The “What Not to Wear” for Your Spa Design – Group West Design Architects

25 05 2008


If you’ve ever watched witty and sometimes brutal show host Stacey London from ‘What Not to Wear’, you can understand the work it takes to make someone over and entice them to listen to an expert, who knows what is best. This process is not that different from creating the individual spa layout, design choices and floor plan that will ultimately affect everything from your spa’s functionality, to how much revenue you generate per square foot. Each spa, resort, or destination spa concept sets out to engage the clients senses with colors, textures, sounds, and an individual style. It may be harder than you think to illicit the client response and branding style you want.

So how do you avoid the mistakes of ‘What Not to Design’ in your own spa make over or start up? We’ve put together a few tips and tricks from our collective experience in launching spas and our partnership with morally responsible architects, Group West, who specialize in resort, hotel and casino design. Group West is a long standing company that has spent significant time working with green building techniques, indigenous tribes, and organically grown concepts. Our collaboration provides holistic spa development for all concepts.


1. Look for a team that has synergy – Your design team should be able to provide your vision in a tangible format. Interior designers, architects, spa consultant, and contractors should all have a flow that works with your personal style. This will make it easier for them to also work as one, especially if they are all from separate companies. To take some of the stress off you, look for a base company that can provide a team that has contacts with or an existing relationship with all of the above team components. A team with specific experience in the spa and wellness industry will understand the dimensions and idiosyncrasies of spa development, equaling success.

2. Use color and texture as cost effective substitutes – The pop of a color with depth, like blues, reds and greens can be a cheap replacement to wall decor, paintings, fibers, glass etc., and with the right accents can evoke a great emotion. Shapes also are in trend to create movement of the eye, direct clients to areas for more purchasing, and shape unique design without going over the top with costs. Shape can be used with an exotic curve from lounge furniture, receptions desks and more, wall insets for art or product on display, differently shaped door frames, arches, layers of wall design or bright material with pillows and floors. Consider alternative texture elements, such as copper, grass, micro fiber, glass, metal, recycled materials and more. A good designer will have contacts to vendors with attractive elements, and guide you to reserve costs where you can, so you still have the budget for equipment and advertising.

3. Consider art as an organic element for design – Use images, photos, local artists, and natural elements to launch a creative spa design or begin with a strong branding presence. I know several photographers and artists who have captured unique images across the globe, and are willing to sell there photos and art to you. One artist lived with 131 families around the world, photographing their lives. She has compiled an especially appealing library of images that are serene faces of women in Indian garb, to mothers and babies at peace by a river. The style and setting can fit with many spa concepts, depending on your story. There are strong stories in eco elements, indigenous roots and serenity with such art. One client contracted an artist to do specific photos for their medical spa concept that set them apart from anyone else. Get creative, hire someone to get specific with your signature vision, and find those unique connections that will create client comments and attention with your spa design. Here are a few references; Artist; Helene Tremblay, Artist Dominique Normand 424.222.0390

4. Consider the health of your environment – Air quality and design should go hand in hand, since healthy surroundings support the spa concept. Use an air washer, that can keep air clean and smelling good at the same time. The humidifying and purifying technology of air washers can help keep skin healthy, and air borne illness down among other things. This element will also need to be considered in your original design with heating and air conditioning. Typically your spa environment should have 25 cycles per hour for healthy air quality. Your designer should coordinate technical needs with the contractor. Your not going to skimp on your facilities hygiene, so why would you consider the air quality any less important. It will keep clients and staff satisfied.

