Give your home gym the spa treatment

By Carleton Varney

Judging from the number of advertisements I’ve encountered, invitations to grand openings I’ve received and new beauty products I’ve seen of late, I think there must be more spas being conceived, built, decorated and promoted than there are golf facilities today.

If every town in America has a golf course or two — or three — then there must be at least triple the number of spas in America. And that’s a welcome development. I’m all for folks playing golf and enjoying spa treatments.

I remember Elizabeth Arden’s famous Maine Chance spa, and have more recently encountered spas at all the country’s top resorts — the Greenbrier Spa in West Virginia, the Palm Desert Spa Resort in California, the Spa at the Crescent in Dallas, as well as the well-known Palm Beach ones at The Breakers, The Ritz-Carlton and the new Omphoy, among others.

So many spas develop their own special treatments, whether for the skin, for the body or even for the mind. I’m thinking of those meditative “serenity treatments” performed with the sound of the ocean in the background.

Once upon a day, I wrote a book titled Staying in Shape — A Visit to the World’s Great Spas. I visited spas where health was the important focus: ”Drink this raspberry flavored tea, and the pounds will fall away,” the staff at one spa promised, “and do these water aerobics and you’ll be looking your best.” I visited some spas that were all but devoid of décor, while I toured others that had chandeliers hanging over the pool.

One way or another, the spa world is here to stay.

Recently, I visited a day spa, one as elaborate as you can imagine. The guest checks in for a day of pampering — of rubs and tubs and hair-dos, nail-dos, feet-dos — and a lunch of lettuce, à la carte and tea with no sweetener, only lemon. After a day in the spa, the client meets her husband for dinner, looking like the newest of new women.

So hooray for the spas of the day and the continuing process of their development. Over the years, I’ve created interiors designed to capture the spa life, but I try not to overdo them. As spa life has found a place in today’s home in the form of the personal gym — with an accompanying plunge pool, skylights and even changing rooms with sauna and steam facilities — I want to say that such spas should always be on a home’s upper floor and never below grade, where, in my experience, the family gym/spa has often found its home.

Although it’s not much of a problem in sea-level Florida, many part-time Palm Beachers have homes in other locales where basements are standard. And many of the home gym/spas I’ve encountered in my professional life have been relegated to basements, where walls must be decorated with murals to make the trainer and the trainee think they are on the Riviera or in the Caribbean amid bright sunshine and the fragrance of orange blossoms.

Just as a small room will always be a small room — no matter how many sheet mirrors you apply to wall surfaces — a spa in the basement will always be a basement room, no matter how many artificial palm trees you place there.

I believe the home spa should be separate — in an adjoining building or in a small, separate wing. Oh, yes, I’ve heard the argument that goes something like this: “But we have lots of empty space in the basement for our spa/exercise room and you, my decorator, can make the space look beautiful.“

Ah, yes, I’ve worked on a spa in the basement many times, and yes, one can decorate and decorate. But a home spa needs natural light — but not from that typical band of windows placed high on the walls. They once called these windows “cellar windows.” Now, they are called “spa fenestration”! Oh, let there be light!

When spa decorating, I prefer a clean contemporary look with white fixtures and, maybe, those Lalique starfish-shaped crystal handles for the water faucets. I tend to prefer traditional spa colors when selecting tiles or marble for the walls or floor — watery aqua blues and soft ocean corals. They’re happy, ocean colors for a happy home spa.


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