A New Brand of Design

Luxurious, Natural, Tranquil, Sophisticated—any one of these words conjures a feeling that is easily related to an idea or an image. Such emotional associations are integral to creating the brand experience and can be effectively achieved through the design of a branded environment. In simple terms, a brand is a signature that can be equated with meaning. Its primary purpose is to differentiate. You can help your spa stand out by giving its design the attention it deserves.

The design of your spa reinforces the brand image you are establishing. As a result, it is critical to make conscious decisions about the design. Branding your spa through design will create increased perceived value for your clients, establish a strong voice among competitors, and clarify the mission and values of your spa as a destination and provider of services.

Establish an Emotional Connection

Connect with your clients by using the story of place. The emotional associations we have with a particular setting are some of the strongest and most heartfelt—a chair near a fireplace, a favorite restaurant, or a beach at sunset. The spa experience should invoke that moving sense of place, and a well-branded environment should reinforce the concept at all levels.

 Clay (New York City) uses strong signature design elements such as an indirectly lit mesh chain and a simple stone fireplace.
Clay (New York City) uses strong signature design elements such as an indirectly lit mesh chain and a simple stone fireplace.

In addition to finding the perfect wall covering or lounge chair, choreographing the right sequence of interactions through design can help summon the emotions you want your clients to experience and associate with your brand. Everything about the space, including the entryway, treatment rooms, the distance between walls, the width and length of halls, and the relative openness of a space, contributes to a shared experience. Arriving, changing, waiting, experiencing a treatment, changing again, and departing make up moments that are critical in creating meaningful contact with your clients and employees.

Differentiate Through Design

In order for the space to be a true reflection of your brand, it must feel essential to the service and be unique in order to separate you from your competitors. Early in the design process, it is important to clarify a set of tenets that should be followed in order to establish a continuously integrated approach. This is not an overly structured set of regulations but guidelines to be followed as decisions are made about space, materials, lighting, and more. Start with a great idea and use every opportunity to creatively reinforce that idea through design.

Lighting is used to instill a sense of calmness in Exhale's treatment rooms.
Lighting is used to instill a sense of calmness in Exhale's treatment rooms.

At Exhale locations in various urban areas, each space has a natural hewn dark wood element used in conjunction with a crisp, clean white element. This repetition of contrasts, carried throughout the space from the front desk to the treatment rooms, works to reinforce the balance of nature with a clean simplicity. The lighting approach also works to bring a sense of nature and calmness by using fixtures that feature light glowing through natural vines and dimmable indirect lighting at eye level and along the floor.

In addition to a continuously integrated design approach, one or two strong signature elements can create a memorable feature that identifies your spa. Clay, a club spa in New York City, is a good example of a branded environment that makes effective use of strong signature design elements. An indirectly lit mesh chain along a gently curving wall creates a gauzy drapery effect concealing the core zones, which house the locker rooms. This element, in combination with an elegantly simple stone fireplace facing a leather-upholstered seating alcove situated under a skylight, creates a comforting setting that resonates with its visitors. Clay's secluded lounge decorated with streamlined modern furniture and a commissioned acrylic wall mural lit by natural light also provides a space that ends the emotional flow.

Individual materials also have the power to invoke associations with space and emotion and should be chosen wisely with regard to your brand image. White stone floors give the sense of a clean, pure experience, while dark wood floors communicate a connection to the earth. A colorful glass tile at the front desk can make guests feel as though they have arrived at a distinct place. Avoid design trends unless they truly represent your culture and the brand qualities you want clients to associate with your spa.

Clay's lounge features modern furnishings and a memorable wall mural.
Clay's lounge features modern furnishings and a memorable wall mural.

Also consider the choice of words used in signage throughout the spa, which, when used wisely, can communicate the spirit of your brand. At the subterranean levels of Exhale in Boston, the elevator buttons invite clients to "Transform"' to the lower level and "Transcend" back to the street. This choice of terminology sets the expectation for the experience to follow.

Brand First, Design Second

You can't design yourself into a brand. You have to understand the brand and then design to enhance it. Understanding the core values and essence of your spa services is the first step in establishing your brand. It is necessary to have a strong belief in the ideals of your organization so they can be communicated to your architect/designer. If your focus is all about luxury, the space, layout, and materials will be entirely different than for a spa that has a natural focus. The architect/designer should begin by understanding the brand idea so that it can be translated into the design of the spa. Through the right mix of spatial sequence, finished materials, and lighting, your individual brand concept will read throughout the space and resonate with your clientele.

Each visual venue where your clients come in contact with your brand needs to be thoughtfully designed to reinforce the brand image you have established. Everything from advertising and exterior signs to the menu of services and the colors in your name and logo can be an opportunity to build on the anticipation of arrival. Ultimately, it is the design of the spa, the feeling one has moving through the space, the perception of the selected materials and furnishings, and execution of services that will complete the experience and satisfy the expectations of your clients.

Tom Krizmanic is a principal at Studios Architecture, an international architecture, interiors, and planning practice with offices in Los Angeles, New York City, Paris, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. His recent work includes projects for MTV, Gucci Group, E*Trade Financial, Nokia, and the New York City headquarters for Bloomberg.