It is a rarity for an exercise space to go beyond the necessities of mats, dumbbells, and mirrors. In fact, until we stumbled upon Mint Studios, a boutique Pilates, barre and yoga space, we’d never imagined working up a sweat beside Jonathan Adler-inspired pieces. Now, we don’t know why we didn't think of it in the first place.
Based in the SOMA district of San Francisco, Mint Studios has achieved a cult following over the past year, and it is no secret as to why. In addition to its group of lovely and on-point instructors, the space is a testament to the idea that an exercise space can both look—and feel—serene and inviting. It is light, bright and phenomenally well-designed, and feels a part of a new guard of workout spaces, where pairing essentials beside covetable decor pieces like a West Elm console, a tufted settee, and a pair of white poufs is as natural as can be. A soft white and gray palette and statement-making lattice panels that stream in natural light has avid fans coming back for studio’s killer classes and style.
Believing that the look of an exercise space can affect both the quality of workout and how you feel about it when you come in, owner and founder Elaine Hayes went about envisioning and designing the studio with this in mind. After celebrating Mint’s first birthday in August with (what else?) a barre class under disco lights and watermelon mimosas, we just had to find out what went into the creation of this unique and gorgeous studio.
To me, the word Mint signifies several meaningful ideas. The mint plant is refreshing, healing, and natural. To be in mint condition is to be like new. The word mint also carries connotations of abundance (i.e. “That’s worth a mint.”). These are all things that, to me, describe what we’re doing at Mint Studios: it’s a refreshing, healing place to be, we help you get into mint condition, and there’s an abundance of positive energy and joy in our space.
Was the name inspired by the color palette of your space, or vice versa?
If you look around the studio, you’ll actually notice there’s no mint-colored décor. To me, the word mint is a metaphor as opposed to a literal theme, which I interpreted through a neutral palette (mostly grey and white), contemporary décor, and some interesting and fun accents.
A fully-designed and decorated Pilates studio is so unusual. Why did you choose to decorate yours?
I (obviously) love Pilates, and have been practicing for almost 15 years. Over the years, however, I started to notice that while I loved my Pilates classes, I didn’t love the spaces I was practicing in. I started to wonder: why can’t a Pilates studio be both efficient and beautiful? In a cosmopolitan city like San Francisco, we lead such busy, hectic lives. The time we take out for ourselves should be pleasant and calming. Mint offers a sophisticated and contemporary take on the Pilates studio: clean lines, a neutral yet bright palette, and whimsical and playful details: all-white animal figurines, curvy mirrors, and come canvas art to brighten up the walls. We always have fresh flowers and aromatic candles burning in the studio, which only adds to the serene yet upbeat ambiance.
How would you say decorating for a professional Pilates studio was different from decorating other spaces? (Or was it?)
Decorating a workout space is definitely different than decorating a home. For one, you actually don’t have the opportunity to use that much furniture because you need to reserve most of the space for working out. Furniture is a key component to a well-designed space, so I made sure to leave ample room for a reception that would showcase our aesthetic. It was here that I was able to really have fun buying a couch, finding the perfect desk, rug, credenza, and, of course, the custom made screens, which I talk about in more detail below.
What inspiration did you draw on when designing your studio?
I love Jonathan Adler’s aesthetic: his designs are so simple and timelessly beautiful. I also drew inspiration from brands like Kate Spade, C. Wonder, and Joie, each of which possess an effortless chic that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
What was the first piece you bought for Mint?
There’s a white porcelain elephant with long legs that sits on the credenza behind the front desk. Before I even signed the lease on our space, I had that little guy ready to go. As soon as I signed the lease, I brought him over. He’s our good luck charm and so far has been doing his job very well! ;)
Do you have a favorite decor item in your studio? If so, which one?
Hands down our quatrefoil screens are my favorite item in the studio (read more about them below). They divide up the space without blocking light and provide a beautiful greeting to clients upon arrival.
Were there any big design challenges along the way? Anything unexpected that you ran into in the process of designing it?
Surprisingly, one of our biggest challenges was lighting. There were two parts to this: how do we make the most out of the natural light we have, and what do we use for artificial light?
When creating a floor plan, I needed to divide the space in the front room into three parts: a reception, group Reformer, and private instruction area. We are lucky to have huge windows that span the entire front of our space and I didn’t want to block any of that gorgeous light. It took me a while to find the perfect solution, and it was while in my friend’s back yard staring at her lattice that it dawned on me: why not put a lattice inside to divide the room? Believe it or not, coming up with the idea was the easy part. It was finding someone who was willing to manufacture, deliver, paint, and install the screens (a whopping 10 feet tall!) that proved a huge challenge. Luckily, I was put in touch with the right people and after showing them my design, they were able to execute my vision perfectly. Our quatrefoil screens are a staple of Mint’s look and I am so pleased with how they turned out: they allow light to come through but provide that separation that we needed with a beautiful design.
Second came the artificial lighting issue: When lighting a space where there will be lots of bodies working out, you have to make sure the lights don’t get too hot, otherwise they make the room feel stuffy, and no amount of air conditioning will help. Another factor that was important to consider was that with workouts like Pilates, you’re often on your back looking up at the ceiling, so our lights needed to be bright enough to illuminate the space but soft enough so as not to blind our clients. After a few trial and errors (we switched out our lighting FIVE times!!!), we finally found the perfect lighting system, thanks to the experts at City Lights. The lights stay cool and emit a beautiful soft glow that illuminates our space without causing any glare.
Do you think the design of the space affects your clients’ workouts?
I think the design of any space affects the people who are in it. (Have you ever tried to get work done at a cluttered desk?!) Providing an aesthetically pleasing, clutter-free, and clean space encourages clients to keep coming back and creates a positive, pleasant environment. I often hear from clients that Mint feels like a little oasis in the middle of SoMa, and that’s exactly what I was going for.
You mentioned that gyms in general are a space sorely lacking in good design. Why do you think that is?
When you think of fitness, design isn’t a word that comes to most people’s minds (unless you’ve been to Mint!). I think most workout facilities focus too narrowly on the “fitness culture,” and forget that a fitness space can be fashionable, chic, and sophisticated while still delivering killer workouts. This makes sense because if you look at the fitness industry and how it emerged, it was all about the 80s: think Jane Fonda, leg warmers, and sweat bands. Thankfully, our outfits have changed (I’m grateful I don’t see thong leotards on a daily basis!) but most gyms and fitness studios have lagged behind, and unfortunately are a bit stuck in the 80s when it comes to the design of their space.
What design elements do you think make up the perfect workout space?
A few elements I believe are key to creating a beautiful workout space: good lighting, nice floors, a neutral palette, plenty of ventilation, and some interesting and playful details.
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