Feature Article - January/February 2002
Find a printable version here

There’s No Business Like Spa Business

With some rec centers and health clubs adding or converting space for spas, how do you plan a successful place for pampering?

By Jenny E. Beeh

Back in the day, before day spas

In general, spa-type spaces in rec facilities have had humble beginnings, usually as a small room used for massage often in or adjacent to the locker rooms.

"That was it for 'spa' services," says Dan Meus, principle of Graham/Meus, Inc., an architectural firm based in Boston that has designed rec facilities (some with spas) all over the country. Such rooms were hardly roomy, usually 120 square feet, space enough for a massage table and maybe a vanity table. "Not a lot of thought went into it," he adds. "Nothing about mood—you just went there to get rubbed down."

Top: A view of the Boar's Head Inn grounds
Bottom: The Boar's Head Inn spa reception area

But all that's changed over the past half-decade or so. Now spas have their own unique—and expanding—space.

Spas designed for health clubs and rec centers can be tricky because a good spa must walk a thin line between being its own separate oasis-type world—crucial for the whole relation experience to work—and a seamless integration with the rest of the club: It has to be part of the whole club yet must be allowed to have its own decadent personality.

"You want to integrate it with the whole workout experience," Calvo says. On the other hand, spa space must remain special. "It has its own environment," he says. "Find a way to differentiate each area, integrate flexibility into the design. But you don't have to be totally separate from the core business. To me, that's key."

Separate yet integrated is only one of the major design considerations. Creating the right spa atmosphere is another.

With relaxation as one of the highest priorities, think about the five human senses when it comes to complete design. For example, muted, toned-down lighting and soundproof walls can separate the spa from the rest of the building as well as create a peaceful atmosphere.

"That's very critical," Meus says. "If you can hear the music pumping from the aerobics studio that would be terrible."

And the heating/ventilation/air conditioning systems should be separate, too. While temperatures in the mid-60s (degrees F) are considered normal in a workout room, warmer temps in the range of 72 to 75 degrees are much more comfortable for bare skin. Spas also need to be designed with larger ductwork and larger grills to slow down the air so it feels softer. The ventilation system will also be handling odors from chemicals and solutions and therefore must exhaust to the outside, similar to a toilet room.

"Those are little things you need to pay attention to," Meus says.

Designing for privacy is also important. While communal-type spa space was typical in the 1970s, Calvo says, clients today crave seclusion.