Welcome to the Seraglio
From domain of discipline to den of decadence—William Sofield reinvents the David Barton brand with a Miami Beach gym and spa
Linda Lee -- Interior Design, 6/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
Moroccan lanterns, multicolored ottomans, richly patterned cushions reclining on daybeds. Or if you prefer Israeli hand-to-hand combat, Latin dance, Pilates, yoga, spinning, or state-of-the-art cardiovascular equipment, that's also available. The David Barton Gym and Spa, a Studio Sofield project at the Gansevoort South in Miami Beach, is an oriental fantasia inspired by the TV sitcom I Dream of Jeannie. "Really, the patterns inside Jeannie's magic bottle," William Sofield clarifies.
But wait. There's more. He cites as another influence The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T., a movie musical with lyrics by Dr. Seuss and a demented plot that only psychedelic drugs could explain. Coming down to earth a bit, Sofield says that the gym atrium's vaulted glass ceiling reminds him of Hagia Sophia, the church turned mosque turned museum in Istanbul—or, as he prefers to call it, Constantinople. Other references include the Bible, Salvador Dalí, and the Unisphere at the 1964 World's Fair. "At one point, I had a big globe in the middle with pools of water," he continues. The globe didn't make the final design, but the pools remain, rippling at the entrance.
After passing through a doorway in a latticework wall, members cross a floor embellished with giant tattoo imagery: a serpent and a hand with the word love spelled out across the knuckles. Suspended high above is a sculpture in plywood and iron. "Some people think it's a scorpion. I say it's whatever you want it to be," David Barton offers. Columns in this temple to the body are hand-stenciled with filigree inspired by tiles at Louis Comfort Tiffany's country estate, Laurelton Hall—patterns derived, in turn, from tilework at Istanbul's Topkapi Palace.
Specific influences aside, Sofield and Barton refer to the overall aesthetic as Mo-Rock-An: Moroccan and a little rock 'n' roll. The sultriness is intended to make gym equipment look seductive. Sofield calls the intricate stenciling "such a nice contrast to the hard-body thing." Mirror surrounding the exercise machines is hand-silvered. Instead of shiny chrome and primary colors, which make "everyone look like hell," he says, the gym floor has the feeling of a nightclub.
The secret is the lighting. Originally, it was so dim that some members complained. And we're talking about South Beachers! "There were a couple of areas that were a little dark," Barton allows. "People were bumping into the walls." Pin spots were added, but the effect is still flattering. Gelled halogens and LEDs turn concrete colums among the rows of machines into pinkish-orange accents. In the words of a local marketing executive who's been a Barton member for more than a decade, "The lighting is so strategic. You look great in every mirror." Beneath the atrium's glass vault, panels punched out like Moroccan tin lanterns filter sunlight during the day and are lit a romantic night-sky-over-Marrakech blue after dark. The lighting both seduces and energizes. "The whole place is about getting buff and having fun," Sofield says. "David's members work out hard. Then they party harder than anyone and recuperate faster."
That recuperating part is where the spa comes in. A first for Barton's five-location chain, the spa has a more conventional design—as long as deco-neolassical stencils adapted from Albert-Armand Rateau are considered conventional. At the entrance to the men's and women's locker rooms are silver-leafed Adam and Eve murals based on Le Corbusier's in Eileen Gray's house in Roquebrune, France. The motif reappears inside the locker rooms with an Adam and Eve that might be line drawings by Pablo Picasso. Spa traffic skews toward women, which perhaps explains the peacock feathers beneath the manicure tables' glass surfaces. Barton nonetheless tries to nudge men toward the spa, and Sofield draws them in with bright red locker rooms and muscular George Nakashima—style benches complete with butterfly joints.
It's hard to imagine how the interior of this 1970's building once looked. "It was Bette Midler in the mermaid outfit," Sofield remembers. "A stage set—and not a good one. The worst of every period." He lists some of the choicer details: flocked wallpaper, mahogany doors, clunky faux deco balustrades and light fixtures. "At least we had space to work with," he concedes. And so he did, 45,000 square feet. The atrium was already there, but there were a lot of surprises during the gut renovation, for example columns where they weren't expected. "The construction was a trying process," Barton says. Luckily, Sofield adds, "David and I have worked together for a very long time." (This is his third gym for Barton, following one in New York and another in Chicago. Another Manhattan location is in the works.) The men share a language and a love of design.
With such a collaborative understanding of the gym experience, where does Sofield himself exercise? "I'm embarrassed to say I'm a member of five gyms," he says. One of them is the David Barton Gym in his own New York neighborhood. His current routine involves a series of squats with a huge body bag, always under the guidance of a trainer. He calls it his thug workout.
Photography by Eric Laignel.
PAUL BENNETT ARCHITECTS: ARCHITECT OF RECORD. EMPHASIS LIGHTING: LIGHTING CONSULTANT. THORNTON TOMASETTI: STRUCTURAL ENGINEER. GUTH DECONZO CONSULTING ENGINEERS: MEP. MINIUM DESIGN: DECORATIVE PAINTING. HI TECH GLASS & WINDOWS: GLASSWORK. CORY-MOSCHETTI STUDIO: WOODWORK.
FROM FRONT THROUGH VIVATERRA: PENDANT FIXTURES (HALL, RENTAL LOCKERS), SIDE TABLE (LOUNGE). ELGIN BUTLER COMPANY: WALL BLOCKS (ENTRY). DAL-TILE CORPORATION: SURROUND, FLOOR TILE (ENTRY), COLUMN TILE (RECEPTION), WALL TILE (WOMEN'S SHOWERS). ETC: SPOTLIGHTS (ATRIUM). SMITH & FONG CO.: FLOORING (RECEPTION). THROUGH KOZY KINGDOM: CHAIRS. THROUGH BADIA DESIGN: LANTERNS. THROUGH BERBER TRADING COMPANY: DAYBEDS (RECEPTION), OTTOMANS (RECEPTION, TRAINING AREA), MIRRORS (WOMEN'S LOCKERS), CHAIRS (LOCKERS), ARMCHAIRS, LOW TABLES, RUG (LOUNGE), SIDE TABLES, TENTS, PILLOWS, RUGS (SPA). FULL CYCLE WOODWORKS: CUSTOM BENCHES (LOCKERS). HOLLMAN: CUSTOM LOCKERS. STONE SOURCE: FLOORING. THROUGH KAMPARTS: FLOORING (CARDIO AREA). THROUGH ROOM: PENDANT FIXTURE (WOMEN'S LOCKERS). ALAPE: SINKS. JADO CORPORATION: SINK FITTINGS. CHAMELEON FINE LIGHTING: SCONCES. ANN SACKS: FLOOR TILE (WOMEN'S SHOWERS). THROUGH GUMP'S SAN FRANCISCO: MIRROR (MEN'S LOCKERS). THROUGH URBAN OUTFITTERS: BENCHES (LOUNGE). THROUGH LUNA BAZAAR: LANTERNS. DELIA SHADES: WINDOW SHADES. BABMAR: BEDS (SPA). THROUGH NETSHOPS: BEANBAGS (STUDIO). ENCHANTED LIGHTING COMPANY: VOTIVES. INTERFACEFLOR: CARPET. THROUGHOUT RUUD LIGHTING: TRACK LIGHTING. JUNO LIGHTING GROUP: RECESSED CEILING FIXTURES.