In the past, spas and fitness spaces were often small rooms tucked away in far corners of hotel properties. But today’s spa and fitness amenities are taking on a life of their own. From large-scale opulent features, to intimate spaces at one with nature, spas and fitness centres are transforming to meet the growing demand for five-star wellness experiences.

“The big change in spas and fitness centres is how hotels are approaching them,” says Alison McNeil, principal of Design, DIALOG in Toronto. “They used to be combined as one subject. Now they’re two completely separate ones. The clothes are different, the energy levels are different and they are often connected, but on different levels.”

Another big change, she says, is the scale. “Fitness rooms used to be around 500 to 1,000 sq. ft., with treadmills and weights. Now, fitness has revolutionized the social and design experience. It’s much more of an event in your visit and not on the sidelines. Guests used to spend maybe 15 minutes on a treadmill. Now it’s an hour and a half.”

DIALOG’s recent projects are good examples of this new-found grandeur. Archetype — a new luxury fitness-and-lifestyle club on the fifth floor of the JW Marriott Edmonton ICE District Hotel — is a state-of-the-art 20,000-sq.-ft. facility complete with celebrity trainers, fitness rooms, café and retail services. “From a design perspective, it’s the most revolutionary we’ve [worked on],” McNeil says.

A show-stopper is the suspended staircase, featuring a row of vertical Klein-blue slats that reflect the Edmonton Oilers brand — one of many homages to the local hockey team’s colours. “The staircase was designed to show a sense of strength,” she explains.

Given its location and affiliation with winter sports, ice was the inspiration for many shapes, surfaces and finishes. Cool blues, whites and greys are the colour elements of choice. Linear and angular elements are found everywhere, from reception counters to the pool area — where visitors experience the sensation of swimming in an ice-fractal palace.

The energy of the fitness centre is enhanced by a large video-wall room for spin classes, where users can have an experiential moment by programming the road of their choice.

The spa is slightly softer and less angular to create a more relaxing aura, but continues to showcase blue elements in its furnishings and artwork. The entry is flanked by a rough-hewn slate-coloured wall surface and an organically inspired metal wall sculpture that leads visitors to the reception area.

At the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, DIALOG’s design for the property’s recently redesigned spa has a completely different vibe — one more suited to the aesthetics of an urban clientele. “In this project, we wanted to create a more luxurious and restful place, drawing on natural materials and crystal,” says McNeil.

The idea was to create ethereal spaces that reflect natural water and stone, McNeil explains. Natural wood and stone surfaces by Etobicoke, Ont.-based Moss and Lam art studio are seamlessly blended with undulating contours and bronze accents.

Lining the entry to the spa are crystal-cylinder lights that emit natural scents, while the marbled-effect carpets complement the stone theme.

The organic aspect is showcased in a stunning chandelier designed by Toronto-based ceramic artist Allisa Coe. Its hand-cast porcelain flowers and bees and two different colours of metal create a twinkling, ethereal effect when lit. The installation is suspended by thin wires, giving the illusion that the chandelier is floating on air.

Guests love the artisan aspect of design, McNeil says. “People love to touch things, so we reinforce the idea over and over again that hands made this.”

When Pomeroy Lodging acquired what is now the Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge in Alberta in 2015, it was the perfect opportunity to bring a completely different spa concept to the guest experience, says Ryan Pomeroy, president, Pomeroy Lodging. “The idea sprang from the fact the property already had a hot tub that didn’t have a view of the mountains. In this incredible setting, we wanted to build a spa with a view and allow guests to embrace the elements.”

Jennifer Buckler, vice-president of Spa & Development, says “We wanted to make the land around us the star of the show. We didn’t want the facilities to distract from those mountain vistas.”

Built by Alta-Fab Structures in Nisku, Alta., the spa offers an elevated hydrotherapy cycle in the heart of nature. The Alpine-inspired setting features five different outdoor pools for soaking, energizing, gathering or quiet reflection; relaxing outdoor rest areas with fire cauldrons and winterized hammocks; wet- and dry-sauna rooms; an exfoliation cabin; and two bistro and relaxation spaces where guests can enjoy snacks and drinks before a fire.

Pine and rundle stone were heavily incorporated into the aesthetic. “The idea was to use materials that are representative of the area we’re in. There’s no sense working in marble if you’re not near a quarry,” Buckler says.

Interior surface colours are mainly neutrals to avoid any gender dominance, she notes. Splashes of colour in the furniture, throws and cushions mimic the seasonal colours (russet red, brown, green and marigold) in the spa’s custom Maple Leaf Tartan robes.

The outdoor pools feature textured faux-rock finishes to emulate natural grottos and give the illusion of walking on natural-stone floors.

Being at one with natural surroundings is also a trademark at The Josie in Rossland, B.C. DMU Design CEO and design principal Kimberley Miller says The Josie holds a special place for her. “When we first saw the site, we realized it was really about embracing nature. That influenced the soft-toned colour palette throughout the hotel.”

The third-floor spa and fitness areas are a signature feature of the property, where every room looks onto the mountains. “Everything is about relating to nature and embracing it. In many ways the view became the story,” Miller says. “It was important that every selection — from the earth-based and pastel hues to the windows — stayed true to that story.”

The intimate two-room Spa Terre is a private zone away from the fitness centre. Both areas feature floor-to-ceiling windows where visitors can relax or work out while taking in the panoramic views. Plans are in place for an outdoor slopeside pool and hot tubs extending from the fitness and spa areas.

Whether bringing nature in or embracing it head on, the quest for top-notch wellness experiences is increasingly important to today’s guests, Pomeroy says. “People no longer want to go on holidays and gain 10 lbs. They want to reset and pamper themselves.”

Written by Denise Deveau


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