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Making a Home Workout Space You Want to Use, From a Reluctant Exerciser


Making a Home Workout Space You Want to Use, From a Reluctant Exerciser

May 23, 2024

Now presenting the latest in a series of posts by Sally Kohn— journalist and CNN political commentator, TED talk giver, and design aficionado—chronicling her adventures in remodeling. Here, her home gym chronicles:

As a profoundly reluctant exerciser who generally despises all things sweat and effort, I’ve always found excuses not to work out. For years, it was a healthy metabolism.  Then it was something about how my patella ground against my bone when I ran. But the point is I don’t like exercise and I do like any excuse not to do it. Which is why it has taken so long to post about my new home gym.

You see, when we moved from Brooklyn, New York, to rural Pennsylvania, one of the first things we did was start planning a home gym in our barn. I wanted to become one of these people with cute pastel workout outfits and a matching zen attitude about all the other work and life tasks one must put aside to prioritize taking care of one’s health. I also wanted to become one of those people who lounge unselfconsciously poolside at age 47, and for that matter who felt entitled to lounge now and then because of just how dang hard I’d spent working out every other day of the week.

This, you may now understand, is still a fantasy. But the gym, she is real.

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Above: The reformer.
my home gym, complete. 18
Above: My home gym, complete.

So I took a corner of our 1500-square-foot barn space and turned it into a peaceful, luxurious, and well-outfitted workout space. My goal was to recreate, at home, workouts that I have enjoyed, albeit intermittently, in gyms and fitness classes. So I got a Pilates reformer from Flexia that is not only stunningly beautiful, all cherry wood and leather, but is equipped with sensors that report back how I’m doing when I do a class from Flexia’s tech-enhanced library of offerings. I got a water rower from Ergatta from the few months where I was doing Orange Theory classes back in Brooklyn. I thought that a rowing machine would be a great compact way to get in some cardio, and Ergatta’s is gorgeous and outfitted with a screen that has different rowing game challenges I really enjoy. I added a Mirror, an absolutely wonderful independent device that features tiny workout instructors leading you in dance classes, boxing, and step aerobics, but that was eventually bought by Lululemon then Peloton and then discontinued. Boo. But thankfully for now it still works. I also have a bevy of other things: a Swedish wall bar, some TRX bands, a Bosu Ball, a Gorilla Bow set for muscle work.

Safety-wise, by the way, I painted some 2x4s and bolted them to studs, and then bolted the Swedish wall bar to that—and now can safely yank on the Swedish wall bar however I want and it doesn’t budge. I also use this for connecting my TRX straps instead of a barn beam, which I could do, but I didn’t like aesthetically. I also put some steel security brackets where I fold up the Pilates reformer and the rowing machine and then have straps I can use to secure the equipment to the brackets. And those brackets are bolted into studs as well. Safety first, friends.

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Above: Home gym inspiration from The Wood House: A Midcentury Work in Progress in Westchester. Photography by Brian W. Ferry for Remodelista; styling by Alexa Hotz.

Visually, the space is tied together by several panels of square Shimmerwalls—the kind you might put up along the red carpet at an event but I thought would be perfect for making my workouts more exciting. And they do! When I exhale, the walls shimmer and shake. It’s very rewarding. I also have a strand of Terrain’s Stargazer Color Story Yesteryear bulbs, which make the space perfectly bright and fun with that retro vibe. And it’s rounded out with two Ruggable Crosby Ivory and Taupe rugs over squishy interlocking workout mats. I was worried about them when we have parties, but we’ve had a few red wine spills and the washable rugs are magic. Honestly, we haven’t even thrown them in the wash yet in over a year; we just spot-treat them and they’re good as new.

the home gym can be minimal, as seen in at home with c. s. valentin: french ecl 20
Above: The home gym can be minimal, as seen in At Home with C. S. Valentin: French Eclecticism in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Styling by Alexa Hotz; photography by Jonathan Hokklo for Remodelista.

I’m proud of the home gym I created; I’m just not proud of how little I use it. But I’m trying. Since I live in fear of the Peloton people taking down my beloved Mirror classes, I’m trying to squeeze in a couple a week now. Plus as spring gardening season hits full bloom, my back needs the Pilates reformer more than ever, and if I used it every day I wouldn’t be in pain.

But mostly what I’ve learned is that if you make a space that is beautiful, you’ll use it more—even if more isn’t as much as you’d like or just involves lying on the ground rolling your muscles while thinking about other things you could be doing. Every step counts.

a fairly simple setup in a converted catskills guest barn for actress amanda se 21
Above: A fairly simple setup in A Converted Catskills Guest Barn for Actress Amanda Seyfried.

More from Sally Kohn:

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