Catering to Southern California’s health-conscious and environmentally minded locals, Alchemie Spa (Santa Monica) is a socially responsible retreat that is attracting fans with its relaxed and eco-friendly vibe. Opened in May of last year, the spa is the dream come true of owner Mary Lee, who envisioned a green-based spa in an innovative and modern space. “When I decided I wanted to start my own business, I asked myself how I could use my talents and passion to do something that would make a positive impact, a business that would bring beauty and beneficial change to the lives of others,” says Lee. “The idea of a spa was born—to create a sanctuary for outer beauty and inner peace. Our mission is to bring out the light in our clients. When they shine after a treatment, we know we’ve done our job.”
To find the perfect location, Lee relied on help from a real estate broker, whose expertise of the local market was invaluable. “My broker asked me to choose my top five locations, then we went through a process of elimination and went with the one I felt was the best fit,” she says. The space she chose is on Main Street, which is lined with an eclectic mix of restaurants, boutiques, cafes, and more.
Wanting the space to delight the senses and reflect the spa’s green philosophy, Lee enlisted the help of PARAVANT Architects. According to architect Christian Kienapfel, who worked on the project with fellow team members Halil R. Dolan and Marcus Brown, careful attention was given to the eco choices made when designing the spa. “From the use of sustainable and reclaimed materials to the selection of a mechanical system that reduces energy consumption and noise pollution, we wanted to give the guest a unique experience when entering the spa to allow them a moment of relaxation and reflection away from the busy life of Main Street,” he says. Recessed areas around the door and windows, wood siding, and window boxes with plantings extend the ambiance of the lobby out to the street, inviting passersby inside. The transition from public to private space was part of the spa’s overall design theme. Not surprisingly, nature also played a role with the five natural elements—fire, water, earth, wood, and metal—influencing the design and material selection. Cork- and coconut- fiber walls, bamboo walls, low and VOC-free paint, dual-flush toilets, low-flow fixtures, LED lights, and more all speak to the spa’s stance on sustainability.
The spa’s core values also influenced the products selected. “Organic and raw are part of our vision, so we chose a line that represents these values and made it our own,” says Lee. Not only is Alchemie’s private label line organic and raw but it is also handcrafted. Lee selected other eco-friendly lines, such as Butter London, COOLA, Éminence Organic Skin Care, iSun, and SpaRitual. The spa also features an organic apothecary featuring herbs, flowers, and plant oil essences. Spa-goers are encouraged to mix their own products or choose a custom blend created by one of Alchemie’s spa chefs.
As for the menu, spa-goers are sure to find a treatment to suit them. While organic facials and treatments are to be expected, the eco-friendly spa doesn’t shy away from offering high-tech additions, such as LED light therapy, microdermabrasion, microcurrent, and more. The menu also includes the HydraFacial, a popular resurfacing procedure. Says Lee, “Our menu is constantly evolving, and we’re always on the lookout for new treatments to wow our clients.”
Wanting to maximize the intimate space, Lee tasked PARAVANT Architects with configuring the spa’s treatment rooms to accommodate multiple treatment options. Because the spa is only 2,300 square feet, it was important to divide the space in a way that the greatest number of services could be provided simultaneously. It was decided that the spa would feature five individual treatment rooms; one couples’ room; five manicure and pedicure stations; a manicure bar; and relaxation, reception, and retail areas. Focused on creating a tranquil environment, natural colors and textures were used to soothe the senses. Low-level lighting was installed to help clients transition from the spa’s public areas to its private treatment rooms.
The reception area was also given special consideration. “During the design process, we realized a strong continuous element that would be visible from the street needed to be created in order to have a presence both during the day and after business hours,” says Kienapfel. “In the final design, we achieved this by floating a 45-foot-long panel off the floor and rear wall. The panel, inspired by a typical temple door in Asia and the raindrops left after a tropical shower, is textured with half-domed bubbles and is backlit to give it more of a presence in the space.”
No complex project comes without some degree of difficulty, and the creation of Alchemie Spa was no exception. According to Kienapfel, the raw building space had two different height levels that required a couple of steps to connect the floor. This meant a long ramp had to be introduced that would work with the overall design while simultaneously allowing for a smooth workflow within the space. Another issue the design team had to contend with was the fact that the original space had two main entrances. “There was a long review process and analysis to determine the best one to keep and how to make it an integral part of the design concept and a welcoming feature for the spa,” says Kienapfel. The floor plan was also no easy task, as it needed to satisfy the various needs of a busy Santa Monica spa. Again, extensive research came into play before a final decision was rendered many months into the project. According to Kienapfel, choosing materials that supported the design intent, held true to the sustainable goals set, and fit the budget constraints also proved challenging.—H.M.
Although the spa is a hit with locals, Lee notes that there are a few things she could have done differently to make becoming so less stressful. According to her, hiring a project manager with experience would have made the overall process much easier to navigate. “Having a lack of knowledge about construction and not having the right support really caused unnecessary delays,” says Lee, who would also have put the burden of the delivery date on the contractor. Kienapfel also has his regrets. “We have become aware of many more sustainable features and technologies since completing the spa,” he says. “Some of them would have been a great fit with this project.”