Design for the Times

Design trends fluctuate quickly — one day your aesthetic is cutting-edge and the next it’s old-fashioned — so it’s important to keep up with trends and update your nightlife space before things become outdated. Nightclub & Bar talked with some of the most  influential designers in the industry, each of whom has a finger firmly on the pulse of what’s hot at the moment and what’s on the horizon.

We spoke to four design consultants:
Brad Belletto, Chief Executive Officer, Vision 360, Dallas
Jack Kennedy, Entertainment Technology Designer, Eye Dialogue, Charlotte, N.C.
Steve Lewis, Principal, Lewis & Dizon, New York City
Charles Senkler, Design and Concept Development Consultant, Minneapolis

Nightclub & Bar (NCB): What are the biggest trends in nightclub design right now?

Brad Belletto: [Club owners] are looking for a more intimate atmosphere. The clubs we’re working on have a common area and have pockets where we create a lounge atmosphere where people can have a conversation.

Charles Senkler: The trend really should be planning a club around the guest and their spontaneous interaction with other guests — always consider the human factor — and toward free-standing bar fixtures, casual seating arrangements at bar height. Also, more thought regarding ceiling heights, lighting fixture organization and acoustics.

Steve Lewis: In New York, I’m seeing venues getting smaller and more specialized. Clubs are being fine-tuned in Vegas, then returning to New York refined and better.

Jack Kennedy: I see the rise of the lounge, with increased emphasis on comfortable furniture, seducing guests with custom cocktails and beautiful architecture. Privacy and anonymity are desired. The dark space necessary to seduce the hesitant onto the dance floor is returning, and more venues are turning off their TVs and projectors and investing in beam effects. Both clubs and restaurants are answering the multimedia visual bombardment by focusing on person-to-person interaction.

NCB: So, small and intimate is in. What else?

Belletto: Another trend I’m seeing is small-plate food items. Owners want the customer to stay there at the end of the night and not run to In-N-Out Burger to get something to eat; it’s a restaurant/club atmosphere.

Lewis: Food is becoming a big part of nightlife. Restaurants have a nightlife lounge or basements that are driven by the restaurant, with the lounge opening later in the evening. All you’re selling in a nightclub is drinks and air. You want to sell it as early as possible, then entice them to stay out late; a place associated with food isn’t going away.

NCB: How do you incorporate food into the design of the venue?

Senkler: There is a trend to meld [clubs] and restaurants so that different sales periods feature different services. For example, the club has a little bit of everything: an active bar area, entertainment staging and a food service area that provides good sight lines to the evening’s entertainment presentation. Critical planning is required to make a multiple activity operation work as customer service demands increase, especially when foodservice is involved.

Lewis: Cocktail table height is different than dining table height. You need a table high enough to serve food and low enough to serve cocktails. Hydraulic tables exist, but over time, they pop down. The mechanisms aren’t geared to the high traffic of nightlife. My solution is choosing [a cocktail table] or [a dining table].

NCB: What other furnishing styles are popular now? Any specific materials you seek out?

Belletto: It’s become lounge-y and more comfortable. A lot of people are doing custom-seating areas that are built in with high backs and very low tables. It’s more about cocktail tables in front of you and not bar tables.

Lewis: There’s a return to intimacy with horseshoe banquettes making a big comeback. The banquette is where bottles are delivered and is a point-of-sale area. I also try to create custom-made furniture. When people go out, they want something unique and luxurious. You have to create an atmosphere that takes your clients’ clients to somewhere special. Also, the [furnishings] must be durable. Things are going to be spilled, like red wines. Any materials I use have to stand the test of time. For instance, I use tempered glass a lot as a bar top; I use lace underneath it or fake flowers under the glass, then light them.

NCB: Dance floors — what are the big trends?

Belletto: We’re creating atmospheres that are a total environment. If I’m hanging out with my friends in one area, and we want to dance, then we dance. Back in the ‘80s, we were more conscious about patterns and flow because the clubs were built around a centered dance floor. We’re still interested in not creating dead ends, but we’re definitely not as focused on circular traffic flow as we were 20 years ago. In developing intimate areas, we’re just making sure that people don’t get bottlenecked. There is no dance floor, but people can dance wherever.

Lewis: Dance floors are making a comeback as people cram more and more tables into spaces. We use oak, hickory or wood floors. I have a problem with bamboo, personally. I find it doesn’t last as long as an oak floor. It doesn’t wear as well. The traditional oak floor works best.

NCB: What about performance areas?

Belletto: We are doing carpets in seated areas to create intimacy and to cut down on acoustical reverberation in the room. If you have all hard surfaces, it’s loud. We do create some areas that are platforms behind DJ booths, but you have to be careful with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. It’s challenging to create a railed-in performance area that’s handicap accessible; sometimes you’re limited in what you can do.

Lewis: Entertainment stages are much more important now. At The Darby [in New York City], we put in a stage and that created interesting challenges. So many designers don’t think about what the customers are seeing.

Senkler: Stage lifts to spotlight spontaneous entertainment are striking — consider custom stage lifts like those used in theaters.

NCB: What’s big in lighting right now? Are you using light-emitting diode (LED) lights, focus lighting, ambient lighting, etc?

