Taming the Urban Jungle

IN NOVEMBER 2000, JAMIE AHN LEFT THE WORLD of finance for facials and pedicures and opened Acqua Beauty Bar in New York City's Union Square. The spa incorporates traditional Eastern techniques, holistic ingredients, and modern technology to create a uniquely blissful spa experience. In July 2006, Ahn opened a second spa in Manhattan, Townhouse Spa, on 56th Street. Approximately 6,000 square feet with 11 treatment rooms, a nail lounge that seats 15, a restaurant with a 24-seat bar, a retail center, a men's lounge, and a Hair Center with three chairs for styling and color, Townhouse was created to be a perfect place to socialize in a quiet, serene setting. "The whole concept is a home away from home," says Ahn.

 Full meal and beverage services are available in the first-floor Townhouse Bar and Lounge, which seats up to 24 guests. From left to right: First floor before staircase was removed to create the retail center; prepping for first floor demolition; retail area installation; demolition of the second floor hair station; men's lounge post-demolition; finished nail studio
Full meal and beverage services are available in the first-floor Townhouse Bar and Lounge, which seats up to 24 guests. From left to right: First floor before staircase was removed to create the retail center; prepping for first floor demolition; retail area installation; demolition of the second floor hair station; men's lounge post-demolition; finished nail studio

This idea of a spa as a lounge was inspired by New Yorkers who desire to linger into the evening hours—Townhouse is open late and can be reserved for after-hours events, as well. Offering new, exclusive spa treatments from celebrity stylists and skincare collections, Townhouse encompasses three floors—one for men, one for women, and one to shop, mingle, and dine. "We immediately realized that the multi-level space would provide us with an option to gentrify the spa within the floors," says Chris Kofitsas, president of Clifton, N.J.-based New World Design Builders, the architect and builder who worked with Ahn on the project.

The spa was created using a variety of exotic materials, including riverstone, white slate, onyx, mosaic tile, marble, and more.
The spa was created using a variety of exotic materials, including riverstone, white slate, onyx, mosaic tile, marble, and more.

The spa was designed to be a mix of masculine and feminine, incorporating Ahn's eye for explicit detail throughout. Design highlights include vaulted ceilings, stairwells with plush burgundy carpets and iron railings, mahogany wood treatments throughout the spa, opalescent tiles, and more. A lounge with leather-tufted banquettes features walls decorated with mother-of-pearl shavings and a projector screen ideal for product launches and corporate events. The lounge is also home to a bar built from a 3,000-year-old walnut tree decorated with mother of pearl and lighted onyx. "I wanted to create a spa where people can really enjoy quality time with others—there is something for everyone here," says Ahn. "My vision was to create the traditional treatment rooms combined with a bar and restaurant that captured that lounge atmosphere."

Making It Happen
Making It Happen

The three-floor layout is at the heart of the spa. "We designed each floor to be gender specific," says Kofitsas. "The lower level is for women, the second floor is for men, and the main floor accommodates the retail reception area, the lounge, and nail services."

The entry area and retail section are located on the first floor.
The entry area and retail section are located on the first floor.

Highlights of the men's floor include a barbershop station with three reclining chairs for hair trims, shaves, shoe shines, manicures, pedicures, and mini-facials. A lounge is complete with a leather sofa and club chair, LCD TVs, wireless access, and space for manicures and pedicures for four. Also on this floor are 12 lockers, showers, a steam room with cooling rain showers, and multipurpose rooms for massages, facials, and body treatments.

White slate seating can be found in the women's steam room.  From right: Brenta Riverstone highlights the men's lounge and steam room.
White slate seating can be found in the women's steam room. From right: Brenta Riverstone highlights the men's lounge and steam room.

The women's floor includes a locker room with a vanity mirror, two showers, eyebrow threading, on-the-spot blowouts, makeup stylists, a steam room for five, four multipurpose treatment rooms, and the expansive private Phoenix Suite with fireplace, LCD TVs, desks equipped with phone and internet access, massage beds, a private shower, and dining services.

In just a little more than a year, Townhouse Spa went (from left to right) from inception to an ideal location that needed major renovations to reality, which is a three-level relaxation retreat ideal for busy New Yorkers.
In just a little more than a year, Townhouse Spa went (from left to right) from inception to an ideal location that needed major renovations to reality, which is a three-level relaxation retreat ideal for busy New Yorkers.

