Watch This Space – Part 2: Spa Trends
In this three-part series, we’re exploring the cultural evolution of spas and how they’ve contributed to the exponential growth of the wellness space.
In Part 1, we took a look some of our favorite spas today. In Part 2 below, we speak to Loren Daye, former Creative Director of spaces at Atelier Ace, about current spa trends. And in Part 3, we imagine the future of bathing with Jason Harler, Founder of American Medicinal Arts, who’s developed spas for hotel brands like The Standard and The Ace.
How did you become interested in spas and wellness culture?
My father was a professor of Buddhist Studies. I was an only child and so we kind of went everywhere together. Throughout my career, I’ve traveled a lot, and so much of being a part of these hotel groups is about travel and seeing the world. With differences in time zones, eating habits, being away from home and wanting totems of home, it's a challenge to stay well in so many different regards. What sorts of challenges does travel pose to wellness? How do you manage that? With regards to your digestive system, immune system, and sleep cycles, there's certainly a lot of tricks that have worked for me personally to stay healthy and balanced. One of the great pleasures of my physical life has been saunas and baths, the ritual of cleansing and other rituals, like herbal tinctures. I carry around oregano oil almost everywhere.
What do you personally do to stay balanced?
One of the great ways I have of balancing myself and staying warm when I've experienced of the dissociative dampness and coldness of airplanes has been through saunas, spas, water therapies, and a lot of heat. I use Ayurvedic traditions to keep my internal fire lit while traveling the world. It’s a challenge: how to see and do exciting new things but continue to stay functional and comfortable. Bathing has been a big key to managing the seasonal changes and sleep deprivation, all those issues. Spas originally had to do with health, pulling from wellness traditions like the Turkish hammam. The idea of a new paradigm is really interesting to me. Why shouldn’t bathhouses be about self care, reconnection with your own body, and recalibration?
How have spas changed over time?
Throughout history, the bathhouse has been that sort of meeting place where ideas were discussed and there was a sense of belonging and place within a city. I really wanted to create something that was pulling from all these different traditions and rituals, that could be oriented as a destination, that people might see as a special occasion, but also serve as a community center where people can meet. The idea of it being gender-neutral and unisex is very appealing to me.
There are communal baths in New York today, right?
Yeah, I think there just needs to be more of it and maybe a modern version of that. The new AIRE spa in Tribeca really tries to do that and it's quite lovely. Being in the design world, I notice opportunities for change or improvement, but yeah, I think there's a lot there. I went to Russian and Turkish baths when I was first in New York in the mid-’90s and really found it to be so wonderful. It's amazing it hasn't changed a lot since then, because I don't think it has to. It's about different versions of hot and cold, and there's such a simplicity to it. It does what it needs to do.
I wonder if there’s a middle ground: a place for gathering with the freedom of a Russian bath, but the sophistication of a spa like AIRE…
Yeah, exactly. I'm really passionate about just the idea of a shared space, like a lobby — a place in the city that feels public, but gives you a sense of belonging, where you return to, that’s part of a ritual of wellness and cleansing, less associated with beauty. My ultimate dream is to open something that incorporates restorative fitness, focused on mobility, not necessarily a conventional gym model.
Does that sort of place exist?
I used to go to a place every day in Portland, a rehabilitation center on the OHSU campus called March Wellness. They had Pilates reformers you could pull out yourself and work on. So I would go and train myself, and then do some cycling or go swimming. They had a saltwater hot tub, so I would sit in there for a little while, then do a cold plunge and spend a little time in the sauna. It was totally about the care of my own body and really breathing deeply and circulating. By the time I left, I felt so deeply relaxed and restored. It's funny they did that, and it was actually a medical rehabilitation center inside a treatment facility inside a medical college. That’s the one really great facility that I’ve found personally. Of course, there are things certainly all over Europe and outside the United States.
If you could design your ideal bathhouse, what components would you include?
Warm pools, different temperature pools, from Korean traditions. My favorite pool for sitting is with a soaking pool with mugwort, so I would say that, and certainly pulling from Finnish traditions like warm, woody, dry saunas. Cold plunges and that experience of contrast would be absolutely essential to get circulation moving. Some sort of community space. And there’s this aspect of the hammam: the resting part of the ritual, large concrete or stone slabs that are heated and just feel so primally restorative to me. I think these would be the perfect components of the modern spa.
Can you talk a little bit about the social element of spas?
Yes, absolutely. There’s both social and very solitary elements. There's some moments in this paradigm we're talking about where you would want to turn inward, in the quiet of your own awareness, and search, pay attention to your body, and become more aware of what you're feeling and experiencing. Then there's definitely the social aspect that comes after that: disconnecting and feeling like you're sharing a space with your community.
Are there ideal landscapes for this sort of spa you’re imagining?
Well, Vals (Switzerland) is so incredible. I haven’t been yet, but I would definitely identify with that sort of rural landscape. It's as much about the experience inside the space as it is about looking outward and seeing nature and smelling all of the fresh, beautiful air. I've always very much identified with the view from Switzerland, less so with a lot of urban spas. The true poetry is a structure that could be solved in a rural location.
How do you imagine bathhouses will look 40 years from now?
I would imagine that most of life will feel very fluid, and even faster moving than it is now. I wonder if in 2060 it's actually about the ritual of water in this kind of fluid, rapid environment: more about nuance and more sophistication in relation to compensating for the temperature of the body and how water or space could respond to that, so it's almost like a customized experience. Rituals that would help us become healthier and feel like we’re communicating on some level with our actual circadian rhythms and the pressures we're feeling. It would be incredible if there were some kind of biofeedback, reactionary physical environment where you could be read. That's just not possible today, but maybe it would be possible in the future.
Perhaps, given that wellness is such a big industry now…
It's really crazy it’s so massive! I've seen this trend of people who were formally in fashion moving into wellness, like the lovely ladies at Cap Beauty, an all-natural skin care shop from the founder and former owner of Castor and Pollux, a women’s clothing store. She started selling natural skin care and that really took off. They just opened a retail space at Fred Segal in Los Angeles, and seeing what they're doing with their programming, it's so much about wellness and holistic analysis of every different component of one's body. They talk a lot about circadian cycles for women versus men, with lectures on digestion, a nutrition, specific herbs and things. I've learned a lot from attending a few cultural events there.
Do you think this interest around wellness is a reaction in any way to technology?
With the world moving as quickly as it does, and with our reliance on so much technological equipment in our lives, having separation from that, in some ways, is obviously very therapeutic. Away from computers, I just breathe differently. All of that explains why the idea of getting in touch with our bodies again and massage has gotten so big. The whole spa industry has really blossomed because of that. I think it's also paralleled with a more natural, deeper approach to youthfulness.
What’s new and next in spa and wellness trends?
We've learned so much about the human body now that we understand the components that are helpful for keeping us vibrant and also looking youthful: these basic hot/cold properties of cleansing and relaxation. We’re moving away from “surface correction” to focus more on internal regulation. It’s about hot and cold. Infrared spas are huge now. Salt-water floating. I consider these all wellness components. There are still so many exciting opportunities here.
Read Part 3, where we imagine the future of bathing with Jason Harler, founder of American Medicinal Arts, who’s developed spas for hotel brands like The Standard and The Ace.
Words by The Editors and Loren Daye.