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Designing the Spa Experience
By Julie D. Taylor

In this exclusive interview, we speak with spa architect Robert D. Henry, whose intelligent approach to spa design has made him one of the foremost spa experts in the world.

R+R: You talk a lot about the spa experience. How does design contribute to it?
RH: Experience is what stays with us - it’s what we relive and remember. Design is everything you experience through all the senses, not just the visual, but taste, sound, touch, and smell. A spa environment is the most sensual of all, as you are in a state of heightened awareness, very in touch with your body and how it reacts to everything around it - the sight of the room, the taste of water, the sound of music, the touch of the therapist, and the smell of lotion. Design can orchestrate this experience in every detail, from beginning to end.

R+R: What are some specific design elements that will create a memorable experience?
RH: A great architect said, ‘God is in the details.’ He was right! When you enter a room, you immediately have a connection to the physical space through the door. We pay close attention to what that door handle is made of so you’re sense of touch is immediately engaged. Take a deep breath. To set the calming mood of the spa, have an aromatic feature—a burning candle, fresh eucalyptus leaves, etc. But don’t over do it; competing fragrances can cause more stress than calm. Sound is another element that calms and sets the experience apart from the everyday. Water features are a good source of soothing sound. No detail is too small—even the pen used for signing a receipt, to the handle on the bag that contains the products they buy. Taken together, as a perfectly planned experience, these elements will transport your guests, and give them an experience they won’t soon forget.

R+R: Should the spa experience be connected to the resort experience itself?
RH: Absolutely! One of the advantages of a resort setting is that you can draw from the unique surroundings. Whether your property is set on an island, in the rain forest, on volcanic terrain, or in the mountains, you have the opportunity to bring the environment into the spa experience. We often work very closely with the spa directors to develop signature treatments that relate to the physical site. For the Spa at Amelia Island, we promoted water-based treatments with the site’s connection to a beautiful lagoon. For a project we’re working on in Hawaii, we oriented the oceanfront cabanas toward the beautiful view of the white-sand beach. Connecting the signature treatments to what is special about your location is an excellent marketing tool; for example, grape-seed treatments are a much talked about spa treatment in Napa Valley.

R+R: What advice do you have for resort operators who are considering adding a spa?
RH: These days, it seems, a resort, hotel, cruise ship, or salon is not complete without a spa. This is great for the spa industry as a whole, but also detrimental to it if it’s not done correctly. Spa is one area you can’t just give lip service to. For it to be a success, it takes commitment, dedication, and expertise.