Designer’s Challenge: Take 800,000 Square Feet, and Make It Comfy,
by Katie Millbauer

       When the Phoenix Coyotes planned to hire an interior designer to make the new Glendale Arena feel like home, Lisa Slayman seemed the obvious choice, at least to team owner Steve Ellman. She’d turned his Southern California house into a home in 2001, so why not a National Hockey League arena?
       If other team executives were concerned about hiring a residential designer to spruce up their 17,000-seat hockey and performing arts arena — a move that’s seemingly unheard of — all doubts were squashed by Slayman’s sample designs.
       In January 2003, she presented a combination of drawings and sample fabrics and, when the executives saw what Slayman could do for the place, “their eyes lit up,” Coyotes president and CEO Doug Moss recalls.
       Eleven months and $214 million (total arena cost) later, the Coyotes unveiled what may be the homiest arena in the country — and most likely the only one with a warm burgundy, sand and ivory color scheme.
       “It’s just fantastic,” Moss says of the result. “When you drive up to that building, on the outside it screams ‘Phoenix Coyotes,’ and (now) on the inside it does, too. There’s no doubt about whose home it is.”
       Slayman made certain of that.
       “(General manager) Mike Barnett said, ‘I want this arena to feel like the Phoenix Coyotes’ home,’” she says. “So I took that concept and worked off it. My goal was that when you walk in, it would feel like it’s the home of the Coyotes but that it would also feel very warm.&148;
       Sports venue design was new to the Laguna Beach, Calif.-based designer, who has transformed the La Jolla, Calif., 6,000-square-foot home of Audrey and Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel as well as many other upscale homes in Southern California, Aspen, Colo., and Sun Valley, Idaho. She’s also lent her eye to several swank country clubs.
       Slayman stresses that “800,000 square feet is a big contrast to a house, from a scale standpoint. There were a lot of things to get done in a very short amount of time.”
       She had one year to do the job — less time than it takes to do most houses. On top of that, she was commuting one or two days a week from California.
       She started by joining team executives on a research tour of four existing arenas: Staples Center in Los Angeles, Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, Xcel Energy Center in Minneapolis and Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Inspired and excited, she started work on the arena with an inkling of how visually revolutionary it could be.
       When arena developer the Ellman Cos. hired Slayman for an undisclosed sum, the venue was already under construction, its exterior designed by Kansas City, Mo.-based sports architecture firm HOK. So she turned her attention to the interior, developing a design to reflect the architecture and the team’s vision.
       What she didn’t custom design or color, she chose very deliberately. The granite countertops, the baseboards, the flooring — every detail has its purpose, and every material passed Slayman’s scrutiny.
       When she couldn’t find the materials she wanted, she designed her own. She custom designed the carpets in the arena’s common spaces, retail store, suites and restaurants. In the store, the carpet features tiny hockey pucks. In the club and executive suite carpeting, 12 custom-colored yarns are weaved into a custom-designed, Coyotes-themed geometrical pattern.
       The tiles in the main restrooms might not catch the eye of the average sports fan, but they too have their place in Slayman’s grand vision. She sent those to the Netherlands for custom coloring to match the Coyotes logo.
       Visitors might not ponder the C-shaped light box that floats above the retail store, either, but Slayman designed it for two reasons: It attractively breaks up a space that would otherwise have been a big box and, with its backlit, side-panel logos, it serves as a branding device.
       Branding is not something Slayman had to consider in her previous work, but she came to see nearly everything on the premises as an opportunity for brand impact — a carpet, a clothing rack, even the seats in the main bowl. Amid all the branding, Slayman was able to maintain her artistic vision. In the posh Lexus Club lounge, she designed decorative, abstract glass panels to draw attention to a dark, curvaceous bar.
       “(The finished arena) has a very comfortable, warm feel to it,” she says. “It doesn’t feel very commercial, and I think that's why it’s been so successful.”
       Moss agrees. For him, “(an arena) is like your house. When you’re walking around, you want to have the same pride you would in your house. We love showing people around.”
       He’s especially impressed with the upper bowl, which Slayman made as comfortable as the rest of the main seating areas by using the same materials and colors. Visitors here won’t find the unsightly bare concrete walls and floors typical of “nosebleed” seating areas.
       “In a lot of arenas, the people in the upper bowl aren’t really treated to the same finishes, the same detail,” says Moss, who has since recommended Slayman to New York’s Madison Square Garden executives, who are considering a major remodel. “We went the extra step in making sure that the people in the less expensive seats got a great feel, a great look.”
       On opening day in December, the Coyotes hung signs that said, “Welcome to your new home,” and, Moss says, fans did feel welcome.
       “In this business, the problems are all the same. It’s the solutions and the answers that change,” he says. “Slayman came up with the right solution for the Glendale Arena.”
       Now Slayman thinks sports or performing arts center design is the right solution for her. Although she continues to work on high-end beach homes, she’s designing a Phoenix theater/restaurant renovation for Atlanta-based Cinema Grill Systems Inc., and she’s pursuing more arena work. She found sports professionals a pleasure to work with.
       “I think what’s neat about (working with the sports industry) is that people don’t have preconceived ideas," she says. “They’re more open to doing things that are unconventional — they’ll let you do things that (homeowners) wouldn’t be comfortable with. They want to be cutting-edge.”

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