Design Spotlight: Arrow Swim Club

Design Spotlight: Arrow Swim Club

When Chris Sheffield of SL Design was approached by developer Bart Blatstein (of the Piazza at Schmidts fame) to design his next venture in the Northern Liberties neighborhood of Philadelphia, he was intrigued. Convert an old warehouse into a swim/social club in the midst of the gritty city? How could he resist??

Sheffield, the designer responsible for One Shot Coffee just down the road, was enchanted with the idea of juxtaposing a luxury amenity against a backdrop of elevated rails, freeways, warehouses and the new center of NoLibs itself - the Piazza. The timeline and budget would be tight, but Sheffield knew that his team could bring something special to the space - a nod to South Beach, a touch of the Southwest and a sense of casual indulgence that would embrace the bohemian vibe of the neighborhood itself.

The Project: Arrow Swim Club - an over 21, members-only swim and social club, and Chenango - a restaurant, bar and outdoor lounge area open to the public.

The Collaborators: Business partners Bart Blatstein and Nicole Cashman, and hospitality designer Chris Sheffield of SL Design.

The Space: A deteriorated old factory, formerly Arrow Screw Company, whose interior walls and roof would be removed to create a large, mostly open-air space anchored by a 1,400 sq. ft. swimming pool.

The Inspiration: Bohemian Chic - a South Beach inspired palette of whites, bright turquoise and yellows, mixed with colorful, ethnic prints and set against a backdrop of exposed brick, concrete floors and weathered wooden beams. Desired effect - casual, approachable luxury.

The Materials: Indonesian teak, loads of Sunbrella textiles, ikat, Aztec and Southwestern prints, a dash of spray paint and a touch of humor.

The Details -
1. Pool Area: The layout of the pool area was designed to capture the best sun-worshipping rays throughout the day. Teak lounge chairs, custom designed and made in Indonesia, blanket the space. Double-wide versions with sliding tables and pillows are also scattered throughout. Not intended for lap use, the pool depth maxs out at 4.5 feet, making it perfect for a quick dip in the hot sun.
2. Cabanas: Waterproof fabric was need for every surface poolside, and when Chris and his team couldn't find the right geometric motif to tent the cabanas, they designed their own. Inside, the spaces offer the pool-side comforts of home - with flat screen TVs, iPod docks, mini-fridges and ceiling fans. Design-wise, bright pillows, vintage lamps and ottomans add color and coziness.
3. Trailer: In a quirky turn, a vintage trailer was transported from Cape May, cheerfully painted and given new life as a corner towel hut. The top, hand-painted by local artist Sean Gallagher, reads "Watch Me Shine" and is visible from the upper deck.
4. Fun in the Sun: In the event that lounging becomes too stationary of an activity, Ping-Pong tables and hammocks can be found at the edges of the pool area, next to a large circular sofa and a raised DJ booth that often comes to life at night.
5. Poolside Bar: Those feeling peckish and thirsty can sidle up to the bar for libations and snacks. The back wall, also the work of Sean Gallagher, is covered in a graffiti-inspired verbal assault of positive adjectives like, "Brilliant" "Splendid" and "Fabulous." Overhead, custom-designed metal shades were crafted to cover inexpensive jelly jar lamps. The fixtures add color during the day and subtle shadow play to the space at night.
6. Upper Deck: Just as much thought was given to the positioning of the upper deck as was given to thepool layout. More removed from the action, this space offers the perfect vantage point for viewing the action below. Here, overstuffed sofas and chairs are mixed in with chaises, and one can capture the last rays of the day. My favorite spot? The raised platform tucked in the corner, complete with daybed and twinkle lights in the trees. Très romantique!
7. Restaurant: The restaurant is where you'll find the most noticeable Southwestern influences. Navajo prints upholster the chairs, arrow motif wallpaper backs the booths, and studded cognac leather saddles the bar stools. There's even a neon Indian on the wall, custom designed and hand-crafted by local neon artist, Len Davidson. And don't forget the lighting, - so mid-century, and cleverly crafted from PVC pipe and metal conduit by lighting designer Kurt Bonk.
8. Fire Pit Area: If I had the space, this what my backyard would look like - picnic tables, double-wide chaises with lots of pillows, a wood-burning fire pit and twinkle lights in the trees. Add a bar within reach, nibbles close at hand and good friends to share it with, and I'm there. The good news? Unlike the swim club, this outside lounge area at Chenango is open to the public.

• Outdoor furniture - Coast to Coast Designs and fermob
• Cabanas - Beckel Canvas Products
• Lighting - Kurt Bonk
• Wallpaper - Cavern
• Umbrellas - Brown Jordon
• Custom paint graphics - Sean Gallagher
• Neon sculpture - Len Davidson

I met with Chris to tour the club on a rainy day (mere days before Hurricane Irene whipped through our area). Yet even then, I was struck by variety of uses that had been incorporated into its design. I could imagine that, if a brief thunderstorm kicked up while I was sunning, I could happily wait it out under cover at the poolside bar or within the confines of a cozy cabana. This was a place that, rain or shine, night or day, there was somewhere to go and something to do. (A comforting thought, when you consider the membership fee involved.)

What do you think? The club's membership fee is $1000 for the season (May 1st - mid-Oct.) Would you pay to have a stylish spot in the sun all season long? Does the no-kids policy appeal to you, or put you off?

As we speak, summer is slowly slipping away...but having seen Arrow Swim Club in person, I may seriously have to consider it for next year!

For information on club membership and amenities, visit Arrow Swim Club.

Images: Michael Scott Whitson, except 3b. Chris Sheffield, 7 & 8a. Marie Alyse Rodriguez

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