The main floor encompasses three sections. A retail area offers a full-service makeup counter created with onyx and pearl glass beads, a velvet-covered wall draped with lingerie and camisoles, product and accessory showcases, a coat check, and a special area for skin analysis. The lounge area features the bar and dining space, and a manicure and pedicure party section accommodates as many as 20 guests with five pedicure stations and special areas for waxing and threading.

Clockwise from left: The signature Phoenix Suite is accessible from the women's floor., Guest can enjoy pre- and 
post-treatment beverages in the Townhouse Bar and Lounge., The second-floor men's lounge is another place for guests to unwind.
Clockwise from left: The signature Phoenix Suite is accessible from the women's floor., Guest can enjoy pre- and post-treatment beverages in the Townhouse Bar and Lounge., The second-floor men's lounge is another place for guests to unwind.

Ahn says the spa is without match in Manhattan. "The whole concept of mingling and socializing in one space is still unique to our area," she says.

 

On the Menu

 

When creating the menu, Ahn says her goal was to offer a diverse category of services that was effective and luxurious at the same time. "Each service was tested for months before the spa's opening to track effectiveness and for the experience," she says. "The offerings are extensive so that clients find all the services in one location."

An expansive line of products helps Townhouse therapists treat practically any skin condition. Featured lines include Actifirm, Acqua Tan, Arcona, Aroma M, Cellcosmet, Cosmedix, Epicuren, Geo Trumper, IS Clinical, Luzern, Nufolia, Savon, Selona, Sharps for Men, Sonya Dakar, Terme di Salsomaggiore, UBH, Zents, and the Suracell Personal Genetic Health Program, which identifies individual genetic nourishment needs and promotes damage repair. Equipment-wise, Ahn says she selected Clarisonic, Dermasonic, LED light therapy, Supersonic Ultrasound and Microablation, Takara Belmont, and Vibraderm because the companies are reputable and have good relationships with Acqua Beauty Bar. Another equipment highlight is the Spa Oceana hydrotherapy capsules, which Ahn says are new to the area—the only other spa in the world with the capsules is at the Four Seasons in Dubai. "These capsules offer hydrotherapy soaks, infrared treatments, steam, and a Vichy shower all computerized in one unit," she says.

Ahn and her team are also constantly reviewing and considering new treatments, products, and ideas. Among the current treatments are:

  • SpaOceana "Peace in a Pod" ($185, 60 minutes)—This space-age all-in-one treatment occurs in the 53-gallon personal hydrotherapy capsule and features a combination of radiant heat and steam with adjustable temperature and a cooling mist, which can be infused with vitamins, natural essential oils, and herbal aromas.
  • Dermasonic "The Magic Wand" ($150, 60 minutes)—This new cellulite service combines an ultrasound treatment with non-invasive subdermal therapy in one hand-held device.
  • Vibraderm ($245, 60 minutes)—Vibraderm's smooth, vibrating paddle increases circulation and gives the appearance of rosy, plump, radiant skin without using suction or microdermabrasion's abrasive crystals.
  • Revivassage "The Hybrid Massage" ($175, 90 minutes)—This custom-blended full-body massage incorporates aromatherapy with a mixture of acupressure, shiatsu stretches, deep-tissue pressure, and reflexology massage.

 

 

Budget Briefing

 

Townhouse Spa's initial budget was approximately $2.5 million. The actual expenses ended up a little more than $3 million. A few factors led to this boosted budget. According to Ahn, the steam room seating with waterfall, the mother-of-pearl tiles, silk wallpaper, and the renovation of the entry hallway were some of the more costly items. The demolition of the staircase in front to extend the retail space plus upgrades on audio for LCD screens, audio zoning for each of the rooms, WiFi, and projectors added to the cost as well.

Sometimes, additional expenses are entirely out of the hands of the planners. Another issue for Townhouse? The New York City sewer system. Says Kofitsas, "Unfortunately, during construction we realized that the Manhattan sewer system was inadequate during times of intense rain. We had to install additional plumbing to rectify the problem prior to completion."

