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  • SPOTLIGHT ON: The challenges of creating the modern spa

    730 565 Hamish Kilburn
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    SPOTLIGHT ON: The challenges of creating the modern spa

    Spas are often considered an essential part of a hotel offering. To kickstart Hotel Designs putting ‘spas’ under the editorial spotlight this month, Beverley Bayes, Creative Director at Sparcstudio explains how to create a modern spa in 2020 and how to avoid the common pitfalls of design and build…

    Spas are synonymous with luxury and over the past decade have become an essential ingredient for many investors who are planning major hotel developments and refurbishments.

    As we enter a period that looks beyond the post-COVID-19 lockdown, the desire for spas to provide space and light with the ability to relax in nature will become even more important factors within the remit of spa design.

    In our drive to create spas that are authentic, unique and inspiring with a real ‘sense of place’ there are a number of key considerations.  Firstly, the move away from standardisation of the spa experience reflects the path that hotel brands are increasingly taking which is driven by guests desire for authenticity (which also accounts for the rise in popularity of AirBnB).

    Authenticity and uniqueness are established at the early concept stage in terms of developing the experience and the guest environment. There maybe elements about the site or historical factors that inform the concept, for example the botanic references throughout The Spa at South Lodge were inspired by botanical history dating back to the 1800’s. Frederick DuCane Godman, a British naturalist and plant collector built the original house and surrounding gardens with over 360 species of trees and plants sourced from the Azores, Caribbean and Central & South America. This helped to layer the build with authenticity and great storytelling.

    Image caption: The Spa at South Lodge, designed by Sparcstudio

    Image caption: The Spa at South Lodge, designed by Sparcstudio

    The selection of materials and finishes that are relevant to the location and the creation of bespoke designed elements, such as furniture and lighting also adds to the feeling of authenticity. The curated spa can also act as a great gallery environment – involving the commissioning of local artists and Artisans add to the uniqueness of the spa and its sense of place.

    Location, location, location

    The positioning of the spa itself is key if you want to take full advantage of the vistas, natural light and links to outside spa space, gardens or a even a roof terrace. Thankfully spas have largely emerged from being consigned to the hotel basement, reflecting their increasing importance as part of a hotel’s overall wellness offer and the rise in global spa tourism where spas are destinations in their own right. The Aqua Sana Forest spa concept that we helped develop transformed the Aqua Sana space – planning model from inward facing experiences, to experiences that reached out into the forest with the inclusion of in-out pools and panoramic saunas surrounded by trees. At the Sherwood Forest site, we created the first sauna on stilts which takes ‘forest bathing’ to a new level.

    Image caption: The outdoor pool at Aqua Sana Longford Forest

    Image caption: The outdoor pool at Aqua Sana Longford Forest

    Well considered space planning

    This is the ‘bedrock’ of a successful modern spa, which I liken to a giant multi-layered jigsaw puzzle, where in order to create a unique and beautiful customer focussed journey and experience, a comprehensive understanding of the operational and technical issues is required.  The siting and sizing of staff/back of house spaces as well as air handling, pool and thermal suite plant is as important to the location and flow of guest spaces and experiences and is essential in the delivery  of a smooth running seamless and profitable operation.

    We always look to create an intuitive guest journey obviating the necessity for lots of signage. We also strive to minimise corridors and build in glazed vistas into experiences to help orientate and build sense of anticipation. Special attention needs to be paid to the creation of  ‘signature spaces’ AKA ‘the money shot’. This could be the main pool area or perhaps a feature cabin and is the ‘go to’ shot for spa press, travel writers and beauty editors.

    How have spas changed recently

    We are witnessing a shift within luxury spa design away from formal, minimalist spas, towards spas that have ‘heart and soul’ that are about comfort, relaxation and reconnecting with nature, and are designed to appeal to the senses; aroma, fire, water, light and planting which are all key elements to incorporate. These trends draw on the concept of ‘barefoot luxury’ and are all delivered in a way that is inspiring, yet practical in a European setting by bringing the outside – in.

    Image caption: Dormy House Veuve Clicquot Nail bar, designed by Sparcstudio

    Image caption: Dormy House Veuve Clicquot Nail bar, designed by Sparcstudio

    The concept of luxurious materials has changed away from plush and bling. Use of natural, raw materials will become more commonplace as spas aim to recreate the kind of ‘barefoot luxury’ that guests experience on luxury, island resorts. The design style will reflect this ethos with the use of marbles such as ‘Forest Green’ in a honed finish (rather than the highly polished black and white marble) recycled end grain timber panelling and green slate and Terracotta tiles in interesting formats. New luxury is about nurture and care, handmade and bespoke design.

