As part of a redesign for the nearly 50-strong, global Admirals Club network, the new lounge at Washington Reagan National’s (DCA) terminal E will open later this month. With it comes a fresh look that will eventually grace every one of the airline’s Admirals Clubs.
Designed by Chicago-based DMAC Architecture Interiors, the look of the lounge shows off a rather chic departure from the previous contemporary design of most of American’s renovated clubs.
This is the first airline lounge project for DMAC, which has traditionally focused on hospitality projects. As a result, the redesign shows notable attention to detail and efficient use of space with a mix of residential and work areas to meet different traveler interests.
This lounge is laid out in two “pavilions,” separated by the arrival desk with soft lighting. To the left is the main sitting area surrounded by wooden slats plus a high-top table for working and powering up devices, a drink and snack station, customer service desk and phone booth rooms.
To the right is the main bar and various seating setups in the dining area, including high-top tables, tables for two or four people, private booths with underseat storage for bags, a row of bar-style seating against the window and a corral of sectioned-off, standup phone booth areas. In this area, an open lattice canopy expands from a wooden column with ceiling lights that dim slowly after sunset to set a calming mood.
Another clever feature of the dining room area is that many of the seats have open spaces so that food and refuse do not get caught in the creases, but can be swept away instead. The fabrics chosen have nanotechnology to repel liquid stains. Many of the hard surfaces of the lounge, from tables to side walls, have subtle metal design edges to help reduce nicks and scrapes from passing luggage.
Subtly woven into the design is the airline’s logo, which is visible in the latticework of the dining area, in the slant of certain table and bar areas, and some of the light frames. If you pay close attention, you’ll notice local scenes behind one of the logo-branded walls that is meant to look like you are seeing the sights of Washington DC through an airplane window.
The food and beverage concept will remain the same as other lounges, which includes rotating menus that change three times a year including macaroni and cheese bowls or tacos with a variety of toppings. Recently added to the beverage menu is a selection of new wines, part of the airline’s partnership with the James Beard Foundation and its wine consultants, for the premium bar list. This includes labels from McBride Sisters, the largest Black-owned wine company in the U.S. and founded by two sisters.
While not all Admirals Clubs received a recent refresh in the past decade, this latest overhaul will eventually make it to every lounge in the coming years. Updates to each lounge will take time, however, due to local airport regulations and permits.
All lounges will have the same framework, but each will have nods to the particular destination in the art and interior decor thanks to partnerships with local designers. A large-scale limestone design piece showcasing the airline’s logo is in the lower lobby lounge with similar stone used elsewhere in a nod to what is used in the city’s many monuments and museums.
Locally sourced American walnut furnishings, trendy leather seating with swiveling chairs (some with ottomans) and various seating setups fill the lounge. Designers took into account that some people travel alone, but may take up a two-person seating area essentially using two seats for one person. The ability to swivel chairs to the side permits greater privacy while making more efficient use of the seating.
Other areas feature TVs atop living room-style tables to create a more residential feel than mounted on the wall, and a dramatic fireplace sits by floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the DC skyline. The Washington Monument and Capitol Building are within view.
In a separate section of the lounge, three decorative, dome-shaped structures hang from the ceiling featuring snippets from important political speeches made at pivotal moments of history that reveal themselves as you read them from below.
According to Dwayne MacEwen, founder and principal of DMAC Architecture & Interiors, “we like to say there are four domes in the nation’s capital, and three of them are at the Admirals Club.”
MacEwan and his team are responsible for the overhaul of the entire lounge concept for American. In his words, the focus is to create “a collection of thoughtfully designed memorable spaces with opportunities for guests to engage, retreat and rejuvenate.”
A unique feature to this lounge is the VIP room just behind the reception desk. It is reserved for those that require more privacy, which in this airport is likely to include politicians, dignitaries and perhaps the occasional celebrity. The room features a boardroom-style setup with TV and lounge seating. It can also be rented by anyone for a small fee.
Designers added their own clever touches including rows of vintage books, inspired by The Library of Congress, that had their binding stripped off. It’s possible for visitors to sign the book’s spines, which over time helps tell the story of the vast array of VIPs that have passed through. The new DCA lounge does not have showers. Also, since fewer families pass through this lounge than others in the system, it does not have a family room.
The DC lounge incorporates several other regional features including a stunning wall of handmade silk cherry blossom flowers strung from floor to ceiling against a mirror. The infinite display of rows of pink flowers marks the entrance to the bathrooms. It gives off nightclub vibes rather than traditional airport bathroom design. The bathrooms have softer lighting, floor-to-ceiling mirrors, stalls with lights indicating if occupied and dark wood finishes rather than chrome and laminate countertops.
Sustainability is another important part of the design with high-efficiency LED lighting that can be synced to the time of day. Automatic shades adjust to the outdoor light to maximize energy use efficiency. Wall panels around the lounge have specially designed insulation to reduce noise.
Designers of the DC lounge focused on maximize the usable space so that back-of-house is rarely visible, and food stations can be restocked from behind. Even bathrooms have individual custodial closets so that housekeeping staff do not need to roll carts through the common areas.
The new look is launching with the Admirals Club at DCA, which will become the largest lounge at the airport measuring 14,500 sq ft and seating 236. The two additional clubs at the airport will remain open and eventually get the new look.
Beyond Washington, DC, the first clubs to get the redesign include Austin, Denver and Newark. American’s Flagship lounge (the premium lounge for international business and first class passengers) will not be part of this redesign since they are relatively new, and this differentiates them from the Admirals Club product.