Thursday, June 13, 2013


The Story:
When I was young I used to hate exercising. Sweating and being out of breath was like torture to me and I avoided it at all cost.  It seemed so unnecessary and pointless. I was very small all through my school years.  When I graduated from high school in 1983, I was 5’2” and weighed a mere 96 pounds. Twenty-five percent of that was probably the weight of my larger than life, 1980’s, waist-long hair.

My eating habits would have definitely made Mrs. Obama cringe. I absolutely never ate breakfast and my lunch each day consisted of a Hostess Apple Pie, French fries, and an orange drink from the school cafeteria. If I had time before heading out the door for rehearsal each evening, I might throw down a peanut butter sandwich, some chips and a Milky Way bar. Of course there was always pizza at 10 pm if I was still hungry. I grew up during a decade when teenagers were expected to eat junk food and healthy eating and exercise was only for Olympic athletes once every four years.

After graduation, my appetite changed and I started eating a wider variety of foods. Still not necessarily healthy foods, but at least I branched out from the daily Hostess Pie and I started to realize that there might be one or two more vegetables out there that weren’t made from potatoes. By the time I got married in 1988, I had gained a much-needed 10 pounds, weighing in at 106. Exercise was still not part of my life in any way but by this time I was working as a registered nurse on my feet all day and lifting patients in and out of bed. I figured that was enough.

However, as I reached the age of 25, I started to notice that my clothes were growing increasingly tight and my old adage of eating whatever I wanted wasn’t really working for me any more. I decided to go to Weight Watchers with my mom and I quickly lost 25 pounds and got back down to my wedding weight. At this point I could easily drop three to five pounds a week with dieting alone, so exercise still seemed unnecessary.

I gave birth to my oldest child Emily, when I was 26 years old and spent the next five years of my life either pregnant with or nursing a baby. I barely had time to sleep much less exercise and my weight was bouncing up and down like a ping-pong ball. Finally when I realized that my baby-making career was over at the age of 31 with the birth of my third and final, I was left with a less than fortunate figure and a metabolism that was floundering. It was at this point I started to consider the idea of exercising.

My husband bought a Nordic Track Ski Machine on the recommendation of a friend and had started to work out several times a week.  He gradually became disinterested and the contraption just sat collecting dust in the middle of the finished basement in our first house.  The old Nordic Track machines were a bit awkward and required you to pull on cords with your hands while your feet slid back and forth in a skiing motion. Although I almost strangled myself in attempting to master the mechanics, the desire to get my “post-three-babies-body” into shape inspired me to persist. Surprisingly, once I got the faux cross-country skiing down, I didn’t actually hate it. The exercise provided much needed stress relief for a mom of three small children and I started to see results in my weight loss as well.

The problem with the exercise machine was that we really didn’t have a space to store it that was out of the way. The basement was the main play area for the children and I was constantly worrying about them hanging themselves in the cords. When the new HealthPlex opened up close to our neighborhood, we decided to sell the machine at a garage sale and join the health club instead.

The health club was a wonderful place to go and workout. It was filled with two stories of elliptical machines
, free and Nautilus style weights, and exercise classes galore. There was even a day care center for small children to play while mom worked out. There was a pool, a running track, and access to personal trainers. It was awesome. Awesome that is…when I went. It wasn’t that far away but if the weather was bad, the car needed defrosting, or the kids were sick I found myself skipping workout days. Worst of all I would see so many people I knew there. My workouts were always interrupted by conversations with friends and acquaintances and I always felt like I had to look my best. So if I was having an extremely bad hair day or my non-shabby work out clothes were in the washing machine, I would often opt to stay home. By the end of a year of membership, I realized that I was just not getting my money’s worth. The fact was, when I was working out at home I could get up, throw on some sweats, and have my workout completed in far less time than it took to get ready, drive to the health club, chat with friends, and finally get in my exercise routine.

Therefore, when we built our second home we included in the plans for the finished basement a separate workout room. The room was generous in size with laminate wood-style floors and a full, mirrored wall. By this time our daughters were taking numerous dance classes and I had returned to performing as a professional singer and actress.  The room would also serve as a practice area for the girl's dancing and a space for my vocal and acting rehearsal. I finally had a designated room for an elliptical machine, free weights, and exercise mats. We installed a TV in the corner of the room to help pass the time while on the tread machine and a VCR to play my Pilates instruction videos. My husband wired speakers for sound and hooked up his jukebox in the room. When my children reached high school age and would host parties, we would push the larger equipment into storage and the space accommodated a dance party for 20-30 friends. Over the next 8 years, exercise became a regular part of my daily and weekly routine and I got into the best shape of my life. Our home workout room was one of the most used, multipurpose spaces in the house.

