The goal was to embellish nature’s restorative qualities with the benefits of this resort’s spa, both in the services provided and in the designed environment in which these services are delivered.
Surrounded by the majestic Catskill Mountains, tranquil forests and rushing waters of the Esopus River, the Emerson Resort & SPA is nestled in the heart of Mother Nature’s playground. What better place to rejuvenate your body and soul than in nature where it positively affects our brain, body and overall health and wellbeing. Blurring the line between this interior and the majesty of this nature preserve was the quest. Besides, “SPA” is an acronym or the literal translation of the Latin words, Salus Per Aquam or Health through Water.
When you have an engaged client there are no challenges, just the task of doing the investigative research and developing the best design interventions to meet the goal. A strong Emersonian approach to a nature retreat was used, much like what was done for the inn and restaurant, with the added challenge of addressing the need to fill the resort off-season. The spa had to become a primary destination, and marry the indoors with the outdoors during the shoulder seasons between fall leaf peeping and the winter ski season. Therefore, the design of the spa not only had to have design qualities that complemented its restorative service qualities, but also had to contribute to its economic outcomes by filling inn and lodge rooms and restaurant seats.
In the first phase of the resort project, the “Deep Thinking” phase, many strains of research were integrated into setting the project vision. CAMA conducted a literature review focused on nature’s impact on wellbeing as it has the most powerful draw to this location; this led to writing a paper describing the impact that nature and biophilic design interventions would have on the resort’s restorative qualities both inside and out. This paper set the tone for this multi-phased renovation project, the spa being just one phase. Studies emphasized the need for immersion in nature and the goal was to maintain that same benefit when the guest came indoors, especially for spa treatments.
CAMA drew upon nature’s patterns, variability and sensory qualities to amplify the experience of the spa. The greatest natural feature of the resort’s site is the Esopus River. Metaphorically, the water element and the river's edge were repeatedly used in the design. The element of pause and centering was delivered by a large bespoke vessel and a powerful blown glass lighting fixture placed in the entry rotunda. At every juncture of passage, guests are moved toward natural light or backlit nature images. These interior explorations were reinforced by material pattern language.
A catalog of organic patterning approaches was developed that would allow for controlled calibration of one’s mood and directional assistance to move from one spa experience to the next without losing the benefits of the last, hence building and deepening the therapies. Hallways were one-sided light washed white birch walls that grazed light into a pebble edge, while the quietude of nature was reinforced by an asymmetrically laid tatami mat with leaf fossil casts on that opposite wall that one might find on a river’s walk. The relationships and themes from research, patterning, and insight from nature were deliberately accentuated.
The spa has created its own draw as a destination, which was a goal to bolster the resort’s shoulder season. The renovated spa made its debut in September 2016, and the revenue base has increased by over 80%. Sale of retail products has increased by 102%. Guest feedback has measurably improved. Both overnight guests of the Emerson and day guests remark about the healing qualities of the natural design elements of the spa.
Employee satisfaction has also improved. In an area where qualified therapists are difficult to find, many therapists express a desire to work in the beautiful, yet functional, Emerson Spa.