Spa function

As the number of spas in the GCC is set to soar, how can interior designers avoid common design errors and create functional sensorial spaces?


In the next four years, Dubai will have 77 hotels more than it has today (with a total of 26,150 rooms), each one with its own top quality spa. Dubai is expected to become one of the world's leading destinations by the year 2015, with more than 200 hotels (each one with a spa of its own). The number of hotels and spas in Qatar will increase from 12 to 51 between now and 2010 (a growth of 325%)." These staggering statistics were cited by Anni Hood, group director, Jumeirah International earlier in the year at the Monaco Spa Event. This number of competing spas in the region demands that interior designers become more inventive and innovative in their spa designs. This fact coupled with the higher expectations of spa visitors creates quite a challenge.

The indisputable rise in the popularity of spas and the concept of wellness is due to a number of factors: An ageing population desiring an extended youth; an increase in disposable incomes and the need to take time out from busy lives for some rest and relaxation.

Kerrie Black, brand manager, Sanipex explains: "People are becoming much more discriminating with how they choose a spa, and what they expect from a spa. Ten years ago, the demographic was mostly women with a high disposable income, who expected standard treatments such as a massage or facial. Today, this spectrum has broadened to include men, and the age group and demographics are more varied. The spas themselves are now offering a much larger choice of treatments, often with a cultural theme." Consequently the design details need to be just as impressive as the range of treatments on offer.

Spa design choices

Europe's spa traditions are grounded in thermal, hydrotherapy and thalassotherapy baths and installations, many of which reflect the Art Nouveau style that encapsulated the Modernist movement at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Susie Ellis, president, Spa Finder Inc. New York, tells of how in North America, the tendency is to build very big themed structures, which draws inspiration from other traditions. "For example the famous Golden Door in New York was built like a Japanese onsen, but there are also spas inspired by the Turkish hammam and the latest trend today is moving towards designs inspired by Asia in general, using tatamis, wood and bamboo."

Robert D. Henry is one of the few architects in the world who specialises in designing spas. His career as a spa designer started twelve years ago with the construction of the De Pasquale Day Spa in New Jersey and then the Spa at the Mar-A-Lago Club, in Palm Beach, Florida, one of the world's most exclusive private clubs and owned by Donald Trump. He tries to create experimental spaces that stimulate all five senses, drawing inspiration from environmental art. "You can also listen to space: it takes great humility and sensitivity, characteristics that are more feminine than masculine and are not very common among architects" he says. "Sensuality is crucial to designing spas in particular. The only things that can make a spa experience unique are the uniqueness of the cultural, historical and natural context where the spa is located, its exclusive design and the treatments it offers." Fine advice, but with the prospect of one city hosting in the region of 400 plus spas, exploiting the uniqueness of the locale is not really feasible.

A company that is faced with this challenge is Schletterer Wellness & Spa Design, who has planned and partly realised 1,500 spas (with approx. 2,000,000m²) internationally and knows the challenges of ensuring touches of individualism in each. The company is currently designing a number of spas in Dubai including the Mövenpick Resort Oceana Palm Jumeirah. Gerald Huber, director international project development explains that the key to good spa design lies in never forgetting it is a business first and foremost: "The emphasis is the visionary and profitable functionality-flow as well as outstanding interior design solutions." On his designs in Dubai, Huber says: "One is very oceanic with a focus on water, thalasso and salt, another one has a strong outdoor-Asian touch with a lot of plants and blossoms, another one has a strong sport-medical emphasis and a light-weight modern design."

Colours and materials

Undoubtedly Oriental or Asian-inspired designs have influenced the colours and materials traditionally chosen in spas in the past, but now there seems to be a juxtaposition between nature-inspired spas and those that utilise the very latest advances in technology and materials.

Carol Djandji, Djandji Interior Design says: "The materials and fabrics available on the market today offer a number of non-porous materials allowing a more hygienic ambiance. Stones, marbles and granites are being caught-up by materials such as ‘Corian®' and ‘himax' (acrylic based resins). Certain new resins offer a totally anti-bacterial, anti-fungicide surface - ideal for the humid atmosphere of a spa. The lighting is also a very important factor. The industry is coming up with some very innovative lighting solutions such as LEDS and tri-chromatic neon. These innovative lighting solutions allow chromatherapy to be fully integrated in the designing of spas."

