The sleek black unit resembles a walk-in closet or a spray-tan booth, but it is neither. It is the Black Box VR, the world’s first complete virtual reality workout system. Slip on the headset, slide your hands into the loops, and you’ll enter the game. The goal: win rounds that involve breaking through gates and destroying the enemy’s crystal to be crowned winner, earning trophies that increase your status in the virtual world as much as your real-life heartbeat. “Your body is the controller,” explains co-founder Preston Lewis, from Boise, Idaho. “When you do movements like the chest press, your strength and performance is translated into some kind of in-game attack. The stronger you become, the more powerful your in-game avatar does too.” He claims gamification means a 30-minute workout feels like it takes a third of that time. Lewis and his team have installed a handful of units for public use, but he’s also seeing newfound interest in private, at-home installation. “We’ve designed it to fit into a 10ft x 10ft room,” Lewis says of the system, which costs $80,000-$100,000.
Home gyms were once an afterthought, perhaps installed in a musty unused basement space, but the pandemic has pushed them from out of sight to front of mind, centerpieces of a luxury home. For many, at-home workouts have replaced shuttered or unsafe gyms; and the need to stay fit has become more pressing during lockdowns. It’s a shift that Brooklyn-based architect Adam Meshberg has seen almost overnight. “The home gym is not a secondary design element now, but a primary one. Before the pandemic, we probably did one home per year with a dedicated space for a gym,” he says, “Now it tends to come up in every discussion, and it’s talked about pre-design.”
Typical is the project he’s creating now for a client in Connecticut, spurred to move from the city to the suburbs by the imminent arrival of a baby. She has allocated a budget of up to $50,000 to outfit a 200 sq. ft room, a dedicated space carved out of a colonial-style brick home. Meshberg has not yet suggested the Black Box VR, but rather systems such as Mirror and Tonal, both virtual trainer programmes that require nothing more than a single unit — a smart mirror, or a screen with suspension training straps attached — to load an on-demand video class.
There is also the newly launched Forme, by industrial designer Yves Béhar (from $2,495). The display looks like a normal mirror when not in use, and can be wall-mounted or freestanding so it acts like a room-dividing screen.
Meshberg is also considering some of the new high-design alternatives to conventional free weights — not just body-sculpting, but sculptures themselves. Take Equipt’s U-shaped weights (from $129), developed by former model Kodi Kitchen Berg.
“I wanted something that would encourage movement and still be chic enough to live anywhere within arms’ reach,” she says. “We reach for what makes us feel powerful, sensual and beautiful. There is a cause and effect.”
Another company has created a new line expressly in response to the pandemic: Pent’s oiled walnut, stainless steel and leather equipment is made by hand in Poland. There’s a full range, from jump ropes to weighted balls and dumbbells; individual products start at $150, with a full gym about $15,000.
Peloton, makers of indoor exercise bikes, saw its supply chain struggle under a surge in demand last year, and UK deliveries were disrupted by Brexit. If this continues, Ciclotte is a worthwhile alternative. Reminiscent of a Penny Farthing, the Italian-made bike comes in various versions, including the Teckell, made of transparent crystal with a seat and handle that appear to float in the air ($17,500).
It’s a favourite of Chandler Oldham, director of interior design at DXA Studio in New York. “This year has been a reminder that gym equipment can be both practical and beautifully designed — museum quality is worth the price tag,” she says.
Another of Oldham’s new favourites is NOHrD from Germany, which offers everything from Bosu balance balls to rowing machines, all handmade at its headquarters using sustainable materials such as cherry wood.
Even those who prefer swimming have a new high-tech option: Zygon's waterproof headphones can stream a private workout for your pool (£219 a pair).
Nowhere has the upscaling of at-home workouts been more evident than in Los Angeles, the birthplace of feeling the burn. Sebastian Salvadó is creative director and partner at architects RIOS.
He says that home gyms were already increasing in importance before Covid-19, but the pandemic turbocharged the trend: the footprint allocated in a given space is 25-50 per cent larger than a decade ago, and the budget for private gyms has doubled.
According to Salvadó, wealthy clients have long brought their private chefs to design meetings to ensure that kitchens were functional — after all, it was the staff rather than the owners who were likely to use it most. The same is now happening with home gyms, with trainers offering advice on concepts upfront.
“We’re seeing more requests for statement gyms — ones with an attitude. That attitude might be soft and calming, but there’s got to be an idea wrapped up in the design,” Salvadó says.
One such project is a compound in West LA for a family with small children. Their new gym is housed in a standalone 2,500 sq. ft. wellness Centre; the fixtures and finishes are the same quality as the entertaining spaces in the main house — priming it to be a social gathering space once restrictions are eased.
His company is also working on a project in Santa Monica for a young couple who work in finance; it’s a compact urban lot, but the clients insisted on a standalone gym, allocating 10 per cent of the 10,000 sq. ft. space to it.
“It has coffered ceilings and dramatic lighting — almost like a cross between a spa and a reading room,” Salvadó adds. The clients didn’t want it close to the master bedroom, the traditional, more convenient location, but rather at the front of the house, facing the street.
“It’s a bit more like you can step out of the gym, sit on some lounge furniture and wave at the neighbors as they’re walking by. It’s much more extroverted.” That hints at the next essential amenity for the new breed of at-home gyms: an audience to watch as you work out.