Design Notes Archive

Spa Day

Spa Day

In 2021, UNESCO added The Great Spa Towns of Europe to its World Heritage List as a collective site encompassing eleven spa-centric towns across seven European countries. These include places like Bath in the UK, Spa in Belgium, and Baden-Baden in Germany (all surely named after the mineral rich waters the cities were built around). Three years on, spas seem to be more popular than ever. If you’ve opened a newspaper lately, you’ve probably read about them—cue The Financial Times article aptly named “Spa Wars” and one recent Times column that outed an underground spa, Bathhouse Flatiron, as New York’s newest hotspot. And if the transporting sound of a cello or piano has pulled your attention to the tele recently, then one of Neom’s instrumental adverts has surely elicited some curiosity. Spoiler: it’s a construction project on the banks of the Red Sea that's slated to be a spa-filled wellness community of the future. 

Little surprise then, that in the post-covid era, spas are the latest must have amenity for hotels, but what about at home? What lessons can be gleaned from these spaces that are designed to induce rest and renewal, whilst also surprising and delighting guests? In the case of the wellness center at Le Grand Mazarin in Paris, the answer is clear—either excavate and put a 17-metre long pool in your new basement or just copy the intricate tile patterns surrounding the one in the hotel’s subterranean spa. This shower, left, sits just off said pool and an alcove jacuzzi, and boasts a medley of emerald and sea green tiles. The striped pattern is partially thanks to a trick of the eye, wherein large diamond shaped tiles are painted with a two-tone glaze that, when lined up, creates the effect. The same look can also be achieved with handpainted square tiles installed on the diagonal. Inside the alcove, smaller mosaic tiles in alternating shades of green lend an added sense of depth. In designing the hotel, Martin Brudnizki Studio “sought to reinvent the concept of home,” so it’s only apropos that someone translate this look within their own space. 

Speaking of a jacuzzi, the cold plunge pool at Vestkantbadet, the spa within Oslo’s new Sommerro hotel, centre, calls to mind a trend that was popular in the ‘90s (and just might be ripe for a comeback). Bathrooms the size of bedrooms were kitted out with an enormous, octagonal, hot tub sunken in the middle of the room. This wasn’t meant for washing in, but rather for relaxing in—glass of wine perched on the floor, lights dimmed, music wafting through your newly built-in sound system. There would have been his and hers washstands that spanned the length of the room, a separate WC, and likely also a steam shower with all the latest accoutrements. Perhaps even a sauna if you were really posh. It was a time of economic prosperity, and at-home spas were de rigueur—the next phase of the sports bath.

Or skip the jets and follow the lead of the frigidarium, as the cold bath at Vestkantbadet is called, and go for an ice bath instead (after all the cryotherapy craze is still going strong). Tucked within Sommerro’s original underground Roman bathhouse, this cold bath is fully tiled and adorned with a bronze relief of a bear by late Norwegian sculptor Asbjørg Borgfelt. There’s also a new infrared sauna, plus a stone drinking fountain reimagined by sculptor Kaja Dahl. This is just one part of the complex of course, which was originally built by utility company Oslo Lysverker as a public bathhouse in the 1930s. It was recently refurbished by LPO Arkitektur and is open to Sommerro hotel guests as well as the public. Upstairs, hotel guests sleep in rooms sensitively decorated in the Art Deco style by London- and New York-based design firm GrecoDeco.

If you’re looking for a more wholistic wellness experience, fly across the pond to New York’s Hudson Valley. Later this month, The Ranch in Malibu, famous as Hollywood’s go-to detox retreat, will open its New York offshoot, The Ranch Hudson Valley, about an hour north of Manhattan. The all-inclusive spa stay is bookable in three or four night increments that includes massages, hiking, yoga, IV therapy, even colonics, along with communal vegan faire.  The sweeping lakefront property is on 200 acres housed in a rambling 1904 mansion that banking scion J.P. Morgan once gifted to his daughter and her husband (a great-great-grandson of early American president Alexander Hamilton). Best of all, the interiors are newly renovated by the esteemed American designer Steven Gambrel. Each of the 25 guest rooms has an en-suite that is a study in black and white elegance, right. All include showers with filtered shower heads (and most also a roll top bath) but if you’re lucky, you’ll get a shower with a window looking out over the rolling hills. Now there’s a design idea to try at home—if you dare!

Photos: Courtesy Le Grand Mazarin/Vincent Leroux; Sommerro/Francisco Nogueira; The Ranch Hudson Valley