Two years ago, when my family relocated to Pittsburgh, I had hoped to find a house that would have a workout space in the basement just like our Fairfield, Ohio home. Home exercise had become a big part of my life. However, the hilly terrain in Pittsburgh made it difficult to find a home that had a useable basement at all, much less one with a space large enough to accommodate all of our existing equipment. An overwhelming percentage of homes in Western Pennsylvania have the garage in the basement leaving only small areas to finish as living space. We were fortunate after an extensive search to finally find a home with a nice sized finished basement and potential unfinished space that held possibilities for a future workout room.

Our relocation involved a year of me commuting from a rental home in Cincinnati in order to allow our second daughter, Dorsey, to graduate from high school. Every other weekend I was making the 4-hour trip from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh. Without access to my equipment, I tried to keep fit by walking the neighborhoods in both cities but that fell by the wayside when the weather turned inclement. All the commuting as well as travel for my work was taking a toll on my eating habits. Although I tried to count Weight Watcher Points, my 45-year-old metabolism was finding it hard to gain momentum without the exercise. I found myself slowly losing the “Battle of the Bulge”. When I finally moved full time to Pittsburgh in June of 2012, we had so many other home projects that needed our attention that creating an exercise space was a low priority and our health was paying the price.

I reached critical mass (literally and “figure”-a-tively) this last Christmas. After the holidays, I got on the scale and much to my horror I was over 25 pounds greater than my weight two years before. Over the last year we had repainted and decorated every room in the house, renovated our closets, renovated our master bathroom, and renovated the finished area of the basement. We had done it all on a strict budget but by this time we had exhausted virtually every dollar. Mentally and physically I needed to make a change in my health habits and was desperate to find a way to create an area where I could re-establish my exercise routine and utilize all the equipment we had stacked in storage. This would be a true test of our DIY abilities. This wasn’t just renovating an existing room but creating a space from nothing by building and moving walls, installing a ceiling, installing lighting, and installing a floor. In our former life my husband and I had taken on small do-it-yourself projects but for the most part we hired contractors for the complicated stuff. Although we had tackled renovating the closets in the last year and came through with flying colors, creating the workout room from scratch would be the true test for us. So it came to be, that on January 1, 2013, I took my usual New Year’s resolution to lose weight and kicked it up to the next level.

Design Topic of the Week:


As I have stated before, we were very fortunate to find a home in hilly Pittsburgh that had a full basement with an adequate storage area with space to build a workout room. Our unfinished area also had an odd little closet space that was walled off with paneling and was accessed through a framed doorway. Basically this closet was the size and shape of our bay window eating area in the kitchen above. When we moved in we were a bit puzzled as to what purpose this strange space was used for. It had no direct access from the finished part of the basement and its cinder-block walls were painted a bright yellow. The cement floor in the partitioned area was painted decoratively to resemble terra cotta tile. My husband speculated that the previous owner had used it as a wine cellar, while I was suspicious that perhaps it had once been a play house for grandchildren. My own teenage children, on the other hand, had more ominous thoughts. All three of them joked that it must have been some sort of lock-up chamber for abducted children. Although none of us could determine the original use for the room, we all agreed that it was of no use to us. It was too small to actually use for anything more than a closet.

However, I could see that the paneled wall adjacent to the door that accessed the finished area, was actually bisecting a very nice sized usable space. If the wall could be moved to the other side of the access door it could create a really nice sized room with an interesting angle bay feature. Since there was an additional access door on the other side of the basement, moving the wall would not impede access to the furnace, water heater, and storage area. Renovation of the space would require a number a building skills and our confidence was low. I had worked in theatrical design for a number of years and had helped build my fair share of stage sets but those structures had definitely been of the temporary nature and only had to look good from the front.

My husband and I crunched the numbers to see what kind of budget would be available for the project. We had spent money on other projects in the house and we now had two girls in college. There really wasn't any more money available. If this was going to happen we would need to do it ourselves and we would need to recycle existing materials to help keep the costs down.

The first step, as always, was to create a master plan:

