Mind and Body

Rich textures help Exhale Spas stand out
Posted June 19, 2007

The attraction of the new chain of Exhale Spas is that it combines a spa with a fitness center. Yes, there’s massage and a full range of body treatments. But there’s also exercise equipment, a swimming pool, yoga and toning classes. To enhance this idea, the design of the spas seeks to soothe both the mind and the body.

The atmosphere in the newest Exhale Spa – a two-story, 10,000 square foot location in Dallas – is crafted to be both elegant and earthy, conveying a sense of nature and spirituality.

“We hit all five senses,” says Peter Bryant, the company’s vp, development and facilities. “We have aromatherapy and different music selections in every room. And visually, we’re trying to use the décor to get people’s minds to relax.

“We have a lot of Zen-like displays, where you just see one strip of light on a shelf, for example, instead of busy lighting and color patterns. In fact, you’ll see only three different colors in the whole place – green, orange and brown. Very earth-centered. And the details are in the textures of the materials, not in the patterns.”

The materials were similarly chosen: natural, reclaimed wood; organic fabrics; paper, leather and shaved-reed wall coverings; translucent panels containing beach grass; hemp carpeting. “We try to balance the dark, chunky, ebonized wood – a lot of teak – with whitewashed ash, so that we have this balance of dark and light playing in the spaces,” Bryant says.


And then there are the truly exotic touches that take customers out of their crowded urban surroundings. Entry to the studios is through huge, antique sliding doors, 10 feet in height and width, imported from Bali. Each therapy room has antique window panels, also imported from Indonesia, even though they’re enclosed, basement-level rooms.

“Therapy rooms can be claustrophobic,” explains Bryant. “Although there’s a wall just behind it, these panels create the sense that there’s a portal there, that you’re not enclosed in this tiny room because there’s an exterior on the other side.”


The retail and reception area, along with the lobby-lounge and fitness areas, is relatively bright and vibrant, heightening the feeling of transition for customers. “It gets more serene and quiet as you go back to the spa,” Bryant says. “And we try to make the studios very spiritual, with all the lighting on dimmers to create ambience.”

Shawmut Design and Construction (Boston and New York), which has built most of the Exhale Spas, has experience in retail design. “We wanted a high level of finish,” Bryant says. “A company that does only corporate interiors might not have the same attention to detail. The level of detail in the retail environment is much higher. That’s exactly what we wanted.

“We’re a mind-body spa, and while the body part is energized by the exercise, the massages and the facials, the mind part just wants to relax. That’s why the environment is so important.”

Photography: Aaron Caughran, Dallas