Village People

A first-time spa in an old-fashioned town serves up simple pleasures.

Fearrington Village

By the time Fearrington Village, North Carolina’s idyllic, top-ranking vacation destination/planned community, opened a spa last October, 10 years of research had already been poured into the project. The final realization—a 4,000-square-foot spa farmhouse, surrounded by herb gardens and overlooking the village center—is everything that Fearrington’s founder and proprietor, R.B. Fitch, envisioned after years of touring spas across the U.S. and Europe for inspiration. As Fitch describes it, he sought to create “something charming and comfortable—sort of human scale.” That same description could be applied to Fitch’s entire property.

Nestled in the green, forested countryside that rolls into Chapel Hill, the community’s neighbor to the North, Fearrington (pronounced FAIR-ington) Village was founded in 1974, when Fitch and his late wife Jenny purchased the 18th-century dairy farm. (Its original silo, towering over a cow-dotted pasture, still signifies to guests that they’ve arrived.) Drawn to the estate because it made him nostalgic for the small villages he’d grown to love while stationed in England on U.S. Air Force duty during WWII, Fitch soon redeveloped the land to replicate the look and scale of his beloved Britain, modeling the Fearrington Village Center after its hamlets, and gradually adding shops, restaurants and homes.

Over the last 30 years the community has grown to include 1,800 residents, the Fearrington House Inn and Restaurant (one of only two AAA five-diamond facilities in the state), an independent bookstore, retirement community and more—all owned and operated by the Fitch Company.

A long-popular destination for Carolinians celebrating weddings and anniversaries over four-course meals and wine pairings, Fearrington has also become a hot escape for New Yorkers seeking a quick plane ride down the coast into another world. For residents, it’s a coming-together place, where one can easily pick up daily necessities, lunch with friends and enjoy an English garden setting.

The Spa at Fearrington represents Fitch’s capstone addition to the village’s eclectic range of amenities and pleasures. And the spa’s business model—English charm meets Southern hospitality—strikes many guests as a rather unexpected delight, as does its setting, a rustic home where you’re encouraged to nap between receiving spa services. Even the menu items have a soothing timbre (think: “Oxygen Skincalm Facial” and “Herbal Lavender Repair”).

“The spa has an organic feel to it; there’s nothing fancy,” says manager Theresa Chiettini. “We use galvanized buckets rather than pedicure thrones that require plumbing. We don’t have saunas, Vichy equipment or locker rooms, and each treatment suite already had its own bathroom and shower.”

Accordingly, the design features are understated, with soft gray colors, simple furniture, overstuffed couches and sheer curtains that allow ample light to spill in. The former upstairs inn rooms (the spa space was previously occupied by a photography studio, pottery shop and some underused guest rooms) were remodeled into treatment suites; and the building’s adjoining boutique storefront, The Haven, is stocked with luxury skincare goods and chic sleepwear. (The Haven also serves as the spa’s reception and greeting area.)

With just four treatment rooms, an esthetic studio and a spacious nail area that doubles as a surprisingly peaceful relaxation lounge, spa management didn’t have to do much hiring—a few previously contracted massage therapists, plus an esthetician and a couple of nail techs, were all they needed. (The spa is gradually assimilating contracted spa professionals into full-time staff.)

Partners in Relaxation

Somewhat serendipitously, a major manufacturer of English-based spa products took the Spa at Fearrington under its wing right before it was set to open. “I’ve always admired Elemis products and packaging, so as soon as we started training staff, I called on them to come see us for product education and training demos,” Chiettini says. “No other spas in the area carry their brand, and of course, the English connection suited us too.”

Thus, Fearrington debuted as an Elemis concept facility, and the company became closely involved in training and menu planning. The range of treatments offered reflects a results-oriented yet tranquilizing mission, featuring popular specialties such as the Visible Brilliance Antiaging Facial (75 min./$150), Well-Being Massage (60 min./$120) and Musclease Aroma Wrap (90 min./$130). “We want guests to simply settle in and have a soothing emotional experience,” Chiettini says.

To that end, staff built an extra half-hour into each service slot so that guests needn’t feel rushed. The spacious treatment rooms boast sitting areas with rocking chairs, skylights and views of the belted Galloway cows grazing in Fearrington’s pastures. (Occasionally, guests receiving treatments in the nail lounge have glanced up to witness, through the expansive bay windows, the odd, loose “Beltie” plodding past the spa on its escape route through the village.)

Employees are even known to fetch guests reading material from the village’s own McIntyre’s Books. Upon request, staff also provides private nail services in the upstairs rooms’ sitting areas.

And the spa’s frills-free-yet-luxurious simplicity is carried though in its treatment approach. “There isn’t a lot of waste at all,” Chiettini says. “Service providers use hot mitts rather than steamers for facials and wraps because it’s easier on the skin and greener. And our nail services require very little water.”

Local Color

Like the spa it serves, Fearrington’s marketing program is somewhat low-key, and uniquely charming, consisting of beautiful postcards that are mailed out seasonally, social media messages and “Massage Therapist Laura,” who contributes posts to the village’s blog, Fearrington Village Chatter.

As longstanding hospitality experts, Fearrington’s team correctly predicted their spa would attract the same kinds of people who are drawn to the village for fine dining, high tea and bucolic strolls. According to Chiettini, they’ve kept service slots booked since opening by having inn reception offer to schedule a spa appointment upon guest check-in. And a sizeable pool of locals—primarily denizens of Galloway Ridge, Fearrington’s retirement community—are also regular clients. “We set out to make them spa converts from the beginning,” Chiettini says with a laugh. Aside from the tranquil atmosphere, mature guests appreciate menu items such as the Fearrington Gentle Massage (60 min./$120), characterized by carefully moderated strokes.

Chiettini has been most surprised by the high demand for men’s services—“They’re nearly 30% of our client base!”—and couples’ rituals. Popular menu items include the Galloway (150 min./$250), a sports massage paired with a men’s antiaging facial, and Massage Bliss for Two (60 min./$220), which takes place in the largest suite, containing a soaking tub. (Two new tandem experiences are currently in development.)

The spa also recently joined forces with The Belted Goat bistro next door, offering chopped salads for guests who wish to be served lunch after or between treatments. “They’ve helped us put on small, private parties where we serve tea sandwiches, champagne and pastries,” Chiettini says. Since McIntyre’s Books regularly draws readers from Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill to its weekly author readings (which have featured such big names as Pat Conroy and Paula Deen), Chiettini hopes to soon form a reading/spa service cross-promotion. “We’re holding out for a great fit, something with authors who are focused on health and beauty,” she says. The village’s booming wedding business also keeps spa staff busy, as the Fearrington House has booked receptions for every weekend through spring 2012. “We work with brides to customize all sorts of parties,” Chiettini says.

After years of planning, and months of remodeling and training, Fitch says he got exactly what he wanted for his guests and residents: “A wonderful experience that’s all about the service—nothing too fancy.” •

Website: fearrington.com/spa
Open since: October 2010
Facilities: 4 treatment rooms with bathrooms, facial studio, large nail/relaxation lounge, adjacent boutique/reception area
No. of employees: 6
Average service ticket: $120
Product Lines: Elemis, Essie Cosmetics, Molton Brown
Most popular treatments: Pro-Collagen Quartz Lift Facial
(75 min./$150), Swedish Relaxation Massage (60 min./$110), Lime and Ginger Salt Glow (60 min./$120) and Classic Pedicure (45 min./$55)


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