Juliet Kinsman talks spa rituals, connecting with nature, healthy minibars, naked business meetings and egg timers in the shower, with the creative director of David Collins Studio.
Juliet Kinsman: When it comes to wellbeing, what trends are you noticing?
Simon Rawlings: It’s amazing that when you check into many hotels now, where it used to be all about having lots to eat and drink, now the focus is often on exercise and wellness.
At the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong, where I’ve just stayed, they have an interesting new gym concept from a collaboration with DNAFit which ties into a special training programme with guidance from Mandarin Oriental’s team of personal trainers and a diet.
I stay in some properties where they’ve not bothered with gyms as such, but have programmed an exercise channel into the TV with workouts for guests to follow.
JK: Would you follow fitness via your TV?
SR:No. Especially as I use a gym more when I travel just because it’s convenient and it’s a good way to tackle jetlag.
Gyms that are designed for a certain fitness regime where to do them, you have to engage with a trainer, I can find off-putting. You turn up, and there’s a load of stuff you’ve never seen before — last time that happened I did about four minutes on the cross-trainer and left.
JK: With gyms, is the environment important?
SR: Yes — it’s really important. I want somewhere that feels inspiring. I don’t want to work out somewhere that’s like a nightclub, but spend time somewhere that’s calming. I like daylight — it soothes my brain…
JK: Advice for hoteliers?
SR: Don’t put the spa and gym in the basement — bring it above ground. It’s actually a big revenue spinner, so bring these facilities into the main space. With the residential developments that we’re working on, we’ve been exploring how best to tune into the wellness side of things for residents, as some of the properties offer these kinds of amenities as add-on packages. We’ve done boxing gyms and interesting plug-ins for people who buy apartments.
JK: Does nature play a role in wellbeing?
SR: Go to the Far East and it’s great to find the spas nestled in their own gardens or gyms set in their own greenery — obviously resort hotels with the luxury of space and views have an advantage. Wellness can be about having a connectivity with nature — and this is a new thing for city hotels. A great example of where it works wonderfully in London is the Berkeley in Knightsbridge, with its pool on the roof and the retractable roof.
A project we loved working on in Bangkok had a big emphasis on connecting high-energy exercise spaces with relaxing Zen-style terraces with lots of landscaping – it was high intensity, but still you could connect with nature amid the craziness of the city.
I don’t like TV screens in gyms – I hate that everything is a screen now, especially when the whole idea of exercise is taking you to another place. My personal trainer, Mark Anthony, just opened this new spin club at Westfield shopping centre in White City. At FirstLight Cycle, the fitness concept is all hinged on the sun rising and I love that idea of using nature to accentuate and accelerate the wellness process. It uses sunlight simulation technology to increase circadian rhythm to stimulate the senses and production of serotonin and boost energy.
Spas, in the past, have all too often been an afterthought. One of the things that we try and do at David Collins Studio is to understand the significance of ceremony, and understanding relevant rituals when we lay these spaces out, so the result is something very thoughtful.
JK: Favourite therapies and treatments?
SR: I always go for the classics, but I’m curious about experiencing Facegym and a therapy I am keen to try the traditional banya treatment — parenia — in the bathhouse at South Kensington Club. You go into a really hot hammam, and then they whip you with bamboo and then plunge you into freezing cold water. There’s something quite appealing about this centuries-old Russian hot-and-cold therapy – and I like that we’re moving to more historic and ancient rituals.
JK: Earthing is when you walk barefoot on natural terrain, maybe warm sand or green grass, and it's said to harmonise your energy, reduce stress and encourage restful sleep. Thoughts?
(Simon pauses, then puts ‘earthing’ into Google).
SR: Well, Gwynnie’s doing it.
JK: I loved the spa at Nihi Island, Sumba in Indonesia. Do you advocate going au naturel?
