If you’ve ever assumed that a town with one stoplight was sleepy, think again. Kohler, WI, proves that looks can be deceiving. Resting just off the shore of Lake Michigan, this idyllic village has a vibrant list of happenings to tend to on a regular basis. Not only is it a bucket-list destination for avid golfers (it recently hosted the 92nd PGA Championship), but it is also home to a thriving centenarian “water experiential” company, a burgeoning culinary scene, an award-winning hotel, and a groundbreaking spa.
Known for its high-end plumbing fixtures, the privately held Kohler Company quite literally put this town on the map when in 1883 Austrian immigrant John Michael Kohler came up with the idea of enameling a cast-iron trough and selling it as a bathtub. This entrepreneurial spirit has led to the continued success of this booming business, which remains at the heart of the village and plays a major role in practically every town venture, including Kohler Waters Spa.
Serving as a wonderful showcase for the sleek equipment the Kohler Company has to offer, the innovative spa naturally focuses on the therapeutic benefits of water. “Guests know that we are known for our plumbing products,” says director of wellness business and product development Jean Kolb. “Whenever they come in contact with water at the Kohler Waters Spa, it is a unique experience—whether that is through our showers, our pools, or our signature water treatments.”
The current chairman of the International Spa Association (ISPA), Kolb, who helms the 25,000-square-foot retreat, has been with the Kohler Company for more than 30 years and leads a dedicated staff, who she describes as having “hearts that are bigger than this spa,” to achieving the spa’s pursuit of excellence. “Our company’s mission is to provide a higher level of gracious living through the products and services we provide—we do exactly that at the spa,” she says. “We want their lives to be richer having been at our spa, and we hope their minds and bodies are content because they have connected with our professional staff.”
This level of attention is only one reason so many guests make an annual pilgrimage to the spa, which despite somewhat daunting winters, is a year-round destination. “The summers are warm and lush with beautiful gardens, and the spa is a great respite to get out of the summer heat,” says Kolb. “In the winter months, the village is aglow with a million white lights and offers horse-drawn carriages and snowshoeing. The spa is a great place to cuddle up and escape the winter air. We really do not have a high season or low season at the spa—we have one, and it lasts all year long.”
Whether the mercury rises or plummets, the 21-treatment-room Kohler Waters Spa has a steady stream of visitors and plenty of space to accommodate them. Nestled within the Carriage House, a 55 guest-room annex to The American Club, the Midwest’s only AAA Five Diamond awarded hotel, the multi-level spa features relaxation areas sprinkled throughout. A popular place to soak stress away is at the central relaxation pool on the spa’s lower level. As guests float in the 11.5’ x 36’ pool, they can get lost in the clouds, thanks to a hand-painted sky mural that lies overhead, or relieve tension beneath the gentle crash of the 8-foot waterfall that cascades into one end of the pool. The rooftop offers a petite open-air patio, as well as a spacious enclosed deck, complete with a co-ed whirlpool, a sitting area, and an inviting 12-foot long fireplace. A welcoming vibe with a beautiful ambience makes a trip to the spa hard to pass up for visitors to Kohler, especially because it also offers an innovative and expansive treatment menu that is ever-evolving. “We are always changing, yet much of what we do and the level of service we provide remains at a single level of quality,” says Kolb.
From the traditionalist who enjoys a relaxing Aromatherapy Massage (starting at $183, 75 minutes) to the fairway fiend who can recharge with the Golfer’s Massage (starting at $143, 50 minutes), every type of spa-goer is catered to at Kohler Waters Spa. This year, the spa not only introduced a bounty of services, including the tension-releasing Stretch and Flex (starting at $143, 50 minutes) massage, the age-fighting Antioxidant Facial (starting at $158, 50 minutes), and the deep-relieving Great Lakes Stone Massage (starting at $153, 50 minutes), but it also unveiled signature water therapy rooms.
“Working in collaboration with the company’s interior designers and our plumbing engineers, we relayed what therapists would like to have in these new rooms,” says Kolb. “They are the ones using them, so we wanted to make sure we were addressing all operational issues that the original rooms may have presented.” The outcome is three sleek spaces that are equipped with the latest technology to send spa-goers into oblivion: the Acoustic Room, featuring a Kohler Fountainhead VibrAcoustic Bath that invigorates guests with the sound vibrations of underwater music; the Riverbath Room, centering around a whitewater rapids-inspired chromatherapy-enhanced whirlpool; and the Harmony Room, starring a Kohler Tea for Two Bath, which fills from the ceiling with a solid stream of water and offers 18 different settings. In addition to hydromassage via baths and bubbles, the new treatment rooms offer an updated version of the classic Vichy shower. Exclusive to the spa, the six-headed custom-made Vichys evolved from a joint creative effort between the Kohler Waters Spa team and the plumbing engineers at the Kohler Company. Kolb explains that the newly created Vichys, which feature circular rain tiles available to consumers for installation in any home shower, can be pre-programmed so that the water turns on and off in any configuration. “We wanted to be able to keep our hands on the guests while the shower heads were alternating,” she says. “If you’re addressing the client’s face, three shower heads on the lower part of the body are on, or if you are exfoliating, we can have the shower heads move like a wave back and forth on the body. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Winning both guests and estheticians over, these lustrous Vichy showers can be sampled during several of the spa’s treatments, including the newly launched Lavender Rain (starting at $155, 50 minutes). This tantalizing treat smoothes the skin with a lavender- and eucalyptus-infused exfoliation and enlivens the body with a warm Vichy shower. A lavender-laden wrap follows, leaving skin positively dewy.
While the introduction of these showers has been a success, there are no immediate plans to offer them anywhere beyond Kohler. “Who knows what the future may bring,” says Kolb. “Our team once created custom pedicure stations using a kitchen sink and whirlpool jets. Because of their popularity, they are now available to the commercial market.”
Equipment isn’t the only Kohler spa product that has crossed the state line—the Kohler Waters Spa brand has popped up both near and far. Kolb, who also oversees spa operations at Riverbend, Kohler’s local members-only club, was instrumental in the development of two other Kohler Waters Spas—one in Burr Ridge, IL, just outside of Chicago, and the other at the Old Course Hotel, Golf Resort & Spa in St. Andrews, Scotland. “We expanded the Kohler property in 2005, and we are the size we want to be,” says Kolb. “However, we will keep looking for opportunities where we can introduce another Kohler Waters Spa into a resort location—either at our own resort or working in collaboration with another hotel provider to do just that. We have three locations and one private membership spa, and we are just beginning.”
KOHLER WATERS SPA (KOHLER, WI)
OWNER: Kohler Company
DIRECTOR OF WELLNESS BUSINESS AND PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT: Jean Kolb
60% female, 40% male
25,000 square feet; 21 treatment areas
aromatherapy, body treatments, couples’ treatments, energy work, facials, fitness, hand and foot treatments, hydrotherapy, makeup application, massage, microdermabrasion, nailcare, prenatal services, reflexology, salon services, scalp treatments, waxing
Any of the water services, including the popular Highland Fling (starting at $155, 50 minutes), a Scottish-inspired water treatment that features a body scrub with a blend of coffee granules and mint oil, as well as a rubdown with chocolate body butter moisturizer
MOST EXPENSIVE OFFERING
H2O Inspiration for Two (starting at $400 per couple, 75 minutes), which includes a full-body exfoliation, a WaterTile bodyspray showering experience, a footbath, a soak in the Riverbath, an application of body cream, and a hand and foot massage
Europe Lab, Kerstin Florian, OPI, Red Flower, Skin Authority
Knothe, Living Earth Crafts, Springer-Miller Systems, Zendals