  1. The wall would need to be moved 10 feet to the other side of the door, hopefully in one or two pieces if possible. The wall fortunately was not anchored to the floor. It would need to be stabilized by screwing two by fours horizontally across the studs in several places, pried from the rafter above, moved into it's new position, squared, and anchored in place.
  2. We determined that we would not frame and drywall the entire room. The cinder-block walls would be sealed and painted a light neutral color. The stained bead-board paneling would be carefully removed and recycled to cover the studded walls and painted in the same light color as the cinder-block.
  3. Because of time, access to utilities in the basement ceiling, and our novice skill set, we would purchase additional bead-board and trim to create the ceiling and we would forego drywalling the ceiling. In addition I had researched on bead-board ceilings and decided I actually liked the look. I felt it would add needed interest and detail to a room that would have no windows.
  4. We would purchase a wood-look laminate, snap and lock, floating floor from Costco at a great discount and install it ourselves after looking at online video tutorials. The foam under-laminate along with the moisture barrier actually has a bit of a spring making the floor a good surface for exercise. The floor is also not easily scratched which is great for my tap dancing, musical theater major, daughter who uses the space for rehearsal from time to time.
  5. We would purchase a wall mount for an old TV/DVD combo that we had in storage
  6. To unify the the paneling and the cinder-block, as well as to cover any gaps, we would purchase and install baseboards and crown moldings and paint them out to match the walls.
  7. Two simple but stylish flush mount lighting fixtures would be purchased from Home Depot.
  8. Because we felt electrical safety was a must and electrical work was beyond our comfort level, we would hire an electrician to install the lights, move the electrical outlets, and install additional plugs for the TV.
The most difficult thing when doing a major DIY project like this is determining the best order in which to proceed. What do you do first, last, and in-between, so you get it all done and don't have to undo anything. After one.... or maybe twelve vigorous conversations, we decided to proceed in the following order:
  1. Strip the paneling
  2. Move the wall
  3. Replace paneling on exposed studs
  4. Install the ceiling (remember to accurately measure, mark and cut holes for light fixtures)
  5. Seal and paint all walls and ceiling 
  6. Install floor (done after painting to avoid excessive drips on floor)
  7. Call in electrician to install lights and outlets
  8. Pre-paint moldings (easier done on the ground)
  9. Install trim moldings (done after ceilings, walls, floors and paint to cover all gaps)
  10. Caulk around all edges of trim to seal gaps and then add final touch up paint
  11. Install equipment, furniture, and accessories
It took us about 6 weekends to complete the construction of the room and we were very pleased with the results. My husband paid  a great deal of attention to the moldings and trims in the room. When finishing a basement space there are many irregularities that need to be dealt with and moldings go a long way in covering a multitude of sins. It was very time consuming but very worth it as far acheiving a professional and finished look.

One area of particular concern was the place where the steel support beam intersected the cinder-block foundation. A clever puzzle of wood pieces and crown moldings were intricately scribed and interlocked  to conceal the issues. Painting the moldings the same color as the wall and ceilings helps to unify and meld the multitude of woodwork and makes the imperfections appear more architectural.

The tall base boards serve a dual purpose of covering the expansion space at the edge of the floating floor and marrying the cinder-block walls with the bead-board paneling.

Once construction was complete we again had a warm bright space in which to exercise. It was much more pleasant than the odd, dark and dungeon-like area that we had before we started our many weekends of work. The bright wall color brought needed light into the windowless room. However, although the space was functional it was not yet Designerelish....

I don't need to remind you that there was next to no budget for this project because I have already mentioned that at least four times. So to get the Designerelish flair I was going to need to come up with a couple of low budget DIY projects and hit my favorite discount stores. Luckily converting a portion of our storage area into an exercise room forced us to go through some of the old pieces of furniture that we had stored there. As we were reorganizing, I happened upon this old painted corner cabinet that formerly lived in my daughter's old bedroom. It had started out as "shabby chic" but had crossed over the line to "just plain shabby" a few years ago. I had kept it because of its nice bones and like many other rainy-day-rehab-projects it got buried among the other forgotten treasures during one of our many moves. I wanted a shelving unit to house workout towels, bottled water, and exercise DVDs and this little piece fit perfectly into the corner of the room plus it was the right price. 

The first thing I did was to use paintable caulk to seal all of the gaps between pieces of joined wood. Many times people tell me that when they try to paint old furniture that it never looks professional and they are dissatisfied with the result. Caulking is the key to giving painted furniture that factory finished look.

I decided to paint the white cabinet in the same off-white color as the walls and moldings in the room to give it a built-in, architectural look. That would have been a brilliant idea only we didn't have anymore of that paint left. Fortunately, I am one of those people who never throws out those little pint size paint testers that you get from Sherwin Williams. I often buy several shades to try out before I make the final choice and I always keep them even though I am never quite sure exactly what I can use them for. I just so happened to have the the tester of the Navajo White (Sherwin Williams #6126) that I had used in the room.

It wasn't quite enough paint to do the entire cabinet. So necessity being the mother of invention, I found another tester in a golden tan hue and painted the inside backs of the shelves in the mildly contrasting color. The soft gold color worked well with the creamy colored paint and added nice detail to the piece.

The result was awesomely useful and cost nothing but a little bit of effort!

