Robb Report Jan 08

Body of Work
Home gym guru Mark Harigian perfects the fitness environment

Q: How did you get into custom gyms?

A: I always loved sports–I grew up playing baseball, tennis and basketball.  I also loved design and art and wanted to be an architect, and when I was in high school I became interested in mechanical engineering.  After blowing out my knee playing tennis, I got really interested in human anatomy while I was rehabbing.  In 1984 I started my own private training business.  As my clients got busier, I began to train them at their homes.  I noticed that a lot of the home gyms were junk.  Most trainers may have a good background in anatomy, but not design or architecture.  Most architects have the background in design but not anatomy–I was filling a niche market.  I now have a staff of 15, and we do everything from guiding clients to the best equipment for their lifestyle to creating custom equipment that coordinates with their homes.

Q: How are home gyms different today than they were 10 years ago?

A: Ten years ago, home gyms didn’t really exist.  If anything, people turned a spare bedroom or part of the garage into a makeshift gym, but people weren’t building dedicated spaces.  Now it’s more about the space itself than it is any one piece of equipment.  My clients see the gym as an investment for their health as well as for the value of their home.  Realtors have told me that gyms raise the value of a home more than a theater.

Q: What mistakes do people make when they try to design a home gym themselves?

A: No matter how large the home or the budget, the space is almost always too small.  Architects and interior designers don’t think about gyms in the same way they think about entryways or kitchens.  The first thing I ask for is a client’s wish list for a gym space.  More often than not, they won’t be able to fit everything into the room, and we need to expand.  If a husband and wife are going to work out together and they both run, they are going to need two treadmills.

Another mistake is that people think that everything they see at their local gym w ill translate to the home.  If you put thick rubber mats inside your house, the rubber smell will never go away.  There’s an issue with construction, too.  If your gym is next to a room where your family watches TV, you have to make sure there’s enough soundproofing so they don’t hear you pounding on the treadmill or slamming the weights.  People also don’t realize that they need higher ceilings to accommodate tall machines and a lot of electrical outlets on the floor so that you aren’t tripping over cords.  Air circulation is important.  You might not want cold air-conditioning blowing on you, but you will want some kind of air recirculation from either a fan or window.

Q: What keep people interested in their home gyms?

A: I do a personality profile on the people using the space.  I like to find out what kinds of activities my clients would do if they had the time, and I work around that.   For instance, one client told me that he would rather be kayaking and mountain climbing.  So we built him an oversize swim-in-place pool large enough to fit a kayak and an indoor mountain climbing wall with a video screen at the top so he felt like he was climbing Everest.  A room shouldn’t just be a result of what you can find in a store.  I turn it into a fun space–a playroom for grown-ups.

Q: What is the biggest misconception people have about buying gym equipment?

A: Everyone seems to think that the elliptical is the answer, but since it’s not a natural human movement, it doesn’t train as effectively as some of the other carddio machines.  Rowing machiens are great–if you do it right, you can tone your entire body.

People also get confused when they buy top-dollar equipment and it feels nothing like the equipment at their health club.  Gym machines are designed for frequent use with heavier steel and stronger weight stacks–individual homeowners can’t get those same commercial-grade products.  When you’re working out at home, you don’t have the distractions that you do at a health club, so everything is magnified, and you notice the quality of the equipment a lot more.

The equipment at resorts and health clubs is not necessarily the best, but it’s what people see the most, so they think it’s the best.  We end up creating a lot of custom equipment not just because it looks better but because it performs better.

Q: What trends are you seeing in home gym design?

A: The line has become blurred between spa and gym.  Lately I have been customizing a lot of mineral soaking tubs out of brass, copper or stainless steel.  If you have one with hot water and one with cold water and alternate soaking in each, it helps with circulation and burning body fat.  We also do tubs designed for mud baths.  We fill them with volcanic mud, which is great for your skin.  The tubs are designed to keep the mud at a certain temperature and constantly circulate it so that it doesn’t dry out.

His and her fitness rooms are becoming popular.  The husband may want one for boxing and karate, and the wife will want a space for cardio and Pilates.

Q: What piece of equipment has not been created yet that you would like to see?

A: There’s actually one I’ve been working on for the back.  A lot of my clients have the white-collar disease–they’ve spent 30 years driving to work and sitting at their desks all day.  They’re always reaching forward.  My machine may not sound glamorous but it helps strengthen the back and compensates for the constant forward reaching motion.

Q: How can you incorporate equipment/activities for kids?

A: I see a lot of kids who don’t want to get exercise–they’re in worse shape than their parents.  But you can’t exactly put an 8-year-old in a gym.  So I’ll do things like create an obstacle course in the backyard.  Sometimes it’s as simple as elevating the clubhouse so they have to go over a rock wall to get to it.

Q: Describe some of your more unusual home gyms.

A: I like to take everything to the next level.  I’m not just building a gym–I’m creating a total workout environment.  I recently did a 2,000-square-foot space where a waterfall flowed down one of the walls to a pool which we filled with koi and covered with Plexiglas so that you could walk over it.  The lights that illuminate the water change color, which has an impact on  your energy flow.

I also did a modern gym for a modern house–if your home is very minimal, your gym should reflect that.  All the equipment was mounted on the walls and all the weight stacks were hidden behind the walls.  There was no part of the equipment that touched the floor.  The machines were like art–you only saw the metal frames.

–Samantha Brooks