Keeping Company

A noteworthy trend, sometimes called "spa together," is emerging. More and more clients enjoy developing and nurturing their meaningful relationships in a spa setting. The three spas featured in this column are dazzling and beautiful. More to the point, each, though targeting a different demographic, is successfully creating opportunities for its guests to connect—with their friends, their soul mates, or their better selves.

 Before choosing to use a hip desert-sunrise color palette, Benu's designers consulted with fashion designers, graphic artists, and marketing pros.
Before choosing to use a hip desert-sunrise color palette, Benu's designers consulted with fashion designers, graphic artists, and marketing pros.

The Spa Gang

When Blu Spas (Whitefish, MT) partners Cary Collier and Doug Chambers were asked by the Principal Group and BH Management to create a spa for the Phoenix Midtown (Dallas), a residential complex adjacent to luxury lofts Mockingbird Station, they started with research. They knew they had to decode the attitudes and preferences that separate Gen X and Y professionals from their yuppie predecessors.

The duo, who have won acclaim for designing and operating award-winning spas for five-star properties around the globe, sought insight from fashion designers, graphic artists, marketing pros, and hip retailers like Urban Outfitters. "We discovered that traditional spas' hushed, often serious settings don't appeal to the under-thirty-five crowd. It's intimidating," Chambers says. "They like commotion and company."


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The result was a name meant to capture the spirit of the spa: Benu, a mythical Egyptian bird that renews life each morning to "live with brilliance." Next, they developed a desert-sunrise color palette, chose a jukebox of eclectic music, and created a spa program based on the philosophy of "clean and simple, excellent service, and wonderful results." The user-friendly menu lists services with text-messaging brevity: Glō facial, Bumba exfoliating treatment for (where else?) the bum, and the succinctly named couple's massage, Mō.

Benu's sleek retail area
Benu's sleek retail area

"Adaptability is built into Benu, including a Concept Room that can be booked for henna, spray tanning, waxing—a variety of ever-changing treatments," says Chambers. Connectability was factored in, too. The spa has adapted the "happy hour" trend started in Hong Kong and Shanghai by groups of young women who visit foot spas and manicure bars together after work, "not just once a week, but several times," says Collier. "Benu's co-ed Waterhouse features an oversized whirlpool, rain shower, and steam cave with built-in bench seating where we'll offer a 'happy hour' with beverage service to encourage community-building conviviality."

The 5,500-square-foot spa and salon, which opened in December, has five treatment rooms, three hair stations, three manicure stations, two pedicure stations, and the Waterhouse.

Couples Spa-Away

To suddenly find you and your loved one secluded on a lush tropical island is a pleasant fantasy—especially when you are at the stage of life when hanging with the gang is not as appealing as spending time with your true love. Then, paradise would be a private Caribbean island with powdery beaches, swaying palms, warm seas, and five-star resort accommodations. In other words, Peter Island Resort (British Virgin Islands, Caribbean).
Sea & Self spa's couples room includes a gorgeous view
Sea & Self spa's couples room includes a gorgeous view

"Peter Island is the perfect place to spend time alone with the one you love. In fact, it's a favorite destination for honeymooners," says Tina Berger, senior vice president of operations for WTS International (Silver Spring, MD) a leisure management firm that designs resort spas around the world. When Peter Island Resort's managing director Wayne Kafcsak was charged with creating a spa to equal the world-class amenities of the resort, he lined up resort design and development firm OBM (Tortola, British Virgin Islands), led by Tim Peck, to work with WTS International on the $3.2 million Sea & Self spa makeover.

The spectacular setting inspired many decisions during the spa's progress. WTS's menu concept developer Barbara Morrow "created a signature menu based on the island's bounty with treatments like a Fresh Coconut Rub followed by a Frangipani and Coconut Moisturizer. The Thermal Sand Bundle Massage uses sand from island beaches in heated bags applied on pressure points to promote deep relaxation of stressed muscles," says Berger.

