An East Village fitness studio opens for renewed bodies and minds
Rowena Villanueva found the perfect East Village location and suddenly her dream of owning her own Pilates studio gained momentum. With the help of her friend and interior architect, Sarah Engelke, they pulled together the brand from floor plans to logos and color palettes. Next, they posted their project to Sweeten, a free service that would match them to the right contractor, setting the remodel into motion. In a quick turnaround, the space transformed with newly-laid heated floors, white painted brick, and a custom-built window seat. Everything has its place with weights, yoga mats, and reformers ready to realign New Yorkers one by one.
PROJECT: A first-time studio owner opens her inaugural practice downtown
LOCATION: 441 East 12th Street, Manhattan, New York
INTERVIEW WITH: The Pilates Nook owner, Rowena Villanueva; Sarah Engelke owner of Faster Horse Designs
Rowena: The Pilates Nook is a neighborhood Pilates studio that specializes in private sessions and semi-private group sessions. We teach mindful movement and bring an individualized approach to every client.
Sweeten: Where did the idea for the business come from?
Sarah: I’ve known Rowena for a few years now and it’s something she had always been dreaming about.
Rowena: I’ve been teaching Pilates for quite some time and having a small place of my own was always the end goal for me. Once I saw this space, it was too perfect to not make it happen.
Sweeten: Can you describe the space before the remodel?
Rowena: It was cute with a lot of potential but felt much smaller than it does now. It had this amazing old tile, which sadly we couldn’t keep, a ton of natural light, amazing ceilings, and old brick walls.
We were starting with a blank canvas, literally—no logo, no brand, just an idea.
Sarah: The turnaround for this project was quick (less than three months from inception to completion) and I owe a lot of that to Rowena and our Sweeten contractor. We were starting with a blank canvas, literally—no logo, no brand, just an idea.
Rowena let me take creative control and come up with everything: a fresh color palette, logo ideas, custom millwork, and an interior layout. She would immediately let me know what she liked and didn’t like, which in my opinion, is what makes a dream client. With Sweeten, I was able to put the project up to bid and received quick and professional estimates within days.
Rowena: It was a total whirlwind. Sarah and I sat down for coffee after seeing this space together, she gathered up some inspiration pictures, and I loved them! She was fast and efficient in pulling together plans with full renderings and logo designs and our Sweeten contractor quickly got the biggest jobs done first. The next thing I knew, we were getting equipment delivered in time to get clients in here.
Sarah: A major part of the project was redoing the floors. There was a large section of the existing concrete floor that was almost two inches higher than the rest of the floor. It was very important that the end result was level. I decided on day one of demolition that instead of chipping out the existing concrete block, we would pour the floors in sections in order to have the rest of the floor meet up and be level with that two-inch block. This required feathering out the surface at the door to meet with the existing saddle at the entrance door.
Once we had a level “base,” electrical heated floor mats were installed (so it’s warm when you take your shoes off) and then add one more pour on top of that, followed by epoxy-based paint.
(Above) Paint in Super White and Calm by Benjamin Moore
Sweeten: How does your new studio design represent your brand?
Rowena: My studio is cozy, clean, and zen. It’s a space that allows the clients to walk in, get rid of their everyday stresses, be mindful of how their bodies feel, and move well. Sarah designed the space perfectly to allow just that.
Sweeten: How was your vision executed by working with your Sweeten general contractor?
Sarah: Our contractors executed the project perfectly off the plans given to them. They were on top of the scope of the work, they communicated their schedule effectively, and were responsive to the punch list.
With small spaces, it’s important to make sure everything has a home. I was able to accomplish that for many of Rowena’s Pilates tools by designing and having our Sweeten contractor build a custom window seat. On top is a sitting area for Rowena to do administrative work and for her dog, Walter, to sit and look out the window. Below are individual nooks for all her weights, cork blocks, and yoga mats.
We had a few outlets installed and the lights put on a dimmer as well as electrical mats installed under the floors. The old flooring was pulled up as it wasn’t level and it is very important for Rowena’s practice that everything is aligned.
Rowena: They were clean and meticulous with their work. They made sure every detail was executed well and in a timely manner considering our turnaround time was so quick. And if they missed anything, they fixed it immediately.
Part of what makes this studio so special is all the little details. By painting the brick and concrete floors white, we were able to leave that East Village character but open up the space more and provide a canvas for the small decor to pop.
Sarah: I would love to see how Sweeten grows with working with small design firms like my own. The process was pretty seamless with finding a contractor. It would be great to get in front of clients who are also looking for an interior architect like me for their design portion.
Rowena: To have articles just like this that showcase local businesses and what they’re about.
(Above) Upholstered cushions by Beatrice Upholstery.
Sweeten: What’s next for the brand?
Sarah: More fun commercial and hospitality projects like The Pilates Nook.
Rowena: Maybe eventually a second studio? Who knows!
Check out The Pilates Nook for a session to discover your balance—in mind and body.
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