Makeshift home gyms offer a respite and a sense of community during the pandemic

Home Improvement Style
When her gym shut its doors, designer Taniya Nayak, who lives in a condo overlooking the Neponset River in Milton, made way for weights, a yoga mat, and a bench relocated from her entry in the living room. “Since we weren’t going to entertain, and there’s no fear of unexpected guests, I decided to add my workout things to my living room. It feels like I’m on a boat. I work out more now than before! I do 10- or 20-minute workouts with Instagram Live to keep my energy up throughout the day. And I learned that I still love to dance. I started doing the dance cardio classes on the Peloton app. It puts me in such a good mood.” Taniya Nayak

It took a couple of tries before Deb Putnoi’s Peloton found its forever home. When the exercise bike first arrived, she set it up in her son’s room; he was at college. When the 20-year old returned in mid-March amid coronavirus concerns, he was cool with it. He used the bike often and didn’t mind when his mother and 23-year old sister, also home from school, stopped by for a class.

Until he did.

“My daughter likes to work out early, and my son likes to sleep in,” said Putnoi, an artist and educator. So she moved the Peloton to the second-floor family room, relocated her Zoom teaching setup to the living room and her mask-making station to the hall. “Always pivoting!” she said. “They need a lot of exercise. It’s keeping them sane.”

Kimberly Huestis, founder of jewelry company Porcelain and Stone, reconfigured the dining room of the Huron Village rental she shares with her husband to make way for an exercise bike, rower, and power tower. In December, the couple discussed purchasing a single piece of equipment, thinking they didn’t have room for more. Not so. They pushed aside the dining table, which now functions as Huestis’s in-home studio, and replaced their whiskey collection in the built-in hutch with jewelry-making tools. “I’m aiming for five pull-ups at the end of this,” she said. “Currently at one, up from zero!”

Between March 16 and April 30, Peloton extended the free trial period of its digital subscription service from 30 to 90 days. The company’s third quarter shareholder letter reported that during that time, 1.1 million-plus people signed up for their free trial and completed more than 8 million workouts. Home renovation site Houzz reported that home gym equipment sales have been eight times higher than they were prior to the pandemic.

When the gym in Heather Bourgeois-Shippie’s apartment building closed, the Cranston-based account executive purchased a used stationary bike on Facebook Marketplace for her bedroom, along with hand weights, booty bands, and sliding discs. “It’s great for what it does. I ride about five miles a day. I tried running with a mask outside. It wasn’t too bad, but not ideal. I would take my dog for walks around our complex, but missed that tougher cardio burn. Having that release to work out in my own home has been great. And quieter for my neighbors then online fitness classes in my living room.” —Heather Bourgeois-Shippie

Photographer Grace Hopkins converted her late father Budd Hopkins’s art studio in Wellfleet into a workout room. “[I’m] so happy I left my gym in August and bought a home gym! Now [my daughter] and I do circuit training.” —Grace Hopkins
Not everyone feels the need to shop, however. The search term “home workouts, no equipment” trended on the social image-sharing site Pinterest, with a 329 percent increase between March 4 and March 17 compared with the two weeks prior. 

Fitness programs are seeing increases on digital platforms. Pilates-based workout studio Xtend Barre, which had already offered recorded and live classes on its Openfit app, launched more live classes in mid-March once studios suspended in-person instruction. The subscriptions doubled from March 15 – April 19.

Beezee Honan is a live streaming convert. “I don’t miss the early morning drive or the anxiety about getting a spot near a fan and not too close to the stereo speakers,” she said. Honan, an account manager at Designer Bath/Salem Plumbing Supply in Watertown and Beverly, had to reorganize her basement to accommodate her new routine. Then organize it again to accommodate the contents of her college-aged son’s dorm room when he arrived home. “You need a certain square footage to do a virtual conditioning class,” she said. “I have hit the built-in cabinets and the foosball table inadvertently.” 

Emily Webster, proprietor of design company Langford & Lewis, went from self-described “couch potato” to Zoom fitness junkie. She participates in live classes twice a day, six days a week in her living room. Webster dragged a decorative screen out of the garage to use as a backdrop and to hide the dining room from her fellow classmates and instructor. In the morning she pushes the coffee table out of the way and opens the screen. After class she pushes the screen to the corner, tucking her props and weights behind it. “I love the online community and camaraderie and seeing people from all over the country!” she said. 

Xtend Barre has also observed this desire for community connection. “Members are logging in early to connect via Openfit’s classroom chat feature,” said Selina Tobaccowala, chief digital officer of Openfit.