5. Sound proofing, electrical and water pressure are not the place to be frugal – You will want to combine professional lighting with natural lighting to reflect your purpose, highlight sales/products, and compliment the client. This is especially true if you are including a make up bar, or hair color stations. Client psychology can be played on with correct lighting. You will want ample illumination of product, and work lighting that varies from subtle to day light, depending on the therapy, i.e.; waxing needs day light, massage, low light. Lighting choices can also be reflected by the building layout, where east, west lighting may come it etc., Shelf lighting, display lighting, room dimmers, ample wall uplighting are all things to discuss with your spa design team. Coordinate with a chief electrician to ensure enough voltage for all of your equipment, and particular layout that includes wall sockets, and possible floor sockets under the massage table among others. They should help provide cut sheets, and an overview for approval. If your spa requires wet space ensure you’ve considered enough water pressure for showers in multiples, vichy shower, hydro tubs etc., with sufficient drainage and water excess. Wet room build out requires water proof sheetrock and slanted ceilings to start. Your concept will be built around your needs and clientele. If you skimp on any of these items in a start up build out, you may be faced with costly additions, renovations and adjustments later that will take up your cash flow, and create loss of business with downtime. Employ an expert and coordinate technical equipment needs.

6. Don’t forget about the non sexy items – Getting wrapped up in a spa vision is normal and there is a lot to think about in starting up or re vamping your business. Even architects and designers can overlook the real functionality of the day to day spa needs, if they haven’t made those mistakes before. You need storage, usually lots of it. Think, linens, soiled sheets etc. Want to sell retail? Know how the size and function of your front desk and office can handle deliveries, and inventory.  What about the back bar? Therapists need a real space to  mix, clean, talk and relax.  Keep them happy and you will be happy.  For larger spas, there may need to be spa concierge stations near lockers, signage that leads clients through rooms, and even more storage. There are many things that are overlooked with spa design. Clients don’t want to know how your operation runs smoothly, they just want to know it does.

Here’s how ‘Top Spa Bee’ expressed her opinion on the set up of treatment room functionality. It’s a great start and I would tend to agree. “Setup of the treatment room should allow for the following and I think everything should be hidden (it looks clean, uncluttered, and you never see the “trash””

  1. Mobil Cart that moves around the room (great for esthetician & for body treatments) (3-4 drawers)
  2. Hot Towel Cabinet
  3. Cold Refrigerator
  4. Towel Storage
  5. Laundry Storage (Under Table)
  6. Back-Bar Organization (at least 3 drawers)
  7. Sink
  8. Under Sink (paper towels)
  9. Any machines or equipment should be on carts (preferably enclosed)

7. A floor plan that still flows in peak hours – Most spas don’t operate at top capacity, but be prepared to keep your operations running smoothly for those influxes of business. Are therapists running into each other, going to the other side of the spa for clean sheets, have no where to do laundry, not enough locker space, shower not accessible privately? These are just a few questions that can arise in spa planning, hopefully before its all done. Therapists will need enough space to move freely, and your front desk will need to have space and POS systems that keep a high traffic flow in accordance with its full capacity size.  Don’t just follow trends on spa floor planning with large water features, and large open pedicure rooms, if it doesn’t work for your concept and budget. More importantly is that there is NO wasted space. So spend some time researching images, comparing prices and brainstorming with your spa consultant or design team.

If you’d like to find our more about Group West design and how we work together, feel free to call them for questions and project discussions coordinated with Lotus Effects, “The Image Wizard” . Group West Architectural Design Company.

Send us your design questions or stories about your own spa development.


Secret Shoppers Review of Portland Spa and Salon – The Good and Bad

7 05 2008


Being in the industry, we often stay updated on what goes on in daily spa and wellness practices by using secret shoppers to give us an inside view. It can be a priceless summation of what to do and NOT to when creating  a focused spa concept that needs to have long standing appeal. Every spa wants to get a rave review, and many do, but you will be surprised to see that every day clients look for a lot more than being your next appointment and they notice a lot. Take a look at one of our latest reviews of a local Portland spa. Be aware spa owners and therapists because you never know which client could be a ‘secret shopper’. Enjoy! Want your spa reviewed to see what really goes on? Contact us to set up an appointment. This review is told from the viewpoint of the shopper.

Excited at the prospect of walking into the Bliss Salon in Portland, Oregon and having my first pedicure along with a mini-facial, my expectations were high with a name like “Bliss”, and I could not wait to go relax and get away from the world.