Morrow also found a way to transform the beach into a signature treatment called the Cast Away. "The guest is first invited to submerge in the Caribbean Sea while the therapist prepares a thermal 'sand pit.' Then the guest is covered in warm sand rich in minerals and therapeutic properties," Berger says.

Couples can reconnect at the romantic Peter Island Resort
Couples can reconnect at the romantic Peter Island Resort

Meanwhile, Peck designed a spa that brought the wonders of the island inside. A water wall leads to the treatment rooms and two open-sided treatment cabanas that give clients privacy and a view of the breathtaking Big Reef Bay.

Throughout the process, the designers kept sight of the desire to create equal measures of privacy and exposure for spa guests. The two couples suites at Sea & Self spa feature deep-plunge hydrotherapy soaking tubs for two, private outdoor patios, private showers, and are retreats where loved ones can spend a half or full day experiencing the ultimate in pampering and full-body rejuvenation.

Opened in November 2004, the Sea & Self spa's 13,000-square-foot interior has a hair salon, private steam rooms, relaxation lounge, ten treatment rooms, two manicure stations, two pedicure thrones, a spa-exclusive pool, and two outdoor cabanas.

Tuscany inspired the design and spa treatments at The Well
Tuscany inspired the design and spa treatments at The Well

Spa-ing With the Inner Child

Historically, Indian Wells was a watering place for the Cahuilla Indians, who for thousands of years inhabited the area near Palm Springs, CA. More recently, Marcus Resorts and Hotels located its Tuscan-inspired Miramonte Resort & Spa there. Last year, the company decided to add a new centerpiece to the resort—a destination spa that would be a "sanctuary from twenty-first century living with classic old-world style."

The spa is called The Well to summon the area's Native American history as well as conjure a powerful image. Guests are meant to remember that wells are hidden resources—life-sustaining treasures buried deep underground that, once accessed, are sources of renewal and rejuvenation. The thought can also be a metaphor for the third passage in our lives for when, having raised a family and secured a career, we are able to regain ourselves, our love, and a sense of joy, play, and wonder.

It is for these late-in-life playmates that spa professional Jennifer DiFrancesco, The Well's director, designed the treatments and services. In keeping with the resort's Italian wine country ambience, DiFrancesco devised a Tuscan-inspired menu, offering Bagno Vino (Italian wine baths) and grape seed and olive oil scrubs.

Inside, guests will find a "sanctuary from twenty-first century living."
Inside, guests will find a "sanctuary from twenty-first century living."

She got down to the business of play with the spa's signature Pittura Fiesta (Painting Party), which encourages guests to find their artistic side—and inner child—by using brushes to paint colorful muds and clays on themselves or a partner. "We wanted to provide guests with a one-of-a-kind, fun, rejuvenating spa experience with a Tuscan-oasis feel. Couples love it so much, we had to allow more time for the treatment," DiFrancesco says.

Guests can also explore such treatments as a yoga massage in the Watsu hydro-massage pool or a Vichy shower on a table carved in the shape of mangrove leaves from 100-year-old acacia cedar. "We want The Well to be unique among California spas in its intimacy, attention to detail, and sense of fun," DiFrancesco says.

Recently purchased by Destinations Hotels and Resorts, The Well opened in May 2004 and is 12,000-square-feet. It has ten outdoor and nine indoor relaxation suites, four mud bars, two outdoor hot tubs with signature warm water cascades that provide gentle back and shoulder massage, and a Watsu pool.

To paraphrase the Beatles, the message seems to be, "come together, right now... at a spa." Spa-goers still want to leave looking and feeling good, but now they are also booking treatments with another goal in mind. With these spas as examples, it's easy to see that guests today hope self-improvement will help them connect—with their friends, their soul mates, their better selves. It's a trend that can benefit the entire industry.

Polly Johnson, a vice president at SpaEquip, is responsible for business development in the corporate accounts division. She has a master's degree in Business Administration from Pepperdine University. Johnson can be reached at [email protected].