Colours are traditionally subtle and muted with brighter highlights used to accent specific areas and Black, Sanipex, maintains that this is still the case: "The eyes should be able to relax along with the body and mind. Chromotherapy is increasingly being incorporated into steam and sauna areas, where the user can choose their colour of light to suit their mood, or to encourage relaxation." In terms of materials she says: "The past trend for acrylic panelling is now being replaced by the return to natural materials such as wood, stone, and marble, particularly in the hammam areas. This is of course a reminder of the ancient origins of the spa concept."

Similarly, Sühl Gunnar, interior designer, Deckelmann Wellness believes that dark wood is still leading the popularity stakes: "Dark natural stones, glass mosaics and porcelain stoneware have had a renaissance as well. Dark brown and black are very popular."

Conversely, Victor Schoone from Roca tells us how Roca has launched six different colours targeted at the spa market: White; Sierra Granite; Blue Granite; Ocean Blue; Blue Zafire; Green Emerald, with the material of choice always being acrylic (PMA). Do these vibrant colour options show that perhaps the days of subtle shades are in the past?

Huber, Schletterer, believes the key to choosing colours lies in defining the desired effect of each individual space and setting: "The right combination guarantees the targeted effect: fresh, shiny and bright colours in those areas where we want to stimulate whereas we use calm colours in the areas for relaxation/meditation. Our design (using colours) has to serve as body-mind-balance-support but never has to overload or even over-impress. For that purpose we are using organic shapes and a lot of natural materials - of course with today's possibilities of high technology input for top-durability and safety."

Common design mistakes

Creating a successful balance between crafting a sensorial stimulus, an aesthetically impressive interior and a functional commercial space is a real challenge and design mistakes do happen.

Gunnar, Deckelmann Wellness says: "A very common but major mistake is when architects, investors and other parties which are involved in the development of a spa project start to work on the interior design and budget before having finalised the conception of a spa. This includes capacities (people), a business plan, the organisation flow etc." It is important to do a feasibility study on the type of facility the client wants to create, the budget available, finding a suitable location that can meet all the requirements, and to analyse the type of targeted clientele.

Lack of planning is a design error flagged up by most of our specialists canvassed. Dagmar Rizzato, spa consultant, Rizzato Spa Consulting based in Germany explains: "Planning must be completed before bringing in the architect to design the spaces. The spa consultant is the ideal professional profile for drawing up this plan. In the actual design, importance should be attributed to creating different areas, store logistics (for products, towels etc), laundry logistics and creating spaces for the staff. The reception is a very important space: it constitutes the first approach between the client and the structure and its staff and is the nerve centre of all operations for both clients and staff." He also stresses the importance of public areas and back of house amenities too: "In addition to the actual reception desk, there must be an area with armchairs or sofas where clients can be shown the various treatments and a back office that acts as the administrative centre and management for the whole structure."

Huber, Schletterer agrees: "Common design errors are often based around functionality; a wrong guest flow conception; no optimisation of staff requirements by applying ceremony and relaxation treatments; copying of functions instead of creation of novelties. Mistakes in design include material durability and safety errors (steam/heat/chemical resistance, slippery problems, floor drainage, etc). Furthermore often the mistake is made of separating the spa from the hotel. Both have to be seen as a unit where one strengthens the other and vice versa."

Speaking about specifying incorrect design details, Black, Sanipex says: "Often, designers do not take into consideration all of the senses, and concentrate mainly on the aesthetic appeal. For example, one popular spa image often seen is the outdoor massage table with white curtains. Although this is a pleasing image to look at, the surrounding noise by fellow hotel guests nearby could potentially make the treatment an unrelaxing one. Likewise indoors, the feel should be cosy and welcoming, where the client can truly relax and feel comfortable."

She continues: "Additionally, designers often do not consider the tactile quality of the materials used, and the way it reacts to the temperature changes within its environment. It is essential that these react to enhance the visitor's experience. From a more technical point of view, the plant rooms required for the spa equipment need to be considered, otherwise there will obviously be major issues, with entire plans having to be reworked."

The future of spas

There's no doubt that the use of spas is on the increase and as technology advances more specialised, ergonomic wellness products will seep from specialist spas into more homes and hotel rooms. For Schoone, Roca, technology is the key to the future of spa design: "We will see products with less noise, less jets, more personalised massage systems, pre-programmed for each person. In general more minimalistic and more personalised to ensure maximum joy and relaxation."