However, this is evidence that a name really means nothing when it comes to the spa experience. Walking in to Bliss Salon, my first thoughts were eclectic cute hair salon. The lady working the front desk was very nice, courteous and her look was “artsy” and very “Portland Chic”, offering me water upon entrance & greeting me right away.

However, my next thought was disorganized and not the spa feeling of tranquility I was hoping to feel upon entrance. There was no streamlined appearance and I saw a make-up stand that allowed one to sample the product, but when I had a good look, there was no way I was sampling, since it did not appear to be as cleanly as I would like, but then maybe I was expecting too much? A q-tip appeared to be missing its tip, and the stand was disorganized, with a small open garbage can under the stand, on top of being right beside the door, which threw me off. The hair products and spa products were right in front of entrance, and I saw several lines of products that were organic in nature, which pleased me, and gave me hope that this experience would be better when I went to the back to have my mini-facial. However, the products did not appear organized and I felt that the spa could have done a better job at re-configuring that space, even though it was small.

My facial lady took me back to the massage “room”, and upon entering, I finally felt the tranquility I was seeking when entering Bliss. The room had warmth and candles with low lighting, and I felt like I had finally left the outside world. I was told to undress and get into the robe and lie on the massage table for my mini-facial, and to take deep cleansing relaxing breaths, of which I did gladly. She left me for a bit to relax, and upon re-entrance did not talk much, just asked me any problem areas on my face, of which I told her dryness in the T-Zone area, but neglected to tell her I was sensitive to chemicals. I was actually waiting for her to ask me additional questions on what skin care I used, etc, but she never did. Instead, she started the facial, and everything was going well, to the point of almost drifting off to sleep, until she put a heavy deep cleanser on my face. This instantly started burning my skin and when she took it off, I had spots starting all over my face from my sensitivity to the product. At this point, I just wanted to be done and go put ice cubes on my face, but alas, I was told to get dressed and follow her into the pedicure room.

I was a little disappointed that I had to re-dress and was surprised that they would relax you and then have you lose that feeling by re-dressing and going into a completely different area of the spa to have the pedicure. I felt it would be more streamlined to have a pedicure room next to the massage room, and keep the robe on to continue the relaxed effect, but then I could just be extremely picky and spoiled with my other spa experiences in the past. Upon dressing, I had to go through the noisy hair-dressing area, walking through people to get to the pedicure room, which thank goodness; she shut the door and had a warm bowl of water with rocks waiting for me. I submerged my feet, and forgot about being upset when my foot massage started. I guess I should have said something about my ticklish feet, but she was very good about telling me to flex my feet, as I kept laughing when they used the brush on the bottom of my feet. Did I tell you this was my first pedicure? The lady was extremely nice and gentle though, and made sure that I was comfortable. I was pleased with the overall pedicure experience, and my toes were a nice light rose color when she finished.

What I was surprised about though, is Bliss had nothing to ensure that your toes dried quickly, telling me it could take an additional hour for drying time. I had worn sandals, but because my shoes would mess up the “paint” job, the pedicure lady gave me spa flip-flops to wear out, which I thought was okay at the time, until I left and saw it was raining. I ended up slipping on the sidewalk, and landed (quite embarrassingly) on my knees, bruising them up, and messing up my pedicure, but continuing on as I just wanted to get home at that point. One word at this point—Liability!

My last point, and I will say that this is important, is there was no up-selling on products, and not one word mentioned of using their products, nothing asking me what my overall experience was, and the receptionist was missing upon my exit. The gentleman manning the front desk did not know how to use the computer even, and could not find me in the system, so I just ended up leaving.

My overall rating on this spa would be extremely mixed, and out of a 5 star, would give this one a 2, but if one likes the eclectic casual, then this is for you, but if one wants the overall spa “experience”, then I would suggest a more high-end spa and not Bliss. A hair salon, it was definitely that, but a spa? Not so much. .. Names can be deceiving.