Spa Talk with Barbara Close

Barbara Close

What was the path that led you into the spa industry?

I was introduced to natural health as a young girl during visits with my great aunt who lived in France. She was a student of homeopathy, and our daily outings consisted of visits to mineral springs for “water cures” and trips to herbal apothecaries. From the warm embrace of a spruce and pine herbal bath to the hypnotizing aroma of a verveine tea, I was hooked on the ritual of self-care.

This eventually led me on a journey to learn massage therapy in Santa Fe, study aromatherapy in France, earn a master’s degree in Therapeutic Herbalism, become a clinical esthetician, and travel the world to observe ancient healing traditions. When I opened my first Healing Arts Center & Spa in East Hampton, NY, in 1995, my goal was to empower our Western culture to embrace the healing rituals that have been proven over centuries of use and make them accessible for our modern lifestyles.

What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of working in the spa industry?

Despite significant progress, much of the spa industry remains focused on pampering and marketing claims versus wellness experiences. As wellness becomes more mainstream, savvy consumers have grown skeptical of chocolate wraps and frivolous treatments, focusing instead on the long-term benefits. I firmly believe that you can create innovative wellness therapies that are effective and will generate an enthusiastic following from your guests. Our challenge is to continue this education through experiences at our spas and our network of partner spas.

The most rewarding part of the spa industry is when our guests experience the freedom that comes from relieving their chronic conditions—from back pain to eczema—and feel empowered to take charge of their health.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

Naturopathica Chelsea is my proudest accomplishment to date because it provides a physical space to dive deeper into wellness, no matter where you are on your wellbeing journey. There have been some incredible moments already, like having Deepak Chopra visit soon after we opened and express his enthusiasm for our community approach by offering to lead a guided meditation in our Sensory and Meditation Lounge. Our hope is that Naturopathica Chelsea will be a community center for educational programming, remedies, and rituals that enhance the lives of our local urbanites.

What qualities do you look for in your spa staff?

In addition to advanced training and experience, our spa staff must embrace mindfulness as part of their practice. We encourage all of our therapists to use our Sensory and Meditation Lounge before they begin their shift in order to deepen their awareness. They practice what they preach. I firmly believe that this is the number one reason why Naturopathica has such a loyal following. Customer retention lies in the skilled hands and attention of the therapist more than it does from the esthetic of a relaxation area or an infinity pool. Quality begins and ends in the hands of the practitioner.

Where do you think the industry is heading?

My hope is that the industry, fueled by consumer demands, is heading toward an integrated approach to wellness that unites the medical establishment with the traditional healing practices that have stood the test of time. 

What is the strangest client request you’ve fielded?

We had a guest ask recently if we would run to the liquor store and buy him any bottle of Burgundy wine over $350. He wanted to enjoy a glass of fine wine with his massage. I have to say, he had impeccable taste!

What new spa treatment would you like to try?

Mayan Abdominal Therapy, created by master herbalist Rosita Arvigo from Belize. It is a non-invasive therapy massage on the abdomen, back, and feet that works to soften the musculature.

What’s your go-to spa treatment?

As an entrepreneur, founder, and CEO in New York City, my schedule tends to be filled with activities and travel, which can compromise the immune system. To rebalance, I schedule regular Blue Eucalyptus Energizing Massages. This holistic treatment combats the symptoms of adrenal fatigue caused by our modern 24/7 lifestyle: lethargy, sleep disturbances, and chronic aches and pains. The session begins with a steaming Blue Eucalyptus inhalation to enhance immunity and is followed by acupressure stimulation and a vigorous deep-tissue massage with Ginger Root Bath & Body Oil to rebalance the adrenal system. I also try and fit in a facial at least once a month to keep my skin healthy. I let my esthetician decide what is best at the time of treatment.

What’s your favorite skincare ingredient?

To me, the most important thing about skincare is that every ingredient counts. I avoid ingredients that are potential irritants that could promote inflammation and only choose ingredients that work with the skin’s natural processes, such as proven botanicals and clean cosmeceuticals.

What two things about you don't we don’t know?

I have two wire-haired dachshunds that often accompany me to work: Pearl, my eldest girl, and Frankie, her little brother. We like to chase rabbits on the weekends. Trust me, it’s quite a workout jumping over bushes and under brush! I also have two horses, a 25-year-old thoroughbred and a 19-hand Percheron at my home in Orient on the North Fork of Long Island. All of my furry creatures keep me laughing, which is one of the best wellness practices. I don’t think I’ve been to a gym in more than 10 years.

What positions have you worked in that you feel have been most influential to your career?

After graduating from Williams College, I became a social worker. I have always been passionate about healing and empowering individuals to lead healthier, happier lives. This experience eventually led me to massage, the most effective means that I have found to balance the stress of our everyday lives.

If you could work in any other profession in the world, what would it be?

I can honestly say that I have found my true calling. I love working with people and helping them discover their path to wellbeing. If I could do anything more, that would be extending what I do to help animals. I love to be surrounded by nature and find animals to be humbling, humorous, and loving companions.

How would you sum up your personal philosophy?

I am dedicated to pushing the boundaries of wellness to create change and build a healthier and more sustainable planet.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

Follow your dreams and believe in yourself. If you are passionate about something, pursue it.