Kennedy: Moving LED spot fixtures have finally achieved functional brightness and reliability, and LED beam effect lights have dramatically decreased in price. No longer does the venue have to stock all kinds of lamps nor make a great investment for a great light show. The primary catalyst for the rise of lighting emphasis in the current market is cost; it’s the least expensive way to make an impact. Creative color changing integration is still leading architectural design, however, the party waits for the room to darken and the lights to start flashing.
One of my favorite movers is the Chauvet Q-Spot 260 LED. It is a little noisy, but loaded with features; the price is stunningly low. Another favorite is the Elation Platinum Spot 5R. The light is freakishly small, freakishly bright and freakishly fast. At 28 pounds, it is easy to maintain. The attractive price tag is a nice incentive. For multi-use spaces, the Martin smartMac is the silent star. During restaurant hours or midday events, it facilitates lighting requests without notice.

Lewis: I’m using LEDs, but I’m not a fan of them. They offer a million colors but none are warm or nice. There are certain qualities to neon lights and halogens that bring things out and are different than LEDs. I use it for back lighting, so you can leave them on for seven to 10 years without changing the bulb. It’s far less hassle, but there’s a bit of coldness with new technology.

With LED lights, I filter them a lot and bounce them off things, so you’re not seeing them directly behind the object and create distance between them and the thing I’m lighting up. I don’t use them where people are interacting together; humans don’t look good under LED lights.

Belletto: Conventional lighting is switching to LED; it’s a lot more economical to power the lighting system and install. We’re also getting some requests to do Burlesque-style clubs; it’s old-school theatrical lighting. No red or blue flashing colors. It’s more flesh-tone lighting where you’re lighting the costumes and the outfits.

Lewis: For women, red and amber lights look good on their skin opposed to green or blue. The reds and ambers used in LEDs don’t have warm qualities that you’d get with the red glass of halogen lights, so I use incandescent/halogen lights where humans are involved.

NCB: We’re seeing a lot of clubs going to new technologies and big-impact features. Your thoughts?

Kennedy: To stand out, venues must have a unique feature. The options range from all-female staffs to mechanical bulls, fire pits, waterfalls, ice bars, etc. Many times, eliminating one expected feature and providing an excess of another crafts the desired impact.

Flat video is out, creative video forms are in. Integrating low-resolution video into sweeping shapes and forms provides an elusive dimensionality to architectural spaces but has not reached a price point friendly to markets outside of the Vegas, New York, Miami nightlife circuit.

Also, I think the first manufacturer to create a fog fluid that doesn’t set off the particle sensor will sell a million gallons the first week and complete the dance revolution. The shear thought of putting heavy fog into clubs again gives me goosebumps!

The lighting designer’s job is to find the feature and make sure it gets its proper attention, especially to first-time clientele. Special features need special lighting. Video walls have special consideration. The fear is that the space will look like someone watching TV in the dark, with the awful flashes of video dominating the room, and the effect of stroboscopic lighting repulsing anyone not looking at the TV. Backlit panels and non-reflective surfaces minimize the reflected TV effect.

NCB: So before jumping in to install the “next big feature,” make sure you do the legwork. Talk to designers, check out other clubs in the area and remember you’re creating an escape — an unforgettable experience for your clientele. Trends come and go, but a nightclub with good flow, a strong entertainment area, a smart lighting plan and some owner ingenuity will undoubtedly make your club the No. 1 spot for years to come.

Take it Outside

Once the providence of warm-weather locales, open-air spaces are now part of nightlife venue design from coast to coast. We checked in with experts at some top vendors on the trends in outdoor space design: Josh Lucas, senior designer at Modern Line Furniture; Dan Nelson, market specialist with Big Ass Fans; and Ken Ranucci, chief executive officer of Creative Nightclubs, LLC.

NCB: How is the use of outdoor space evolving in nightlife?

Josh Lucas: Outdoor spaces are an element of nightlife design environments in which nightclub venue [operators] are showing huge interest. The outdoor space has now become not just a patio to stand and have a drink on; it’s the new VIP area.

Dan Nelson: I’ve also noticed a push for improving the atmosphere and increasing accessibility of outdoor patios. Owners are trying to make the most out of their spaces, and patios provide an outlet from loud music and crowded spaces.

NCB: Keeping guests comfortable takes on new meaning when the party moves outdoors. What should operators consider?

Nelson: Customers turn to patios for relaxation, enjoying the weather and (sometimes) smoking. Owners/managers/designers are creating patios that are both inviting and functional by adding roof structures, bar areas, furniture and décor. Circulation from fans eliminates stagnant air, providing a cooling effect and dispersing smoke. And unlike small ceiling fans, ours cover massive amounts of area without the disruptive and targeted burst of air. After all, nobody wants to spend an evening on the patio chasing napkins, receipts and menus.

Ken Ranucci: Outdoor space is often thought of as weather-permitting space, but it is one of the greatest untapped resources owners have and [also one of the] most underused. Fear of the high cost to enclose the space, as well as zoning issues, add to the challenge. What owners have to do is think outside the box.

Solutions exist for this and can turn outdoor spaces into large revenue streams that sometime surpass the main club. Most, if not all, of our products — Magic Metal, liquid surface bar tops, floors and VIP tables — can all be made water-, sun- and wind-proof to a degree. Also, look to mid-range fabric structures that provide a unique way to cover the outdoor areas and provide a very European look.

Lucas: [Unlike indoor VIP areas, outdoor spaces] offer a more casual, laid-back approach, made to indulge the senses with luxurious comfort and exclusive service, but with the freedom to feel unrestricted within a confined room or sectioned-off space. Modular sectionals paired with bright cushion colors help maximize any nightlife design because nothing compares to bottle service under the stars.

Nelson: Overall, a comfortable environment translates to returning (and longer-staying) customers and a successful business!

Ranucci: If done correctly, [an outdoor space will] not only increase your occupancy level to sometimes double, but your profits as well.


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