An in-home gym is crafted to be the perfect fit for a local family

Although it wasn’t in the plans, a new build with a custom home gym turned out to be everything this active Sun Prairie family needed.
Mel Johnson working out
Photo by Nikki Hansen

Each morning, while their daughters Philly and Ella are still sleeping, Mel and Tim Johnson start the day on their own terms.

In the lower level of their custom home in Sun Prairie, the couple works out in their home gym, streaming a workout routine by Beachbody, the fitness company for which Mel Johnson is a coach. Mel Johnson, who also works in marketing at a software company, often exercises alongside her teammates — virtually — and shares clips on social media afterward to help inspire her online community.

“Instead of the day running me, I run the day when I work out in the morning and follow my routine,” she says.

The workout room, like the rest of the new 4,400-square-foot home constructed by Acker Builders, is tailor-made for an active family that prioritizes fitness and wellness.

And the space is both functional and aspirational. At just over 200 square feet, the home gym is large enough to fit a television and streamlined console, a collection of weights and bands and a large Gorilla mat. A MYX II bike stands in a corner.

The couple chose luxury vinyl planks for the flooring and embellished the largest wall with a geometric-print wallpaper from DesignWell Interiors in Waunakee. On another wall hangs a “Resilient Spirit” sign that Tim Johnson gave his wife for Christmas, as it’s the name of her coaching team.

But perhaps the most important design choice in the room was the decision to drop the floor 2 feet. “We really wanted to have some great height in the gym so our burpees are never hindered,” Mel Johnson explains.

While the convenience of working out at home can’t be beat, the couple says the intention behind exercising there is the same as for hitting any gym.

“The most important thing is mindset,” she says. “It’s nice to have a dedicated space, but I didn’t always have this. For so long, I made so many other spaces work as my workout space: carpeted basement, porch, hotel rooms, driveways, apartment living room.”

Tim and Mell Johnson in their gym

Photo by Nikki Hansen

The home gym also flexes to suit other needs. It becomes a theater for the girls when they bring in their beanbag chairs to watch a favorite movie, or a dodgeball court when a friendly game breaks out. But the parents appreciate that their daughters know this is a space in which to focus on health.

“It’s cool to have the gym here because the girls see us working out,” Tim Johnson says. “It’s a habit thing, it’s a modeling thing. We want them to know it’s OK to take time for themselves.”

Because wellness is such a pillar of the Johnsons’ life, it was one of their priorities as they designed their house, which they moved into last April. That translated into comfortable and functional spaces, including a screened-in porch with double French doors to meld indoor and outdoor living. Thoughtful touches such as a wood hood in the kitchen, beams in the main bedroom and shiplap in Mel Johnson’s home office carry out a “modern farmhouse meets cozy mountain home” vibe.

The home is also special because the family hadn’t actually expected to live in the area.

The Johnsons had built a new home in Waunakee in 2016 with no intention of moving — until Tim Johnson was offered the chance to work in the German office of Merck KGaA, the science and technology company he’s been with for years.

The couple put their house on the market in January 2020, visited Germany in February to find an apartment, came home and sent all their belongings out on a shipping container that left on March 9.

“Then everything shut down,” Mel Johnson says, referring to the pandemic. “We had 10 days’ worth of clothes and nothing else.”

Their plans to fly to Germany on April 2 got postponed to July, and then indefinitely. The family stayed with Tim Johnson’s parents while they waited in limbo, until they ultimately decided not to make the move. And when they discovered a quiet lot in Sun Prairie, they chose to build again.

It was a trying experience, she says, but she and her husband tried to look at it as a fresh start. And, fortunately, they had a strong foundation built on fitness and a mindset to help them get through the challenges.

And she is reminded of that every time she steps into her home gym and sees her “Resilient Spirit” sign. Her team’s motto is “No mud, no lotus,” a nod to how a lotus grows up through the mud to the surface of the water, continuing on even when it can’t see what’s ahead.

“This gym — and our house — is my lotus,” she says.

mel johnson on the bike

Photo by Nikki Hansen

Mel’s Morning Routine:

I usually wake up between 5:15 and 5:30 a.m., depending on my workout. I get dressed and head downstairs. After taking our dog Louie out and feeding him, it’s morning journaling and reflection time. I love “The Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday and The Daily Journal from Spirit Daughter. This morning routine keeps me grounded. By 5:45 a.m., I’m getting my pre-workout drink ready and dancing to a favorite tune. Movement is energy! I usually have a couple of girls on my Beachbody team tagging me in their workout dance parties, too, which is motivating. Then, downstairs to the gym to work out by 6 a.m. After my workout, I grab my recovery drink and share some clips of my workout, in hopes that it will inspire someone to move their body. This also holds me accountable. If I don’t work out, I have people reaching out to me on Instagram asking if I’m OK!

Follow Mel’s fitness journey on Instagram at @meljohnsonsfitlife.

Build it Up

When it comes to building a home gym, Mel Johnson’s advice is to start small.

“You need your determination, you need a plan and you need a couple of weights or bands,” she says. She’s seen plenty of people emphasize equipment more than mindset, only to lose interest after a couple of weeks.

Johnson suggests starting with a high-quality mat and a few 5-, 10- or 15-pound dumbbells. As you get stronger, you can add heavier weights. And as different routines, programs and types of exercise spark your interest, you can invest in new pieces of equipment.

That way, Johnson says, your gym will evolve along with you.

Katie Vaughn is a Madison-based arts, home and travel writer.

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