At May's ISH Kitchen and Bath exhibition in Dubai, Markus Stebich, managing associate, Hirsch Bedner Associates spoke on the future of hotel spas and his sentiments are the perfect conclusion: "We are extremely fortunate to live in an age where all the cultures of the world with their various rituals, techniques, traditions and histories of everything spa (wellness, meditation, relaxation, pampering, re-balancing, de-stressing, bathing, massage and on and on) are available for us to experience and enjoy. Never in history have the possibilities been so great. In fact the entire hotel experience can be designed around the concept of the spa. We can integrate audio and visual systems, aroma systems and of course the lighting and materials for visual and tactile experiences.

As designers we can draw upon our modern education and experience of design fundamentals and we can combine this with the ancient sciences of well being and design such as Ayurveda and Vastu. Add to this the essential requirement to make efficient and sustainable use of our world, then our responsibility as designers is to translate these fundamentals into designs that continue to develop the spa experience and its possibilities. Eventually our entire built environment can be geared towards our personal as well as our global well-being. This is the future of spa."

Next year's Monaco Spa Event will be held 18-20 January 2008 at the Grimaldi Forum, Monte Carlo.

Spa study: K Wellness Spa

The Kempinski Hotel in Dubai chose to centre on the ancient Indian healthcare system of Ayurveda in its spa. Although theming the design around this form of treatment might seem the obvious route to follow, Leonard Lee, design director, Wilson & Associates deliberately opted for the opposite approach. He says: "Initially the concept was always to design an Ayurvedic spa, but I didn't want to design an Indian themed spa because that's what customers would expect when they go to that type of spa. I wanted something more nature-based. This is immediately evident as you enter the spa and notice lots of water elements and wood. I've implemented a lot of earth tones and some fire elements in there as well. So essentially it's a back to nature theme."

"We use Indian rosewood throughout the spa. Wood is supposed to embody strength and flexibility so we wanted that to represent the spa. At the same time it characterises the warmth and hospitality of the place."

"I have incorporated a water wall as water is supposed to represent wisdom. It is made from a dark grey stone, so it's very dramatic, and the light there is very dim which adds to the atmosphere. In the centre of the stairs you've got this wonderful hand-blown glass light feature, which unites water and fire elements both in one space. The water flows down and is collected on the floor below and you will see it bordering the treatment rooms as well."

"We had a great ceiling height to work with that's why I chose particularly these grey stones; it almost feels like you're walking into a cavern. So to offset that on the other side, there's glass and sheer curtains with an abundance of soft furnishings and Thai silk. It's all about creating contrast and a sense of drama."

Lee adds: "We had a specialist Ayurvedic consultant who basically told us what materials we could and couldn't have, how the oil would drain from the massage table and how the process would work, and how the design could help create the right atmosphere."

Spa study: Relaxation Spa - Jumeirah Beach Hotel

The recent AED700,000 redesign of the existing 250m² Spa-Pavilion building at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel aimed to transform it into a more aesthetically commercial area. The interior designer, Paul Bishop, explains: "The re-utilisation of the area consisted of a total re-thinking of the existing area both aesthetically and functionally. The conceptual idealisation was one of creating serenity through spatial dynamics and the application of surface aesthetics." As the space was predominately an open plan environment the approach was to identify the specific spatial zones set against a refreshingly styled interior backdrop of tonal hues of whites and off whites. "Subtle yet stylish, bold yet elegant," he adds.

Bishop used a variety of transparent and translucent materials; natural materials set into resin panels; bleached out wooden floorings and slatted screens. Bishop explains: "The balance was to work within the existing parameters to create a synergy between the old and the new - an elegance amidst the hi-tech exposed internal structure of the architectural build."

The use of acrylic and resin panels were applied to a varying array of surface areas, a harmonious blend of synthetic and natural floor materials from vinyl through to bleached treated solid oak, from highly reflective surfaces such as chrome and mirror, through to elegant fabrics and sheers. The duality of space is balanced in harmony as one reclines back upon the imported Paula Lenti furniture. Bishop concludes: "The construction period was under enormous pressure as there was only an allocation of 4 weeks to undertake the works, therefore the use of locally procured materials was paramount."

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