Ever since Hilleary Steckler was little, she was fascinated with architectural drawings and details—and loved color.
“Both my grandfather and my uncle are architects, and I’m married to an architect. I’m not sure if that’s coincidence, or just me trying to surround myself with people doing what I enjoy,” she says with a laugh.
Born and raised in Virginia, Steckler went to Virginia Tech and graduated with a degree in interior design. After graduating, she landed a job at DBI Architects in Washington, DC, and spent 17 years with the firm.
“I worked my way from a sort-of internship to a senior project manager, and I loved every step of the way,” Steckler recounts. “I give them credit for teaching me the basic design skills of construction drawings, technical skills, working with billing and contracting, and building good client relationships.”
Some of the notable projects Steckler worked on with DBI Architects include two spaces for Google—one in Washington, DC, for its legal department, and another in Reston, Virginia. She worked on the Lockheed Martin Center for Innovation in Hampton, Virginia, which was the shape of a hexagon and had a lighthouse in the middle. Steckler was also involved in designing the detailing for the auditorium and courtrooms at the Constitution Center in DC.
“Those were really fun, and I had the opportunity to do the things I loved, working with design and color,” she shares.
In 2010, Steckler moved to Colorado when her husband got a job opportunity near Denver. She continued to work for DBI before deciding she wanted to find something new. It wasn’t long before she was offered the job as store designer for Sports Authority, which she did for a little more than three years.
“We worked on stores nationally for ground-up buildings, we did remodels, and we created a small format design,” she recalls. “I credit this experience with learning about prototyping and duplicating, plus working on a national scale with architects and contractors.”
While Steckler was doing that, she was also able to get her LEED Green Associate and LEED AP Interior Design and Construction credentials, which added another layer to her impressive skills.
After Sports Authority, Steckler began seeking new opportunities again, this time finding one at the Westin Denver International Airport Hotel, managing the fixtures, finishes, and equipment.
“It was my responsibility to manage and coordinate all of the furniture, art, light fixtures, etc., in 519 rooms including 42 luxury suites and flexible meeting and conference spaces,” she explains. “That was one of the hardest projects I’ve worked on. There was no change in deadlines, and we had 15 weeks to get everything done and ensure the hotel was guest ready.”
When that contract was over, Steckler spent nearly two years at Great-West Financial, in addition to consulting for Tradavo.
In July 2017, she became director of facility design at VASA Fitness, charged with revamping the overall look of its gyms as the company began to expand. She leveraged all her previous experiences to help her make a design difference.
There was no prototype, so Steckler started from scratch. At the time, there were 20 existing gyms in Utah, and VASA had just expanded into Colorado. She was tasked with creating the design going forward. In 2018, company CEO Rich Nelsen gave Steckler a directive to design and build 30 gyms in 30 months.
“We knew we needed to expand to other states, so we jumped to Kansas, Oklahoma, Arizona and Indiana,” she says. “In 2019, we hired a new chief brand and marketing officer, Mindi Bridges, and that helped the design and brand come together. From there, we refined the prototype, looking at new concepts to make things better.”
COVID-19 forced the company to pivot, with Steckler focusing more on remodels and value engineering during that time. In 2021, things started to pick up again, with three gyms opening and plans set in motion to open additional gyms in the immediate future.
One new concept that developed was STUDIO FLOW, a unique far infrared yoga experience that piloted in VASA’s Westminster, Colorado, location in September 2021. The mind/body concept provides boutique-style yoga classes with ipanels above every participant’s mat to promote healing, with the design centered around these panels and the red glow. STUDIO FLOW will be implemented in several existing gyms in the year ahead.
“Also in 2022, we’re gearing up to open 7 to 10 gyms, and we’re venturing into Illinois and Wisconsin,” Steckler notes. “We think our brand values will resonate well with people. At VASA, amenities include a pool, basketball, boutique-style HIIT and cycle classes, group fitness, community work and gathering spaces, an expansive cardio deck, functional turf, hydro massage lounge, KidCare, and more. We call it a ‘mall of fitness.’ Each room has its own specific signage, colors, and equipment.”
In the year ahead, she’s hoping to grow her team and find new ways to enhance existing spaces, as well as finetune the STUDIO FLOW concept as it gets implemented in more gyms. “I’m always looking for ways to improve current designs and how to update and make a prototype better,” she explains.
Steckler has always found inspiration from images and normal day-to-day travels, constantly examining the colors and designs at each place she visits for ideas. “Anything that’s new, anything that’s up-and-coming excites me. I tuck all these ideas and images away and save them for later,” she shares. “I look at what other people are doing and ways I can do it better.”