Just as every fine artist has a unique signature that identifies their work, the talented people behind some of the world’s most inspiring spa structures and interiors exercise their one-of-a-kind approaches to this creative profession. A visit to some of today’s leading resort, destination and day spas demonstrates that the cookie-cutter, marble-laden pleasure palaces of the past are all but obsolete, as varying themes connected to mind-body health, cultural and environmental consciousness, and a more socially oriented public take center stage. Read on to learn how these sweeping themes contribute to the trends shaping spa design as we move into 2018.Continous Wellness
Increasingly, spa treatments are regarded as merely a fraction of the overall wellness experience; nowhere is that more evident than in ingeniously built, health-oriented resorts. “We as a culture are starting to pay attention to factors that impact our quality of life. We are awakening to the reality that the less adulterated something is—meaning, the closer it is to its natural state—the more beautiful and healing it becomes,” explains Veronica Schreibeis Smith, CEO and founding principal of Vera Iconica Architecture in Jackson, Wyoming. “This includes our built environment, and destination spas and resorts are beginning to catch on.”
Consider Hodges Bay Resort & Spa, a facility to be opened in mid-2018 and located on the Caribbean island of Antigua. “Here, the spa is not only a place to go for a massage, facial or mani/pedi, it also spills over into guests’ daily activities,” explains Kobi Karp, founder and principal in charge of Miami-based Kobi Karp Architecture and Interior Design, which is working on the project. From a design standpoint, that means thoughtfully building the opportunities to practice wellness throughout the facility. “Areas specifically designed for pre- and post-meal stretching or yoga are right next to the oceanside dining area; in another spot, suspended hammocks welcome guests to relax and experience sound therapy,” Karp says. “We give hints and signs everywhere.”
In addition, spa technology has come a long way, and designers are taking full advantage of the opportunity to harness innovation and inject healing experiences into every aspect of a guest’s spa journey. From sound therapy chairs to sleep pods, there are a multitude of ways to outfit a space for optimal wellness. Even lighting can play a role, notes Alexis Ufland, owner of New York City-based Lexi Design. “Most of our clients are now looking to create spas devoted not only to face and body but also minds and emotions,” she says. “Most recently we’ve been incorporating the treatment of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) with lighting known to help boost happiness and vitality, calm anxiety and increase mental clarity. This can be accomplished with new types of bulbs that emit enhanced spectrum light.”Falling Into Place
Now more than ever, a facility must reflect not only societal trends, but its actual place in the world, i.e., its location. And when it comes to a wellness destination, that starts with the building itself, says Smith. “Architecture built of local, natural materials mixed with the architect’s ingenuity and respect for the surrounding culture and traditions has the power to heal us, as well as envelop us in new and delightful experiences,” she explains. “The buildings seem to grow out of the landscape and become an inherent part of what allows us to enjoy the natural environment. The experience is complete when combined with local healing traditions, foods and practices that immerse us and ground us in the present moment.”
This is especially true when a design firm ventures into different parts of the world, which Karp’s company often does. “There is always an echoing of the natural surroundings inside our structures and layouts,” Karp stresses. “For Indura Beach & Golf Resort in Honduras, for instance, we decided to use purely local materials, including hard woods because the property is surrounded by thick forests; the trees fall, so there’s plenty of material. And the hard wood in the tropics are so hard that the termites can’t eat them. We can’t even put a nail into that wood—it has to be finger-jointed together! But if we brought Douglas fir or birch from Wisconsin, the termites would eat it because it’s full of sugar. We also use bamboo for the floors and even coconut on the walls: We take coconut wood husks and palm fronds, and glue them together to create a basket. From there, we smooth them out to use them as wall coverings.”
But what about the average American day spa? When its immediate surroundings are sidewalks and businesses, can “a sense of place” still come into play? In a way, yes, explains Ufland. Today’s high-profile spa interiors reflect a balance of Mother Nature and man-made civilization that’s evidenced in subtle ways. “Right now, we can’t get enough of mixing metals (brass, gold, silver, rose gold—you name it!); incorporating this year’s Pantone color, Greenery, into shelving, light fixtures, artwork and equipment; and filling up spaces with plants,” she says. “This makes these spaces feel high-tech and modern, but still soft.” Such a seamless tie-in reflects both the nature-based legacy of spa and a practical understanding of what it means to run a business today.Going Public
As long as people crave escape, there will be hidden retreats to provide them with long-term R and R. But tighter budgets and extended working hours often preclude extended getaways, and most spa owners don’t have the luxury of remaining a “well-kept secret.” Fortunately, in the case of day spas, seclusion is no longer a high priority for many consumers. Thus, more consultants are directing spa owners to go where the people are. “In the past, our spa clients would look for locations slightly off
the beaten path, but now we advise them to place their businesses in prominent shopping areas so that their spa rooms and retail boutiques can capitalize on walk-by traffic,” Ufland reports.
Indeed, the notion of the day spa as a quiet and private respite is ￼￼￼￼￼gradually fading away as a new generation of community-minded, social media-driven spa clients comes to the fore. “The term ‘spa’ once conjured up approaches to relaxation and wellness that demanded people shut out the world and ‘look inside’ to find balance,” Ufland observes, “but
this generation seems to have a different take. They’re highly stressed but also politically charged and permanently connected. So, the old idea of spa feels isolated and limited. Rather than escape, these clients seek empowerment: a way to embrace and enjoy their lives more, to perform at a higher level, and to exercise both mind and body. We are seeing that, rather than solitude, clients are looking to engage and share experiences.”
In response, designers are creating ways to encourage more interaction and communion at the local spa. “Our spa startups are taking a modern, fresh and relevant approach to the client experience by offering fast, less invasive services in bar-like setting,” shares Ufland. Makeup applications, personalized aromatherapy and even facials can lend
themselves to this context, replacing the “formal venues of yesteryear with an approachable, social, fun and time-efficient atmosphere,” she adds.
Even mind-body work has become more social. Any facility without a couples’ treatment room is missing the boat, and designers urge spas to offer group spaces other than a lounge or quiet room. “We are building more spa party rooms and communal spaces where clients can congregate before and after treatments,” Ufland shares. “People are looking to engage and be social at spas. So I’m creating more and more spaces that merge their lounge, retail and juice areas; entwining these multi-use spaces creates an environment that feels social but still makes money. In addition, I’ve been designing treatment areas where multiple services are performed next to each other.”
As a spa owner, comprehending the world in which you do business is always going to be a key component of your success. However, as important as it is to honor trends, it is even more crucial to make your own imprint. “I’ve found that ongoing trends still have to be refined if you want people to remember their experiences,” concludes Karp. “Going to a spa and having a treatment has become commonplace. So unless you find a vehicle to make it unique, you’re not going to stand apart.”
–by Linda Kossoff