How to design a home gym that you’ll actually use

A dedicated home gym isn’t a necessity,
of course, but if you’re fortunate enough to have the space, it can be a real
luxury — especially if it’s well designed. To make it a place where you’ll
enjoy spending time, give it some thought and concentrate on the design,
advised Sara Story, a New York-based interior designer and exercise enthusiast.
“It should have a good atmosphere and good lighting,” she said, much like any
other room in your home.

For tips on designing a hard-wearing gym
that’s a joy to use, we asked designers how they approach workout spaces.

Choose the Room

Although it’s nice to have an expansive
space for your gym, it doesn’t need to be a huge room. Nicole Hollis, an
interior designer, turned a small, awkward room on the top floor of her San
Francisco townhouse — roughly the size of a walk-in closet — into her home gym.

“We have this little room that’s too
small to be a bedroom, so we set it up as our gym,” Hollis said. Rather than
trying to de-emphasise the tight quarters, she played them up, painting the
walls and floor in dark colours to create a sense of drama, a strategy that
many designers use for powder rooms.

Basements are a popular place for home
gyms because they often have leftover space, but for the fitness-obsessed, it’s
perfectly acceptable to put a gym in a more prominent spot — like an unused
guest room, or a home office.

Olga Hanono, an interior designer,
recently completed a four-story home in Mexico City with a gym on the top
level, which has glass doors and views over neighbouring rooftops. “It’s not
the deepest, most obscure corner of the home,” she said. “On the contrary, it’s
a space filled with natural light.”

If possible, it’s best to put the gym
near a bathroom, said Jimmy Crisp, the principal of Crisp Architects, in
Millbrook, New York, because “chances are, you’re going to want to shower after
you work out.” And if you’re going all out, consider installing spalike
features like a steam shower or a sauna.

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Take Stock of Your Equipment

There are many ways to work out, from
free weights to elliptical machines, so knowing which equipment you’ll actually
use is important. And if you want a gym that is as attractive as it is
functional, you’re in luck: Finding good-looking equipment with a compact
footprint is easier than it used to be.

“Now there’s a blending of luxury and
technology in the gym, and that’s the best thing that could happen to us,”
Hanono said. “It allows us to place not only useful, but also beautiful,
objects in these places.”

Interactive fitness systems like Mirror,
Tonal and Forme are as unobtrusive as a wall-mounted mirror or picture frame.
Peloton has streamlined stationary bikes and treadmills. Wahoo and Tacx make
stationary smart trainers that allow carbon-fibre racing bicycles to be used
indoors. Ergatta and WaterRower make rowing machines that look almost as
handsome as finely crafted rowing shells. And companies like Bala and Kenko are
rethinking what weights should look like.

Develop a Plan

There’s more to designing a home gym
than just piling equipment into an unused room — it requires creating a layout
with good spatial flow.

“We really like to consider the program
and how the client will use the space, including what types of cardio equipment
they’ll be using,” said Heather Hilliard, an interior designer in San
Francisco. For instance, she said, “if there’s a treadmill, you have to have
space behind it, in case someone falls off. And you need space for navigating
between machines.”

With electronic machines like treadmills
and Peloton bikes, she added, it’s critical to have electrical outlets nearby,
so you don’t have extension cords snaking across the room. When possible,
Hilliard likes to add floor outlets directly below the machines.

It’s also important to leave space for
floor exercises, Story said. “You don’t want to go into a gym where it’s just
all machines,” she said, because it could feel claustrophobic. Leaving open
space at the center of the room will make your gym feel less cramped, while
also providing room for yoga, stretching and calisthenics.

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Address the Floor and Walls

The flooring and walls in a gym should
be durable and easy to clean.

“Some form of resilient floor is always
a good idea,” Crisp said. That often means interlocking rubber-tile or vinyl
flooring, similar to the kind commercial gyms use, installed wall-to-wall or as
a large area mat on top of other flooring.

Another option is to use cushioned mats
that can be rolled out individually, in discrete workout zones, across a hard
floor of wood, laminate or concrete, Hollis said. (Carpet is not ideal, because
it’s difficult to clean.) She suggested “a couple of different types of mats —
one for weights and one for yoga.” Individual mats can also be placed under
equipment like stationary bikes, to dampen noise and catch drops of sweat.

For the walls, Hollis recommended paint
with an eggshell sheen, as it’s easier to clean than a matte surface.

Or, you could cover the walls with a
more durable material. Hilliard used plywood on the walls of one home gym she
designed. Crisp Architects, working with Valerie Grant, an interior designer,
created shiplap wainscoting using wood planks for another gym.

All of the designers interviewed for
this story also suggested adding mirrors — either mirrored walls or large
framed mirrors — to enlarge the sense of space and let you check your form as
you work out.

Pay Attention to Lighting

You don’t have to blast your workout
space with the kind of overhead light you’d find in a commercial gym.
Installing layers of lighting with multiple fixtures — and using dimmers to
control those fixtures — can create a more inviting atmosphere and allow light
levels to be adjusted for various activities.

“We incorporate a mood light and ambient
light for the experience,” Rush Jenkins, the chief executive of WRJ Design, in
Jackson, Wyoming, wrote in an email.

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And because it’s a home gym, you can
choose fixtures you’d never see in a commercial gym, like chandeliers, pendants
and sconces. “Depending on the height of the gym space, the main lighting could
be a beautiful chandelier, or it could be a subtle flush mount,” Jenkins noted.

It’s also important to consider where
the fixtures are positioned in relation to the workout zones, he added: “You
don’t want to be down on a mat during exercise and looking up directly into a
bright light.”

To bring in relaxing, atmospheric light
without installing new wiring, one option is a portable LED lantern, said
Hollis, who uses an Uma Sound Lantern from Pablo, which doubles as a speaker.
“It’s like a candle,” she said. “And it moves around with me.”

Finish It Off

Using furniture and accessories that
make it easy to keep your gym clean and tidy — and complete your workout
without interruptions — will help you stick with an exercise routine.

If you’ll have foam rollers, resistance
bands or boxing gloves, think about where those items will live when you’re not
using them, Hilliard said. Cabinetry and case goods are ideal, but even a group
of baskets on the floor can help.

Adding a bench, stool or chair provides
a place to catch your breath between exercises, as well as a spot to throw a
towel. And if you like watching TV or listening to music while you work out,
and you don’t plan to use a portable speaker or headphones, add audiovisual
equipment to the room.

When space allows, Hilliard also likes
to install a small station similar to a kitchenette. “Sometimes we do custom
cabinets, where we have a water cooler or water bottles,” she said, as well as
an area for clean towels and a hamper for used ones. “As much as we can give it
the look and feel of a high-end gym, so people actually want to go and use it,
the better.”

© 2022 The New York Times Company

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