    New additions, design developments, and how this caters to new customer demand.

    Spas have changed massively  A contemporary spa design is far less regimented and is freeform, natural and personalised. Thankfully we are moving away from deep relax rooms that have rows of beds (referred to as ‘chapels of rest’ by some therapists!) to a greater choice of relax zones and experiences scattered throughout the spa.

    Image caption: The Whisper Room inside Cottonmill Spa at Sopwell House, designed by Sparcstudio

    Embracing far greater usage of external garden spaces and natural chemical-free experiences is also key. This could be as simple as relaxing in a herb garden or by a wood burning fire, stargazing from a hot pool as can be seen at the most recent spa development to open in the UK at Carden Park.

    Thermal suites and pools are evolving to offer bespoke experiences, rather than standardised designs formed from modular components. There is a move away from thermal suites that are a series of doors leading to enclosed heat cabins, into thermal suites that are light filled glazed spaces, as can be witnessed by the rise of the ‘panoramic saunas’ – such the organic bespoke sauna we designed at ‘South Lodge’. It’s curving forms were inspired by the rolling hills of the Sussex South Downs, over which it looks.

    “We also look to connect wherever possible to the surrounding landscape and outside bathing continues to rise in popularity” – Beverley Bayes, Creative Director, Sparcstudio.

    Water, water, everywhere

    Water will of course continue to play a key role in spa, with its subliminal calming influence.

    In a spa the body is fully immersed in water – we spend a lot of time considering this cleansing and the healing processes involved. We also look to connect wherever possible to the surrounding landscape and outside bathing continues to rise in popularity, whether in be in large bespoke hydropool, an in-out swim pool or individual Japanese style hot tubs.

    Image caption: Entrance to the in-out pool and lounge area at Cottonmill Spa at Sopwell House, designed by Sparcstudio

    ‘Natural’ swimming pools also offer a sense of freedom and escapism whilst tapping into the popularity of ‘wild swimming’. These fresh water, naturally filtered pools and ponds are set to become an essential element for any forwarding thinking, eco-conscious spa developer. These are friendly to the environment and a unique spa experience for all guests keen to embrace the outdoors.

    “We also anticipate that there will continue to be overlaps or a blurring of the lines between fitness, wellness, spa and medical facilities.” – Beverley Bayes, Creative Director, Sparcstudio.

    Changing face of spa – the spa as a private members club

    Undoubtedly post lockdown there will be an even greater desire to be fit and well. ‘Health is the new wealth’ will be the new mantra, and spa and wellness facilities will have a bigger role to play . Spa design will need to adapt and evolve to meet new requirements and sensibilities, which will include a requirement for more personal space. We also anticipate that there will continue to be overlaps or a blurring of the lines between fitness, wellness, spa and medical facilities. High-end gyms such as Third Space integrate spaces for relaxation and wellbeing with the inclusion of thermal suites and relaxation spaces.

    Image credit: Third Space hot yoga room

    Image credit: Third Space hot yoga studio, designed by Sparcstudio

    The sensuous Hot yoga studio that we designed at  the Tower Bridge site has shaker style paneling and end grain Juniper log paneling that emit a soothing aroma when heated. Whilst a more natural sensuous spa environment can transport  users from a world of work and worry, the integration of intelligent use of technology in a discreet enabling way, will be even move important in the post Covid world, Touch technology via wristband enables hand-free access to zones and areas, can open a locker and pay for lunch or products.

    Moving away from the concept of a spa as a once in while treat, we anticipate that there could be an increase in the Spa as a Private members club similar to the model that can be experienced at The Club at Cottonmill Sopwell House Hotel, where spa becomes as regular a  visit  as the traditional gym.

    Sparcstudio is one of the brands that has taken advantage of our Industry Support Package. To keep up to date with supplier news, click here. And, if you are interested in also benefitting from this  three-month editorial package, please email Katy Phillips by clicking here.

    Main image caption: Dormy House raised infinity pool, designed by Sparcstudio

    Hamish Kilburn / 01.05.2020

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