Karen Herold invests Chicago’s high-end health club BIÂN with a seamless sense of wellness

Like our bodies, health clubs come in all shapes and sizes. There are tiny, strip-mall joints where it’s all about the equipment, not the ambience, and places so zened-out that it’s tough to put down the smoothie and start sweating. There are clubs where you are pretty much on your own, and those where the trainers try to push their program, rather than tailor one to your needs and abilities. Chicago’s newly-opened BIÂN shoots for a new standard, with a topnotch medical team as part of the program (including Chicago Blackhawks physician, Dr. Angelo Costas and leading plastic surgeon, Dr. Julius Few) and a physical environment that deftly telegraphs a no-nonsense approach to wellness without sacrificing a smidge of style.

Designed by Karen Herold of Studio K Creative, BIÂN (the club takes its name from a 5th-century Chinese physician) occupies 25,000 square feet over two floors in the former Montgomery Ward mail order warehouse, erected in 1908. Transforming the space was quite a project, but happily, Herold had worked previously for the club’s chairman, Kevin Boehm of the Boka Restaurant Group, fashioning — among other eateries —the wildly popular Girl & The Goat.

Client and designer hashed out floor plans together, but when it came to the look of things, Herold had free rein, thanks to the mutual trust they had developed on past projects. “Another benefit,” says Herold, “was that they set up an office within my studio for the first year so we saw each other every day. This allowed for a very collaborative environment in which they looked over our shoulder every step of the way. The best thing is that we became fast friends during this process, so it never felt like a job.”

Herold’s approach to BIÂN was one of mediated respect. “The idea was to create a calm environment that would evoke luxury, while staying true to the heavy industrial nature of the existing building,” she explains. “We did this by leaving columns and ceilings purposely exposed, while adding more luxurious finishes on all walls and floors.”

Central to the club’s mold-breaking concept is the inclusion of a full medical facility. Such spaces usually send shivers up the spine, so Herold was determined to put members at ease. “While adhering to regulations that apply to medical facilities, we steered away from anything that would feel too cold or clinical, choosing instead many warm materials and textures to create a warm and inviting environment that feels like a spa.”

Although Herold hewed to an uncompromisingly neutral palette throughout, the materials she selected — white oak and beechwood, lime-washed concrete, linen and wool — create a subtle richness. Understated, yet visually engaging, discreet but urbane, BIÂN’s design is a triumph of focus. Like the best realized hotels and restaurants, it lets you know that this is the place that you want to be. And even more, that you want to do what you came here for.

Photography by Anthony Tahlier.

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