the club's rooftop party space is covered by a tensile, multi-peaked canopy (picture the underside of a circus tent) to keep the weather at bay. But Obscura Digital turned this practical surface into the canvas for a single video image. Changing the space's look and feel is as easy as changing the video.
"It's something very few people have seen," says Patrick Connolly, Obscura's CEO. "They freak out." His company provides the hardware, software, content and know-how to turn almost any space into an immersive video environment. The Obscura team can produce video displays that put dancers in the middle of a rainforest or create the illusion that water is running down a wall and onto the floor. Club DJs can even plug into the systems to play their own videos.
The Alcohol Factor
Regardless of how impressive the overall concept or environment is, there are still a host of practical considerations in any nightclub. "We always assume [patrons are] going to be slightly disoriented and slightly drunk," Goff says. "That's how we make design decisions." Designers generally recommend staying away from steps in a club, along with any flooring material changes that might cause intoxicated patrons to trip in low-light conditions. Materials also need to be durable. If it can be broken, ripped, torn or stolen, an intoxicated patron is likely to test the limits.
The placement of the bar is also crucial: If customers can't get drinks quickly, they'll go somewhere else. Goff typically places the bar out of the main traffic pattern and to the right, explaining that "People are a little like herd animals. We have a tendency to move to the right when we go into a building." To make the bar efficient, it's also crucial for the interior design team to understand things from a bartender's or owner's perspective. Goff, for instance, has a retired bartender on staff and Tom Telesco started in the business as a club owner.
Ultimately, a successful club design helps club owners make money: It creates an environment where people want to stay longer and keep coming back.
Trend Lines: Bars & Clubs
Hotel Design Magazine, Jan/Feb 2008
What makes a great bar or nightclub? To this sometime barfly, it's all about people-watching and connections—be they romantic, business or friendship. That, and an attentive bar staff serving a favorite libation, make for the ideal escape from work and worries.
Sure, go-go dancers, smoke machines and karaoke all have their place, but to me they're merely a diversion from the task at hand—schmoozing and sipping.
Setting the scene for good people-watching and socializing is an art and skill that today's designers have elevated to new levels of sophistication. And advances in lighting, sound systems and related technologies have resulted in a wealth of creative design options.
"We've certainly evolved from the traditional hotel bar with its slab of straight mahogany set flat up against a wall," says Tom Telesco, owner of Telesco Associates, Miami Beach, Fla., an architectural firm specializing in nightclub design.
"We're seeing more upscale lounges that often are a destination in and of themselves. We're also seeing a higher level of fit and finish," Telesco says. "The hotel clientele is more sophisticated and demands great interior design."
"With the exception of urban markets, such as New York, or places like Las Vegas, it is difficult to attract locals to hotel settings," says Turner Duncan, partner, Duncan & Miller Design, headquartered in Dallas. "In general, guests in the Dallas and Houston markets, for example, do not like to go to hotels for club entertainment. They prefer local, freestanding venues."
Creating a sense of discovery is key in designing a bar or club. "Walking into a bar, I find it a turnoff to see the whole place from the door," says Telesco. "Break up the space, create movement and changes in elevation, more curved surfaces, chill-out areas and intimate nooks for conversation. It's all about staging. The formula for good traffic flow in clubs and bars has never changed," adds Duncan. "The challenges and solutions have remained the same throughout the years.
"The trend for the past five years has been for bars with great energy for people-watching and connecting but not necessarily dancing," Duncan says. "As for high-energy clubs, we have seen many years of minimal design concepts. I see the trend reversing back gradually to the highly themed clubs of ten years ago."
So what's passe today in bar design? The typical sports bar has been done to death, designers note.
Telesco Associates Wins Big 50 Award
Remodeling Magazine, May 1998
Nightlife is a big part of Miami Beach's culture. Everybody flocks to nightclubs and restaurants that change as often as patrons change their fashions. So for creative fast-track service, the owners of these venues call Telesco Associates. The firm specializes in completing nightclub & restaurant design and renovations with a power-hitting combination of creative personnel and technology to create virtual environments complete with 3-D real time fly-throughs,and animations.
After measuring a job, Tom Telesco Sr. (third from left) and his architectural staff create a multimedia presentation complete with 3-D real time fly-throughs and renderings. The display pleases thier clients and thier contractors, they get to see the project in three dimensions accurate to the last detail before it is built allowing them to understand the entire design scheme and avoid costly change-orders in the construction process.
He and his architects & designers follow up with detailed plans and interior design schemes. Tom Telesco Jr. (second from left), construction vice president, builds-out aproxametly 20% of the clubs that the firm designs in Miami Beach. Field crews work seven days a week to complete the local projects that Telesco also builds.
Potential Clients hear about Telesco Associates through other Architects, building and zoning officials, real estate agents, lawyers and even competing business owners. "They call us because we're the best, no one can match our level of experience and expertise" says Thomas Telesco Sr.
Telesco Associates Staff: 9 to 12 Office / 25 to 50 Field
Category: Architecture, Remodeling and New Construction
1997 Volume: $3.5 million ($1.1 million in Architecture and $2.4 million in Remodeling and New Construction)
Niche Market Award Granted to Telesco Associates
Remodeling Magazine, September 1998
Thomas Telesco Interview : We lump most of our work into what we call the "hospitality market," which is nightclubs, bars, restaurants, hotels and similar projects. Actually, given my background, designing nightclubs was a natural for me.
I started out as a designer & builder and did well at it. In fact, I was making more money than someone in his 20s had a right to. And since I am also a musician, I decided to buy the live music venue where I hung out and sometimes played. My soon-to-be wife changed that after about three years, however. Her mother told her never to marry a musician or a club owner, and I was both. Working in a nightclub until 4:30 in the morning isn't a business - it's a lifestyle, it can be great but I was ready to have kids and fulfill another part of my life.
Naturally, when I went back to design-building, I had the experience to help out club owners, a lot of whom were first-time buyers. I knew the logistics and the human factors engineering from being an owner. I knew which setups would be the fastest and most efficient, how many service positions should be involved per thousand square feet of floor space, where to strategically place the bars, the logistics of the speed guns and their proximity to ice bins etc... I knew thier business from their point of view.
In 1990, I moved to Miami Beach from Buffalo, N.Y., and started Telesco Associates. This was just as the potential in South Beach was being realized. Now, of course, it's a world-renowned hot spot. Being good at design and remodeling isn't enough here, though the area is famous for its world class design work, you also need to be able to offer your clients a complete menu of consulting services. Today, Telesco Associates (Florida License #AA-0002884) also includes TGC Construction (CCN #01B000243).
It's not easy working in South Florida and Miami Beach specifically. In fact, there's no place in America tougher to work in than Miami-Dade County, Florida. After Hurricane Andrew, the building code was revamped in a kind of knee-jerk reaction that went completly overboard. Sometimes I feel as if it takes 58 sheets of plans just to permit a closet. A lot of architects and contractors have packed up and gone elsewhere.
When we started working in South Beach, it was still a pretty run-down spot. But now, the building exteriors have been renovated and the interiors remodeled. The insides of the clubs and restaurants on South Beach are incredible. We had a big part in all of this. Actually, you can walk on South Beach and anywhere you point, you'll be aiming at a club we had a hand in. It's a great feeling...
Jackie Gleason Residence - [ View Project ]
Miami Design Preservation League, May 2002