Spa reception design…first impression lasts

The old saying: first impression lasts is very valid when it comes to spa receptions. What is important when it comes to designing the spa reception and lobby? Well, first of all each project is different and since we tailor make our spa and wellness facilities, the concept, and hence what is found in the reception area will always be different between two projects. However, there are some common reception design guidelines.

First of all, as consultant you know your project in and out. After spending hours upon hours looking at drawings the layout becomes like your second home. On the other hand, the guest have no idea what the layout is like when the first enter so the first rule of thumb is: Do not confuse your guests and make very very clear where he or she should go directly after passing the doors to your spa. I was recently at a five star spa in Europe where the reception was hidden behind a screen. I was very surprised how this layout could leave the architect’s table signed off (we did not do the design for this spa) and I also noticed how guest after guest had to “look for” a person to greet them. So first of all the layout should be designed so that the guest is immediately greeted by a receptionist without having to borrow drawings and use a compass to find his/her way to the reception.

The design is done so that the guest is immediately greeted. What’s next? Like I said initially, the first impression is very important and it only takes about 10 seconds to get it. No matter if the guests come from a hotel, resort, street or mall, the transition from the outside into the spa should be like entering another world. The spa business is mostly associated with relaxation. Nevertheless, this state of mind depends on the concept. We have worked with more energetic and funky concepts as well. Let’s, however, imagine for the sake of simplicity that the concept is a more relaxing concept. Well, then all the senses should be stimulated into relaxation. What the guest sees, hear, smell, touch and even taste should function as a bridge to a more peaceful world. The impression must be one of tranquillity, change of energies, i.e. a safe and secure world where all the needs of caring, understanding and nurturing will be met. I will not go into the details of how we do accomplish this. The guest should also always have a wow-factor in the reception seen within the 10 seconds of first impression. This can be a piece of art, a window to a great view etc.

Secondly you basically need to list all the functions that the reception area should comprise of. One of the more obvious is the spa shop or retail area. In general we always prefer incorporating retail into a more lounge retail spa experience rather than a retail room (At our spa at the Grand Hôtel in Stockholm, however, we were space restricted which forced us to us a separate room). I will not go into details since spa retail is a module of its own in our firm. Other experiences connected to the reception area/lobby can be manicure/pedicure, tea salon, spa bar, spa library, spa coach etc, all these areas need well thought-out plans for how to incorporate them into the reception/lobby design in a natural way.

We are very detailed oriented when it comes to spa lobby design and basically you have to put yourself in the position of the guest and walk through the entire space and imagine that you enter or exit all doors connected to the reception area and stand in every spot looking everywhere. Is there any way that the guest can look behind the reception desk? Can the guest peep into any other back of house areas. Is the reception WCs in the right spot for being as private as possible etc? Is retail display in a logic place? Do we need a cloak room for city spas situated in winter climate? Is the reception desk designed so that receptionists can easily walk out to the lobby area and assist guests? There are many many more questions and if not satisfied with the answer, then it is back to the drawing table and redesign.

We have some simple key points that we use for the spa reception. Sorry, but we cannot give you the core of our know how, but these points even though being rather obvious are sometimes forgotten even by the best architects:

Tranquil and relaxing
A guest entering a spa should get an immediate felling of tranquillity. She needs to feel the difference from the outside world. The feeling of relaxation should start already when entering the spa and not only when entering a treatment room.

Secure and safe
Even though normally the guest profile we work with is probably a rather experienced traveller, the spa guest must always feel secure when entering the spa or rather; there should be no question marks whatsoever during the entire spa journey but certainly not in the entrance. To be secure and feel safe is paramount in a spa. This creates feeling of relaxation and rest.

Welcoming and caring
Normally we always recommend building the reception so that this is the first thing any guest will see when entering the spa. A guest should always be greeted with a welcoming smile to evoke relaxation and security.

Scent is our most important memory sensor and research shows that with an appealing scent, sales can increase with as much as 40%. The entrance area should have oil burners or possibly built in diffusers to welcome the guest with a signature scent as it is an excellent way to welcome the guests and making them change from stress to relaxation.

The guest should be greeted by water, candles, natural materials like stone and wood, beautiful scenery and colours. (Obviously dependent on the concept).

Choice of fabrics and materials such as natural stone and wood as well as greenery also creates the initial feeling of relaxation.

The guest should immediately be relaxed by the sound of nature, preferably water in a calm and soothing way, not loud and noisy, rather a calm trickling that cleanses the mind from any worries.

There is a natural flow in a spa and without a sought out flow, the spa will have difficulties in becoming a success, basically because it is not workable, neither for the staff nor for the guest. Therefore one of the primary issues is the flow to and the energy in every space. The reception normally has a livelier energy relative to other areas in the spa but more relaxing energy relative to the outside world. To make it even more complicated the concept will affect the design more than anything else.

When we design reception areas we must also incorporate staff and staff flow. If the design does not incorporate how staff works operationally, you have a problem and as Customer Flow Management says: “Optimizing customer flows improves customer service and creates a more relaxed atmosphere for both customers and staff. It also optimizes staffing costs, increases revenues and gives our clients added value by maximizing profitability”

Below you can see a first draft space diagram from a real project. This way we understand what areas needs to be connected to the reception and what the second connection to area are. Please note that this is not a drawing just and understanding on what to design into the reception/lobby area. The actual design of the reception area is something completely different.

What makes not only the reception areas but the entire spa design, tricky is that we do seldom have a clean slate to start from. Normally you have restriction regarding the space which affect your ability to design a lobby/reception area exactly the way you want to. Then you need to work with what you have.

Designing reception areas is a fun but time consuming job. Every detail needs to be in place and you have to design and redesign several times.

Next time you are up to designing a spa reception/lobby area do this:
1. Put yourself in the guest’s position and walk through the entire lobby. Are you blown away? Is every item, door, retail, spa experience where it should be? Do you as a guest think this is the perfect design?
2. Put yourself in the staff’s position and walk through the entire lobby. Imagine that you have worked for ten hours straight and you have a completely full reception with more guests than you have ever seen; is the design optimized for you being able to giving a five star service without any hassle?

If you have answered yes to the above! Congratulations!

Project director Raison d’Etre

PS. Never design by yourself. You become blind to your drawing after some time and a second opinion can be worth a million bucks.


2 thoughts on “Spa reception design…first impression lasts

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