Following on from the virtual roundtable: ‘Raising the floor in lifestyle’ and our Hotel Designs LIVE session entitled: ‘A new era of lifestyle’, it’s safe to say that we are putting a lot of emphasis on understanding lifestyle hospitality in 2021 and beyond. To continue the theme, we asked Beverley Bayes, Creative Director at Sparcstudio, to look at the role that spa and wellness has to play in the new chapter of hotel design…
Long before the pandemic emerged in 2020, global hotel groups began to reveal plans for experience led design. There was a raft of new ‘lifestyle’ brands that would, we were told, be designed for the modern traveller – the emphasis on ‘experience’ was greater and with this the public areas were given the starring role in the overall hotel production.
Spas and wellness play a key role to play in the new lifestyle hotel offer we look at how spa design will evolve to fulfil this. Traditionally a hotel spa largely comprised of a series of 3m x 4m treatment rooms located off a darkened corridor (often in a basement) where guests would enjoy a largely solitary treatment experience before being led to ‘deep relax room’, again a darkened often solitary hushed experience.
Reflecting the elevated status of the modern spa, a spa can now command a key position in a hotel (with great views) as well as larger area within the overall hotel footprint. Must-haves now tend to include a rooftop pool/or ground floor location linking to a spa garden and a series of natural experiences. The pandemic has made these options even more important as many guests demand space, privacy and access to nature.
Social spaces and shared treatment experiences have also become a key element of a spa offer, perhaps more akin to the social experience that was a key part of a traditional Roman bathing experience. We have seen this emerge from the pandemic and lockdown, as those not wanting total privacy, expect to visit the spa with their friends and family, to enjoy social time in a relaxed wellness environment.
As a result, we are now designing more spas with treatment suites, which can be a flexible space that opens onto a small thermal private suite and relaxation spaces for small groups.
Spaces for the finishing touches like manicure/pedicure/makeup serve as great spaces for parties and intimate group. Most recently we designed the Ridgeview Beauty Bar at South Lodge Spa, dispensing premium award-winning English sparking alongside express spa treatments in a social space. Much like private dining rooms in restaurants, we often design these spaces with part glazed timber/glazed screens so that there is still the social connection between users and avoid reverting back to the corridor of doors syndrome.
Spa hospitality which includes the whole selection of food and beverage offered within the spa is evolving massively as hoteliers recognise the opportunity that a spa restaurant can add to the hotel’s existing food and beverage offering overall. Guests want the option of dining casually in the spa in their robes, but also like to have the option to eat before or afterwards, in a smart casual, yet modern environment. This is a huge opportunity for hotels and one that we expect to grow in the coming two – three years.
A spa can support a number of food and beverage offers, such as Champneys Mottram Hall, which has the relaxed spa café lounge and Rafaella’s Restaurant with healthy and nutritious options during lunch and dinner.
Spa F&B design is a great opportunity to create a very different look and feel to the other F&B areas within a hotel. It’s possible to create a relaxed casual, barefoot luxury vibe overlooking a pool or linking onto a spa garden or terrace. This is also where wellness can inform the menu with healthy, nutritious, vegetarian and plant-based options.
Going one step further, wellness hospitality can create a farm to fork concept, drawing on local suppliers and seasonal ingredients where possible. At South Lodge Botanica, the spa restaurant draws on the South Downs as a larder for fresh and seasonal ingredients. Although not exclusively vegetarian, the menu features a plethora of plant-based plates influenced by Mediterranean dishes. The Watershed serves a selection of drinks and light bites for those relaxing by the natural swimming pond throughout the day, during the summer months.
Across the UK (and Europe) there has been a resurgence in thermal experiences, which in addition to providing huge health benefits, they are also great spaces for social spa-ing. Sparcstudio always design these as unique environments bespoke to the particular spa and we aim to connect the thermal cabin spaces with nature by bringing the outside in thanks to floor to ceiling glass walls looking across nature. Some excellent examples of this include the Spa at South Lodge and The Cottonmill Club at Sopwell House.
We have noticed a definite trend towards spas enhancing the thermal suite offer with small group experiences. These can include a Russian Banya, an ‘Aufguss Sauna Meister experience’ where the ‘Sauna Meister’ uses towels to agitate the air and lessen the intensity of the heat, essence-infused air or group Hammam with billowing clouds of bubbles adding to the sense of theatre.
We anticipate that group treatment experiences will become more common such as those experienced at the Retreat Spa at the Blue Lagoon in Iceland where spa users can visit a series of heat experiences and apply mineral salt, or lava scrubs to themselves and their partners.
Lifestyle hospitality is also seeping into all areas of our lives as we re-evaluate them post-Covid,;- there is a blurring of the lines between leisure, work and fitness – workspaces such as Fora & The Ministry offer yoga studios and fitness spaces and no doubt fitness clubs will also begin to provide informal work meeting spaces . The Global Wellness Summit identified that the trend for wellness and meetings to become blurred will continued beyond the pandemic. Expect to see hotel teams entering the spa for meetings or combining yoga, mindfulness and breathwork in the studio or on the terrace with their weekly meetings.
Fitness experiences, group exercise, group cycle/trail walk in the grounds or surrounding countryside are set to expand too – linking to the return to nature mentioned earlier.
Spa and wellness experiences are also permeating into all areas of the hotel – in room fitness, yoga decks in garden, biophilic design in the rooms. Kimpton Blythswood Square has just launched a collaboration with CBD brand La Rue Verte, leading horticulturalists Benholm and award-winning DJ Brian D’Souza, on a multi-sensory experience combines the biophilic principles, plants in the bedroom with CBD rituals, meditation and sound therapy.
Creating a ‘luxury’ lifestyle-led experience – this is not about the opulence of the materials, or price of treatments, but new luxury is all about personal service, and the unique crafted individual touches that spa is able to offer (hoteliers have so much to bring to spas in that they innately understand this).
As spa designers we need to have a deep understanding of the complexities of the spa operation to enable spa staff to provide this – unglamorous but operationally essential things like towel dispense and disposal needs to be carefully considered – routes in and out and storage points where they are needed for dirty and clean towels – (I am sure like me you might have experienced a huge rattling trolley being wheeled through a guest space and ruining an experience, because this hasn’t been addressed!).
Similarly wading through pools of surface water or seeing staff squeegeeing away stagnant pool water, because there are inadequate falls in wet/thermal zone, and the inexperienced designer might not appreciate the amount of water emanating from a steam room, this certainly doesn’t add to the luxury spa experience!
And then there’s the Instagram moment. The ‘wow’ factor. Lifestyle is the new luxury and wellness is at the centre of almost every hotel and hospitality conversation. Hoteliers wanting to ensure their offering is at the cutting edge of this, need to seamlessly blend wellness into their lifestyle offering so that the wellness journey begins before the guests arrive. It should be so effortless that the guest barely notices the attention to detail that has gone on behind the scenes, but immerse themselves into the wellness lifestyle from reception, to room and beyond.
Image credit: Champneys Mottram Hall