Up until quite recently, I hated working out. I'd played sports through high school and was a casual runner in college, loved bike riding and an occasional squash game with friends, but, living in New York City, I was utterly, irrevocably, disgustedly turned off by the thought of a gym. The flickering, fluorescent lighting; the sweaty, stagnant air; the gross, black rubber mats, gray carpet, and sad linoleum. It all seemed like an absolute assault on the senses, in the worst possible way.
Then, I had a life-changing experience: a 7 A.M. class at 305 Fitness, the dance-based workout concept imported from Miami. But the class wasn't at just any fitness studio—it was set in a kaleidoscopically-colored, Memphis-meets-modern, two-story extravaganza (complete with disco balls and neon) created by rising design star Sasha Bikoff. You can read the whole story of my 305 experience—from design inspiration to aching muscles—here, but suffice it to say, I was sold.
Though Bikoff's design might be the most attention-grabbing (hello, rainbow staircase!), 305 is hardly the only company to turn a design eye to workout routines as of late. Over the past few years, as health and fitness obsessions have slowly turned from fad crazes to what seems like lasting parts of a busy daily routine, many fitness outfits have wizened up to the importance of aesthetics to any ritual (to which we say, duh!).
SoulCycle is perhaps the first widespread example of the importance of design; the company's instantly-recognizable yellow helped distinguish it from the dozens of other cycling studios out there—and turn it from simply a workout routine into a cult community.
Bikoff was acutely aware of that potential when she began working for 305. "It has such curb appeal," she told me at the time of our class. "There’s such a branding opportunity here; I think the era of exercise studios is changing that way."
As any avid Class Pass user will see, she's right: even the "boring" Equinoxes are bringing in light wood and tall windows in place of heavy rubber mats and low ceilings.
At Shadowbox, the beloved boxing studio, founder and CEO Daniel Glazer says that "design, for us, is the tip of the spear telling the brand story. We espouse inclusion and empowerment as well as empathy over ego. Our design puts these values into action and strives to create a meaningful emotional response through the practice of fitness & and craft of boxing."
That may seem like a lot of responsibility to put on a studio's looks, but any good designer knows that truly good design goes much deeper than the surface, and nowhere is the juxtaposition of form and function more on display than in a gym.
"Design is used to invite, enhance, replenish, reduce intimidation, reward hustle and still accomodate over 300 boxers each day, 7 days a week, 360 days a year," Glazer says. "Durability is often in conflict with inviting interiors, but we seek to create studios that bridge that divide, while also attracting both genders and many age groups." The company uses an in-house team of architects and designers to bring this vision to life.
If Shadowbox is designed for broad appeal, there are plenty of gyms designed to cater to a niche, too; take, for example, The Class by Taryn Toomey, the Goop-approved fitness solution for the type-As who dabble in entertaining the mystic.
Elizabeth Kohn and Rashia Bell of The Cristalline, a crystal-centric design firm (read more about it here) have devised spaces for Toomey that take into account both the practical concerns of a fitness studio as well as those less discernible to the naked eye.
"The work that you do in the room with Taryn is about moving and shifting your energy and drawing your ego into your present and moving stagnant energy, becoming present with yourself," Kohn explains. "How we translate that is when you have positive energy you can shift into that space. So we were very clear on wanting to create a beautiful, high energy, aesthetically beautiful but calming and uplifting space. So when you’re doing the work in the classroom you can release your negative energy and walk out feeling really good."
Adds Bell: "As much as it’s about space planning, it’s about space flow and energy." That's achieved by way of crystals placed in the floors, underneath the light-wood floorboards, crystals on wide windowsills, and crystal accents in bathrooms and entryways.
But still, at the end of the day, Bell says, "it was about creating a space that could be a brand identity, that could lend itself in different locations."
See you at the gym.
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