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.