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How Natural Stone Helps Create Balance in Spas
By Megy Karydes
When Tamara Wills, owner of Allyu Spa in Chicago, decided to open the doors of her spa almost a decade ago, her intention was to create an inviting space for guests to connect with their bodies. First order of business: to transform the industrial space at in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. Natural stone plays a big role in many spa designs, but Wills took it one step further by using it as a focal point and creating a transitional piece to bring the organic and industrial feel of the space into harmony.
The historic landmark building located at 600 W. Chicago Avenue was home to the former Montgomery Ward mail order headquarters. It was built specifically to handle the massive works of receiving, processing and shipping millions of catalog orders in its heyday.
How Stone Helps Create Balance in Spas
While some would think the space too industrial to work, Wills thought it was the perfect blank slate to create the type of environment she sought for her clients. She focused on using earthy colors, textures and substrates in the overall design. To help balance the space, she and her team created their version of a supportive gabion wall – a steel cage filled with large Wisconsin field stones.
“It has both a strong and structured industrial feel and a completely organic feel,” Wills says. “There is a walkway between the front, more public reception area, and the back treatment area that is boundaried by these gabion walls.”
To help create an even more intimate feel, they lowered the ceiling so clients feel like they’re entering a cave. “Clients love the wall,” she admits, noting that many clients have found it a popular area to take selfies. “Hopefully, the unconscious feel of passing through stimulates the mind and body to get ready for a transition from over-stimulated and distracted to inward-focused and reflective.”
Spas have been using natural stone in a number of ways and for a number of reasons: from focal points to creating an ambiance. Suzanne Falk, interior designer and owner of Suzanne Falk Interior Design, believes using natural stone within a spa setting does a great job bringing Mother Nature indoors. Stone is elegant, stylish, durable and truly timeless, all attributes one appreciates in a spa.
In some cases, a spa can natural stone intended for another purpose. Essere Spa at Castello di Casole in Tuscany is housed in the estate’s former wine cellar. One of the most dramatic spaces on the property, the spa took advantage of the space’s barrel-vaulted ceilings and restored stone walls to create a theatrical setting accentuated by long views across an expansive valley. Today, the spa provides full treatments designed to relax and nurture the body, mind and spirit using local ingredients such as rosemary, grape and olive oil, further bringing the beauty of the outdoors inside.
Creating a Spa at Home Using Natural Stone
Even if you can’t make it to a spa on a regular basis, it’s easy to bring that spa-like feeling at home, says Falk, who thinks everyone should have at least one element of a spa in their home bathroom.
“A home spa is good for the mind, body, and soul,” Falk says. She recommends starting with inexpensive and small touches such a soothing paint color and soft lighting. Adding elements like plush towels, a beautiful tub, a large shower head, and a steam shower are also easy ways to make your bathroom feel luxurious, she adds.
When clients are ready to incorporate stone, she recommends a limestone or mosaic marble floor, or perhaps trying to incorporate natural stone walls and a marble or limestone countertop.
“Natural stones are luxurious and give you a feeling of serenity,” Falk adds. “Who doesn’t want to have a spa-like bathroom in your home where you can relax and restore?”
Falk also likes to use travertine or marble mosaic tiles on the bath floor because it has a natural roughness and there will be less chance of someone slipping. “On the walls, I like using a more polished stone such as marble,” she says, adding that she loves it for its elegant touch.
Wills agrees that natural stone floors are comforting in bathrooms. “To have bare feet on natural stone feels like a homecoming to the body,” she notes.
“We’re so accustomed to level, unnatural surfaces under our feet,” explains Wills. “I think that most people are wanting time to be inward, self-reflective, and self-nurturing at a spa. Creating a special space in your home to remind you of this kind of self-reflection is an amazing thing.”
She reminds clients that creating that special space needn’t be difficult, yet can be very rewarding. An altar or a quiet corner for reading and mediation will work, she notes. “Any representation of the elements in those areas immediately reinforces our grounding and ability to be present in our bodies,” Wills adds. “I actually have a pile of basalt stones in my meditation area. I like to touch them and pile them up in different ways. The texture and temperature is organic and soothing.”
Allyu Spa tries to engage all of the sense because Wills strongly believes it helps clients connect with their bodies and take a break from their restless minds. Although the space might have been industrial at one point, her intentional earth-based design touches, from textured clay walls, reclaimed barnwood, natural stone and darker richer colors throughout, have succeeded in helping to remind clients of the connection between us and the earth.