Secrets of spas: Leisure & Hospitality

As part of the Materia theme on Leisure and Hospitality, Materia invited the Dutch design organisation, BNI for a seminar on the design of leisure and hospitality environments. A prime example is spas and wellness centres. They are some of the most sensuous and luxurious environments that we can imagine. Consider float capsules, warm and soft massage rooms, or a simple, steaming hot rock pool: we can imagine endless varieties. So what makes these spaces special?

In the realm of spas and wellness, the space is tuned towards experience and emotion. Architecture can play upon the idea of the naked body. In both a figurative and a literal sense, nakedness implies vulnerability. This can lead to simple touches in a room or space, such as the use of skin tone colours: amber, salmon and peach can work well to calm people.

So certain colours are well-suited to the idea of nakedness, as interior designer Sara Rosenthal explains. Baths and bathrooms are generalisations of the spa with which most people are more familiar. Here too, soft and comfortable colours are used to help people relax. This is combined with gentle spaces: no sharp corners or excessive steps. People don’t like leaping up high when naked.

The ideas put forward point to a sense of total calm, calm that affects the whole body, as well as the mind. Water is well known to aid this process. Water’s many functions and symbolic uses, such as purifying, warming and cooling, and cleansing, all lead to a healthier body. But water is experienced most directly when it is applied to the skin over large areas: when the body is naked. So this is a story about intimacy, protection, care. Water can shelter the body and the mind.

Germany has an interesting and different approach to spas than much of western culture. Local municipalities give financial support to communities to encourage the usage of baths. This is, after all, a kind of preventative healthcare.

One of the biggest hypes at the moment is the Garra Rufa fish. These tiny fish, sometimes called Doctor fish, swim about in basins cleaning your hands and feet as you place them in the water. Various companies now market this idea, selling the experience of having your extremities gently nibbled at.

This article is one of a series in Materia’s Leisure & Hospitality theme. It is still possible to visit our exhibition on materials for spas & wellness at the Materia Inspiration Centre until the end of October.