Haven't got space for a home spa? Think again
You might think you do not have room to create a spa retreat at home, but could you fit in a cocoon? That is the essence of a spa experience, according to award-winning designer Ed Ng Chung-hong, and it is not defined by space.
Ng is co-founder and director of Hong Kong design and architectural studio AB Concept, which in June won a Best Design trophy for his part in the W Retreat & Spa Bali in Seminyak. The firm edged out some of the world's best-known design companies, including the much-lauded Yabu Pushelberg of Canada, in the International Hotel and Property Awards 2011 hosted by interior design magazine Design Et Al.
Ng has designed spas for Shangri-La hotels in Tainan, Taiwan and Jing An, Shanghai, and the Mandarin Oriental in Singapore. He is currently working on the W Hotel Beijing, including its spa.
So, is it possible to give them all an individual character? Definitely, he says, explaining that W is playful, the Mandarin oozes serenity with an Oriental touch, and the Shangri-La is trendy and fashionable.
'A spa is about escape - the whole idea is to give you a break from whatever you are doing,' Ng said. 'It can be a playful escape, or a serene escape, but it has to make a clear design statement so that you feel, 'Oh, I'm somewhere else'.'
If you have a bathroom, you have the makings of a home spa. You are aiming to harmonise the senses, so all five - sight, sound, smell, touch and taste - should be covered in your design plan.
Ng would begin by providing adequate storage, noting that there was nothing quite so mood-breaking as the sight of an electric toothbrush on a bench.
'Spas should be as clean and tidy as possible,' he said.
Lighting and music are spa essentials. Ng suggests 'having a bit of fun' with lighting by using different coloured LEDs to create an individual colour therapy.
Many spas offer this treatment, which is based on the premise that specific colours have healing and restorative properties related to physical and emotional well-being.
Slovenian designer Peter Kuhar designed his Colour Therapy Lamp for just this reason, but the lamp never made it to mass production because of its high price of Euro200 (HK$2,240) each.
Ng says a similar effect can be achieved more economically by having an electrician install a range of different coloured LEDs and then just 'going with the flow'. The effect to look for is that 'you should be able to feel colours changing, even with your eyes closed', Ng says.
As for music, just load spa tunes on to an iPod - even guests at spa resorts tend to bring their own - but Ng recommends connecting it to a good set of speakers.
When it comes to the bath itself, forget expensive jacuzzis, which are too noisy and too shallow. A deep tub where the water comes up to your shoulder is far more luxuriant.
Japanese-style soaking tubs are a popular trend because they enable relaxation of the whole body, even while sitting up. This also means they can be shorter than conventional baths, a space-saving feature.
In sync with the essence of spa, these tubs have become organic, made of wood and stone as alternatives to the conventional acrylic or pressed-metal varieties. For this reason, Australian company Apaiser is finding a willing market for its lush, deep, composite-stone tubs (priced at HK$65,000) among high-end clients in Hong Kong and the mainland, including the Four Seasons Guangzhou, Casa Lakes Villas Shanghai, and Lily Apartments in Repulse Bay.
'We have seen a strong and very pleasing move towards free-standing, soaking-style baths,' Felicia Seignior, Apaiser's international sales manager, said.
The 'new' bathing experience was cleansing, sensuous and tranquil, Seignior added. 'There is a focus on complete immersion, and satisfying all the senses - the feeling of skin on stone, the smell of essential oils, mood lighting.'
Another trend is that the bathroom is treated as are other spaces - 'furnishing the bathroom with sculptural, yet functional features'.
'Through the use of reclaimed marble, we can produce a product line that is environmentally responsible, beautiful and comfortable,' Seignior said. 'It is warmer and softer to touch than conventional bathroom materials, and has a very organic and natural feel.'
And that brings us back to the five senses. Ng is an advocate of under-floor heating - another product that has become more consumer-friendly. There is nothing so affronting as stepping out from a warm bath on to an icy tile. These systems now come as heating mats that can be retro-fitted between the concrete slab and the tile top, so a small area can be heated cost-effectively.
As Lee David Stephens, managing director of spa consultancy and management company Sol Spa Services, points out, with so many commercial-grade products now available for retail sale - including Voya, a seaweed from Ireland used in some of Europe's finest spas - there is no reason why we cannot 'self-treat' at home. Those blessed with the double indulgence of a rooftop or garden and privacy could always create an idyllic spa outdoors, surrounded by potted greenery.
Ng says his own favourite spa memory is of a soak on a clifftop in Bali with the sound of waves providing the background music. He calls this 'pampering by nature'.
AB Concept www.abconcept.net/
Agent for Hong Kong & Shanghai: Arnhold Design Centre, 315-321 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2865 0123; www.arnhold.com.hk
Sol Spa Services: www.solspaservices.com
Voya seaweed: www.voya.com.hk