Silk and Steel pix
"Sybaritic" and "athletic" both get a workout at Chicago's David Barton Gym by Studio Sofield
Aric Chen -- Interior Design, 3/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
William Sofield installed a blown-up Mathu Andersen photograph of David Barton's wife, Susanne Bartsch, behind the locker area's antique Chinese marriage bed. The custom pillows are covered in silk or toile de Jouy.
Vladimir Kagan's Omnibus sectional sofa sits in the center of the lounge's mahogany-stained oak floor. A pair of vintage plastic pendant fixtures hang nearby.
A vintage leather-covered chair faces the lounge's suspended spun-steel fireplace, which frames a video of flames.
Near the lockers, Sofield arranged a glass-topped table and a vintage chair on a knotted-leather rug. The floor tile is made of recycled rubber tires.
In the exercise area, a scale from the 1930's stands near street lamps from the '40's.
Acrylic-painted graphics designate the locker rooms, while Bartsch's lips mark a water fountain. Sofield re-purposed canvas mail carts as towel bins.
In the workout area, flokati wall covering serves as a sound absorber and an art installation.
Olivier Mourgue designed the vintage chaise longues by the flokati wall.
Clad in ceramic tile, the women's steam room has a chain-operated shower.
Sofield outfitted the yoga room with carpet tiles, Sacco beanbags by Pierro Gatti, Cesare Paolini, and Franco Teodoro, and cotton-wool tapestries. Manila rope wraps an original concrete column.
|The City of the Big Shoulders has a new exercise establishment where members can keep those shoulders broad and biceps toned. It's the fifth David Barton Gym nationwide, after New York and Miami, and the first for designer William Sofield. "David has such a fun, hip sensibility," Sofield says. "All I had to do was capture it."
A "fun" athletic club might seem out of character for Sofield, whose luxuriously modern interiors tend to be more about banquettes than barbells. But Sofield also has a knack for the theatrical, and going to the gym is, after all, a spectator sport.
The new David Barton is on the ground level of Chicago's landmark Montgomery Ward & Co. Catalog House, an enormous 1908 warehouse now converted to mixed use. The gym itself is huge, too: 35,000 square feet overlooking the North Branch of the Chicago River. Studio Sofield maintained the openness—"Everything is big in Chicago," Sofield says—as well as the industrial feel. The ceiling remains exposed, and the massive octagonal concrete columns are bare.
Sofield combined brawn with sophistication, however, and sumptuousness with whimsy. Take the entrance. A zinc-plated fire door, salvaged on-site, has handles wrapped in leather. "Like laced-up boxing gloves," he explains. Inside, furniture made of driftwood and floor tile made of recycled rubber tires evoke the city's waterways and roadways.
In the airy reception lounge, with its wall of windows facing the river walk, the mood leans to mid-century. Using pieces bought by Barton, Sofield composed two seating groups out of furnishings by such teams as Charles and Ray Eames and Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni. The effect is stylish yet comfortable. "Gyms are as much about socializing as exercise," Sofield says, "so everything feels approachable."
Behind the reception desk, veneered in cerused walnut, there's a wall hanging in silvery quilted leather—designed to recall a wrestling mat as well as to echo the sheen of the zinc-plated front door. Sofield's humor reappears with a suspended spun-steel fireplace: Inside, an LCD screen shows a video of fire, a playful response to a building code that doesn't allow real flames.
But all that's only a warm-up for the more serious business at hand. The requisite workout equipment—and then some—is arranged on a split-level floor with railings wrapped in leather. Sofield eschewed standard-issue gym fluorescents, employing 1940's street lamps instead. Members can weigh themselves on a scale from the 1930's in addition to regular models. "Wherever possible," Sofield says, "we injected personality." Even the towel bins aren't just towel bins; they're re-purposed canvas mail carts.
With the hard surfaces and the equipment noise, Sofield had acoustical issues to address, and he did so with characteristic élan. One wall in the workout area is covered in flokati cut out to form a geometric pattern; the fluffy orange, green, brown, and gray shapes both complement and offset the grid of gray rubber tile on the floor. In the neighboring yoga room, a pair of cotton-wool tapestries help to absorb sound—while a concrete column wrapped in manila rope references pylons in the river.
Neon signs outside inspired the painted supergraphics identifying the men's and women's locker rooms. Outside their doorways, a wall of additional lockers faces a small seating area. This one is relatively sedate, with a brown woven-leather rug and a low glass-topped table, but Sofield jazzed up the arrangement with an oversize chair in zany striped and polka-dotted upholstery.
Still, that hardly compares to the locker area's grandest gesture, an antique Chinese marriage bed overflowing with silk-covered pillows in vibrant pink, red, and orange—and set against a startling backdrop, the larger-than-life eyes of New York nightlife queen Susanne Bartsch, who also happens to be Barton's wife. A nod to his "concern for the pleasure of the body," as he calls it, the image comes from a 2005 advertising campaign for the gym. And what about the face that goes with those mesmerizing eyes? Her lips appear above a nearby water fountain.
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