SR: Lime Wood has an element of this with its completely private spaces which let you connect with nature. We created this incredible indoor onsen in Seoul, where you hang out in different temperature pools – there are even people doing business meetings in them. I love it when wellness can be incorporated into everyday life. My colleague and I were invited to Taiwan; for day one on our itinerary, the note for our first meeting was “please be advised if offended by public nudity”. We all met butt naked – luckily the water was very sulphurous and cloudy. That was a funny scene. We’re all the same, ultimately. Culturally, for them, it was important that we threw aside any inhibitions.
JK: Tea ceremonies are featured in spas as a meditative therapy in their own right increasingly - I've seen it at Soori Bali, Amanyangyun in China and Lux* Resorts.
SR: Yes, anything with that sense of ritual makes people feel good in the space, and that way they’ll get a better result also.
JK: What do you crave?
SR: Something I hope will become more of a trend is the integration of wellness into the whole travel process. I always think the air quality on a new plane has a huge impact on how you feel when you land. It’s a completely different experience to when you’re on an old plane. Sure, you get a shower in the lounges, but the best experience I’ve known is the massage in the Thai Airways’ lounge — the therapists took the time to do it properly, in a private space. Virgin Atlantic tried doing this on their planes, but it’s disappeared now. They’d just rub your shirt a bit, which was a bit pointless.
JK: There is little more unrelaxing than a limp massage, is there?
SR: It’s infuriating.
JK: Most bizarre treatment you've experienced?
SR: I was at the most beautiful spa resort in Greece, and I chose this treatment where you were submerged in this strange coffin-like case with a weird rubbery gel all around. I get shivers just thinking about it.
JK: Neurology, psychology and counsellingare appearring on menus alongside facials and massages such as at The Corinthia London. Is how we feel becoming as important in spas as how we look?
SR: Yes — and I think it’s brilliant. Personally, I’ve never understood approaching colour therapy and mindfulness which you access through an app on your phone – I think it should be about disconnecting with technology. It’s about the mental therapies that give your brain a rest. I’ve seen a cranial osteopath which has been life-changing in a lot of ways. It’s so satisfying to feel your jaw muscles being released – the head, for me, is a part of the body we so often forget about.
JK: Spa disappointments?
SR: I have an issue with hotel spas when I feel they’re not quite professional enough or where you need them to be in terms of expertise.
JK: Consistently excellent spas?
SR: Mandarin Orientals and ESPA Life at the Corinthia’s expertise stands out — I would always trust these brands and the attachment of a credible spa operator. I’m looking forward to trying the new Wellness Clinic on the fourth floor of Harrods, which is meant to be incredible.
JK: Best destination spa?
SR: Como Shambhala in Bali is the best — the setting there in the hills by the river valley is so perfect. And the connectivity with diet and raw food was a game-changer — I loved it. Timelessly elegant and intuitive service, too.
JK: Digestion and gut health improving how we think and feel is getting a lot more attention...
SR: It’s interesting because of the trend for us to be moving away from gluttony and waste and preferences around nutrition are changing. Plant-based diets are genius – soon, gone will be the days when room service only has junk food. When you’re travelling, you want to fill yourself with gorgeous green things. More people are embracing this – and more and more chefs considering this. When I talk to chefs about catering, through to dietary conditions, they usually thrive on these new attitudes as it breaks the monotony.
JK: Healthy-eating hopes?
SR: I have yet to find a mini-bar packed with healthy snacks.
JK: If sustainability is wellbeing for the world, are more of us mindful of this?
SR: The problem is that guests want clean towels and sheets when then they’re at a hotel and they’re paying for a luxury-hotel room – and there’s a throwaway attitude in hotels. The little plastic bottles of shampoo are what drive me crazy — I’d love everyone to have lovely big refillable dispensers.
It’s hard to say that you’re thoughtful when you fly around the world all the time...but I was in a hotel recently where there was only filtered water and no plastic which was great. And as designers, we try and source as much as we can locally, too.
Everyone must try harder — guests, hoteliers — that whole idea of service is overdone. Think of all that stuff in hotels that you don’t really need: so let’s strip it back, such as the unnecessary leaflets and paper. 1Hotels even has an egg timer in the shower, but that’s a bit gimmicky, and I think there are deeper issues.