The exercise room in my Cincinnati home had a wall of mirrors just like a professional exercise studio and I yearned to be able to replicate that in this new DIY space. However, when I priced out the custom mirrors for the wall the price ranged from $2500 to $3000 which was completely out of the question since that was almost three times the budget for the whole room. All I can say is that when I really, really want something I get very determined and my brain goes into over time. As I was "Puzzling with my puzzler,"(to quote Dr. Suess) I saw the two discarded mirrored doors from my closet rehab project leaning against the basement storage wall and I got my measuring tape out! I realized that four of these doors would be just the right size to mirror the wall and if I pried off the metal framing they would look almost identical to the custom plate glass. Unfortunatley, I was not able to find another set of doors that were the exact size of the two I already owned but a little online research and I was able to find two new sets at home depot for only $117 each. I purchased the mirrors, a tube of mirror adhesive, and some j-chanel tracks. 
                          TRUporte 230 Series 72 in. x 80 in. Steel White Mirror Sliding...

My husband and I carefully removed the white aluminum framing from the panels and attached them to the wall using the mirror adhesive and the j-chanel mounting brackets. So for under $300, I had my $3000 mirror wall. 

To add just a touch of personalization and interest to a primarily utilitarian room, I chose to keep it simple with a single large scale framed photographic print. The Vilschult London Bus picture from Ikea makes a big impact for only $49.

This project was definitely great exercise for our DIY and interior design skills and the results will have a profound impact on our health for years to come. Since we finished the workout room my husband and I have been gradually working back into our old home exercise routine and I have made some headway by shedding 10lbs. I still have a way to go but I no longer can use the weather as an excuse not to exercise and I'm living my New Year's resolution all year long!

Thanks for stopping by! 

Dont forget to check out my Designerelish Crock Pot and Designerelish Pantry pages for more great design ideas to use in your own home.

For those who would like to create their own home workout room and prefer to shop for equipment and accessories from the couch, you can click on the pictures below for links. Enjoy!

Monday, June 10, 2013


Please don't think I have deserted you! This last month has been very busy for me. During the merry month of May, I traveled to Petaluma, California and Chicago, Illinois for my work in corporate event production. There was also an unexpected trip for several days to my hometown of Cincinnati for a family funeral. In addition to traveling I have been working on a costume design project for a client and produced and directed a the Talent Showcase at my son's high school. To add insult to injury, it finally quit snowing in Pittsburgh (that doesn't happen very often) and the last few weekends have been spent working in the yard planting, pruning, and mulching. So as you can see, my design sensibilities have been pulled in so many directions that I am beginning to feel like a "Stretch Armstrong" doll. 

However, do not fear, my next home improvement installment is just around the corner! I am almost finished with the photography and writing for my next post that features the new DIY workout room that my husband and I have been laboring on since January. So stay tuned and I will have something for you by the end of the week! Until then, thought you might enjoy a peek at some of the fruits of my hectic month.

Cool Design in a Chicago Hotel Room:

Even when I am traveling for work, I can't help but notice great design ideas found in my temporary living spaces. My five day stay at the Wit Hotel on North State Street in Chicago did not disappoint!

First of all, I had a fantastic view of the city and "L" Train from my 12th floor window

One cool design element was this yellow film applied to one angled pane of the window. It created a very cool light effect stripe in the room when the sun shown through.

The rooms designer chose a very interesting and and sophisticate color palette of deep purple-brown and neutral grey with pops of teal, maroon, and orange. The wall behind the bed was a cork-like texture and the artwork over the head board was an fascinating combination of textures and textiles.

The art piece appeared to  be a hard board upholstered in a textural neutral fabric. The red "links" were comprised of a red wool fabric that had been sewn into a tube and then cut into two inch pieces. The pieces were glued or sewn to the board standing on end with a pin-tuck in the center of each to create the perky shape. The bed's head board was upholstered neatly in a mocha faux leather.

I always love the upscale look of crisp white hotel linens! Funny how welcoming and relaxing it is to come back to this temporary home after a complicated production schedule and long day of work!

The neutral and somewhat masculine design is given a touch of sparkle and feminine with the bright and comfortable orange chaise and the the crystal drop floor lamp.

The exciting city view was even better at night when glittered with lights!

Everyone has a special talent so why not show it off?

Sometimes my design skills are put to work on the stage as a director. It was my privilege to work with an awesome team of adults and students at Bishop Canevin High School to produce the first ever Talent Showcase!

Whether it was my son Cory Ziller singing to girls sweet and cute.....

Or hearing the sweet pure sounds of a soloist playing the flute.....

A song sung to the fun rhythm of a Solo cup.......

Or the whole crew busting out a show tune, What's up???.....

 The thrill of a dancer in flight....

Or a martial artist marveling us with the fight...

Every twirl.....

Every swirl.....

Every Boy and Girl.......

Did their best and made me proud!

The Longest Yard:

What started out bleak and bland....

With three weekends, 12 yards of mulch, about 50 plants and shrubs, an electric hedge trimmer, and a bottle of Ibuprofen later....... is now grand!

The pictures tell their own story!

Question: What are we doing next weekend?

Answer: The backyard!

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