The Spa at Wentworth Mansion

MILLIONS OF TOURISTS VISIT HISTORIC Charleston, SC, each year, drawn by the city's magnificent old waterfront, scrumptious Southern cooking, and world-class antique shops lining King Street. After sightseeing and shopping, visitors who want to relax in old-South ambience can steal away to The Spa at Wentworth Mansion, which opened in October 2004. There, they'll find a true taste of Southern hospitality provided by the spa's owners, Sandra Lempesis-Leibowitz, Susie McCrary, and Jennifer Spear, who are no strangers to the business. They also own Urban Nirvana, a popular day spa and salon chain, with two locations in the greater Charleston area and one in Columbia, SC.

Left: Because the spa lobby is tiny, the retail area is kept unobtrusive in order not to overwhelm guests.  Right: Guests at The Spa at Wentworth Mansion enjoy relaxing, modern treatments in an historical setting.
Left: Because the spa lobby is tiny, the retail area is kept unobtrusive in order not to overwhelm guests. Right: Guests at The Spa at Wentworth Mansion enjoy relaxing, modern treatments in an historical setting.

With three successful businesses in operation, the women were hoping to open a fourth spa in historic downtown Charleston and were excited when space became available in the Wentworth Mansion, a 21-room, AAA Five-Diamond luxury hotel located in the former home of a wealthy cotton merchant. The mansion, built in 1886, was restored and converted into a hotel in 1998, but the property's stables remained untouched. After much discussion, Lempesis-Leibowitz, McCrary, and Spear agreed to convert the stables into a boutique spa to serve the hotel's high-end vacationers and the town's well-heeled locals.

Within the 1,000-square-foot Spa at Wentworth Mansion, history and modernity collide. The building's original architectural elements—14-foot-high vaulted ceilings, bead board walls, wood beams, and exposed brick—are juxtaposed with modern-day spa features—contemporary lighting, calming fountains, upscale furniture, and the dual-head shower in the couples room.

The spa is designed to appeal to clients who relish the combination of luxury and history. "Our guests receive modern spa services while lying on new massage tables, but they look up at a ceiling that is more than 100 years old," says Lempesis-Leibowitz. "It's a very unique experience because it's a truly historic building, not a replication."

Signs of times past are visible throughout the three treatment rooms, one of which is devoted to couples. The concrete floor is indented with hoofprints from horses that once stood where guests now enjoy treatments, such as the Rosehips Vitamin C Facial ($135, 60 minutes) and the Rosemary Salt Soufflé ($125, 60 minutes). In one treatment room, large cranks that once hauled hay into the attic hang from the ceiling. In the locker room, guests hang their robes on hooks shaped from old horseshoes found in the stables. A big, beautiful mahogany panel discovered in the mansion's basement hangs from the ceiling in the couples treatment room. No one knows what the panel was used for, but that's part of the spa's charm.

Lempesis-Leibowitz says guests know they can count on quality services, and the spa's commitment to excellence is another feature that sets it apart. Although most of the 30 staff members are licensed therapists or estheticians with at least five years of experience, they're required to go through an intensive in-house educational process with Urban Nirvana's top therapists.

Most of the treatments are made with organic or fresh ingredients and as few chemicals as possible. Co-owner Susie McCrary created many of the spa treatments, such as the Espresso Salt Scrub ($125, 60 minutes) and the wholesome Peach Mango Salt Glow ($125, 60 minutes), which uses famous South Carolina peaches purchased from local organic grocers. It's a popular service among tourists looking for something unusual and regionally inspired.

To attract hotel patrons, the spa displays menus in guest rooms and offers visitors special packages, such as select in-room treatments accompanied by healthy lunches from the Wentworth's award-winning restaurant, Circa 1886. In addition to the promotional packages, massage and scrubs are also available in-room for an extra $20.

Lempesis-Leibowitz says the spa's biggest challenge is lack of space. With only three treatment rooms, the spa is frequently forced to turn away clients, but the owners hope its modest size—like the historic location and excellent service—is part of its appeal. "It's for clients who want to have their private time," she says. "A local businessman or lawyer can come in and not have to see a client. It has an ambience that makes you feel like you're the only one there, and you're being taken care of."