Lindsay Gibson, owner of Majestic Yoga Studio in Cambridge, began offering live group classes on Zoom on March 16, one day after in-person instruction stopped. She has been Skyping with private clients for about 10 years, so was able to pivot quickly. “It’s a way to connect with people on some level, though sometimes I feel like a girl stuck in a box,” she said describing the digital experience. “Yoga and meditation are intimate; we’ve worked hard to adapt our way of teaching.”

As for her clients’ responses to the online offerings?

“Gratitude that we’re doing this for them,” she said. “It makes me want to cry.”

Arlington resident Liz Lowsky set up a tiny workout space in my living room to take the place of the gym during this time. “I’m doing a 12-week program, which helps to keep me motivated, but I deeply miss my instructors and working out with other people at the gym. I move a chair daily and put a laptop on it. I tried doing live Zoom classes, but realized that I need to just work out when I have time, on my own schedule. So the classes I do are prerecorded and around 30 minutes — all my children will give me. But they are a good sweat with weights and a balance ball.” —Liz Lowsky
Julie Richard, a designer on the South Shore, recently reworked her home office. The now clutter-free multifunctional area, which features a round table instead of a desk, has been quite conducive to low-key fitness routines. “I take a yoga class via Zoom with a local yoga studio in my office space. I set up candles and a mat. I also use the space to stretch and do daily planks. I run outdoors for my cardio. Little changes such as candles and relaxing music helped change the environment for yoga and Pilates.” —Julie Richard
Misty Gray, principal of Somerville-based Grayscale Design, created this peaceful yoga studio-turned-art studio in a home by architect Dunja Vujinic of Cambridge-based Reisen Design. The clients recently added a rowing machine and an exercise bicycle. Gray shares insight about the design. “She wanted the space to feel raw; the floors have a look of being unfinished, and the walls are all raw plaster. The skylights were an incredible enhancement to the space. On a cold January day, this space is warm and sunny, surrounded by sky. They have a lot of flexibility with the open nature of the space to enjoy yoga and meditation. In reference to the pandemic, my clients say that this space has been a refuge.” —Tamara Flanagan
Designer Atsu Gunther transformed her South End dressing room into a gymnastics and yoga practice space for her daughters and herself. She had not yet finished the design when COVID-19 hit. “I have nothing but built-in closets in my dressing room, so it is a wide-open space! The doors have full height antiqued mirror insets, and it has become a perfect area for yoga, gymnastics, and stretching. My younger daughter takes team gymnastic Zoom lessons twice a week, so we got her a portable beam and a floor mat for her to practice her routine. I was planning to have a mural wallpaper on the wide, blank wall, but am having second thoughts now as she practices her handstands against the wall. It’s one of the things I didn’t even think of pre-COVID. Maybe a ballet barre on the wall instead would be a better idea now?” —Atsu Gunther
. —Atsu-Gunther

Boston resident Ambika Garg participates in Zoom classes, but wishes she didn’t have to. “Imiss seeing my Equinox peers,” Garg said. “My home gym is currently the roof deck. I think I’ll likely do Zoom workouts all summer. [I’m] mildly nervous about going to the gym when it opens.” —Ambika Garg
Allison Hirsch set up a gym for her family on the porch of their Cape Cod home. “We have a basement, but we liked the view from the deck, and it made it easier to cope with being shut up all day on Zoom calls. We had some of the equipment, [including] the rowing machine, in Boston and moved it down. [My son] had the weights in his room. The box and yoga mat were here. We bought a weight bench, TRX bands, and an agility ladder. Voila, we had a gym. It gets used daily and kept us in shape and sane.” —A. Hirsch

Designer Abbey Flores purchased a Peloton at the onset of the pandemic for the 6-by-8-foot room in her South End row house. “Two days after this all started going down, I ordered a Peloton (figuring it might be the gym of the future) and converted the dead room into a haven for the bike. I had been wanting to cover the little room in posters and kids’ artwork (another item from the eternal to-do list). It finally happened — one of a handful of successes in all of this.” —Abbey Flores Design
Dee Elms, principal at Boston-based Elms Interior Design, created this home gym in a carriage house for a family in Brookline. She offers these tips for setting up your own workout area: “Find a space that has nice light if you have it. That said, we have taken spaces that don’t have much light — like closets — and converted them into workout spaces by changing out solid doors for glass doors. Make sure you have enough space for full range of motion. Finally, keep it clean and simple; everything should have its own place!” —Michael J. Lee Photography

Marni Elyse Katz blogs about design at Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @globehomes. Subscribe to our free real estate newsletter — our weekly digest on buying, selling, and design — at