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.




4 responses

26 05 2008

Great post on spa design…wish I had met you four years ago!

19 06 2008

Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

cheers, Fife.

6 08 2008

Great blog and like your comments.

keep it up


11 06 2009

One of my best spa massage experiences came about when a friend told me about the Vichy Massage Table. The spa I went to had one and needless to say it was like going the extra mile to make me feel like I got my moneys worth.

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