 

Great Location, Greater Challenges

 

When selecting the location for Townhouse, Ahn knew she wanted to stay in Midtown. "We wanted a location that was centralized," she says. "The midtown area has an even blend of professional and residential along with a strong tourist following. I also feel that accessible transportation is an important factor for a relaxing mindset."

While Ahn says the location she chose was "the perfect place that would capture the elegance and comfort of the spa that I envisioned building," there were some unforeseen challenges, such as the flooding issue. "We had to rip out new wooden flooring and re-tile with a more waterproof material," she says. "Plumbers had to jackhammer along pipelines for a backup pump."

Other last-minute issues included insulating the doors to lower the noise level from outside, rewiring the audio system, and spackling and repainting the ceilings and walls at the last minute.

Kofitsas adds that the building provided challenges that required a re-thinking of the initial design plan. "Our first challenge was to provide efficient circulation within three floors of the spa," he says. "We quickly realized that providing men's and women's locker rooms on one level was not an option due to the available square footage. We decided to provide each floor with a locker room and treatment rooms—this way our guests would not have to travel to different floors to receive treatments."

Kofitsas adds that the building provided challenges that required a re-thinking of the initial design plan. "Our first challenge was to provide efficient circulation within three floors of the spa," he says. "We quickly realized that providing men's and women's locker rooms on one level was not an option due to the available square footage. We decided to provide each floor with a locker room and treatment rooms—this way our guests would not have to travel to different floors to receive treatments."

 

Staffing Solutions

 

Townhouse Spa has 25 staff members, including skin specialists, massage therapists, waxing technicians, nail technicians, a front desk coordinator, a spa concierge, an IT director, and maintenance staff. The team is helmed by spa director Julie Lindh, who formerly worked at Acqua Beauty Bar. For Ahn, hiring was a matter of experience and confidence in the team. "Everyone is a veteran in their field with a passion for what they do," she says. "The staff was hired in advance and trained at Acqua Beauty Bar for four months."

 

Marketing Moves

 

According to Ahn, creative marketing and publicity plans helped ensure the success of Acqua Beauty Bar. She applied the same strategies to promoting Townhouse Spa. Coordinating with the PR firm of Madeline Johnson Public Relations, special events and ongoing activities include:

  • A Townhouse Spa press kit was completed, including with a spa backgrounder, fact sheet, profiles on key executives, spa experience highlights, and high-resolution photographs.
  • A Townhouse Spa Grand Opening Party, was planned and orchestrated and included a Taste of Townhouse Spa area featuring drinks and spa cuisine, as well as spa experience demonstrations.
  • Consumers were targeted and invited in for tours and treatments prior to the party. These consumers will be invited back for additional parties throughout the year.
  • One-on-one media days with media-savvy spa partners were scheduled to launch new products and treatments, such as Sonya Dakar's new Ultra Luxe Facial ($195, 75 minutes).
  • The local and national media was pre-pitched with stories on the spa's opening and unique points of difference.
  • Corporations were encouraged to use the spa to pamper their clients. Townhouse Spa was specifically designed for businesses to conduct events, launches, and meetings.
  • Word-of-mouth buzz was key. New Yorkers love to be the first to know about things, so the PR agency targeted movers and shakers in Manhattan, inviting them in for tours and treatments. Most of the national beauty editors were brought in before the spa officially opened. Also contacted were all of the top modeling agencies in the city, hotel concierges, those who work behind the scenes in the fashion world, other public relations firms, and important websites like www.dailycandy.com|~www.dailycandy.com/ , www.beautynewsnyc.com|~www.beautynewsnyc.com/ , and www.ceslie.com|~www.ceslie.com/ .
  • The spa also created a VIP membership. VIPs have preferential treatment and the opportunity to try new treatments and test new products before anyone else.

 

 

FUTURE PROJECTS

 

Due to the success of our first two From the Ground Up columns, we're going to make it a more frequent event. Starting in 2007, you'll be seeing this column more often, so we're on the hunt for fabulous subjects. If you know of a soon-to-be-completed or recently completed spa that might be a good fit, send along the following:

  • Before, during, and after photographs of the spa and/or renderings (minimum 4 by 6 inches, 300 dpi resolution)
  • A spa menu
  • A short description of the spa concept

 

Please send the information to:

Julie Keller, American Spa 757 Third Avenue, 5th Floor New York, NY 10017

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