Circa 2007, Dr. Michael Lau decided that his spa/chiropractic clinic, Awaken Wellness & Rejuvenation Spa, was “just ugh.”
“We’re off the beaten path in an un-hip, commercial area on a hill,” Lau says of his Tulsa, Oklahoma, facility. “For a while, I’d known we needed a change and had wanted the whole facility to feel more like a spa than a clinic. But I was always debating going low-budget, just knocking out a few walls—it was tempting to half-way it.”
But when his mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer in the fall of 2007, it prompted Lau to refocus. “After her battle and ultimate passing, I realized life was short. It hit me that it was time to carry our ideal spa vision through and leave a bigger health footprint,” he says. “So I just went for it.”
After crunching numbers and consulting with architects, Lau found he could do “a nice renovation for $50,000, but it wouldn’t have been green.” By then, he was already excited about all the eco-remodeling ideas he’d explored—plus, he’d the space reassessed and learned that going green and overhauling his spa’s worn aesthetic would substantially increase Awaken’s value.
After an expansion (Awaken took over the vacated dentist’s office next door) and a modern, green makeover inspired by conversations with an “amazing architect” client of Lau’s—“I would always pick his brain as I treated him”—Awaken was recast as a holistic oasis, awash in warm colors and natural light, and newly crafted from bamboo, cork and slate. The nine-month-long process wrapped up in the spring of 2008 and cost Lau about $140,000.
“It was an investment,” he says. “We did it during a down economy when green wasn’t even a big trend in conservative Oklahoma yet. But I felt there was a lot of integration between sustainability and spa, and hoped this would raise our visibility.”
Today, Awaken boasts double its original square footage, exposed beams, concrete countertops and a wheatgrass smoothie bar—natural complements for a bodywork-focused facility featuring all organic products.
“The space totally resonates with what we do here,” Lau says. “And as people are gradually taking note of green builders and sustainable businesses, our spa’s piquing a lot of interest.”—By Katie O'Reilly
Open since: 2000
Facilities: 4 treatment rooms, 5 chiropractic adjustment rooms, room for spinal decompression therapy table, X-ray room, physical therapy rehab suite, lounge with smoothie bar, reception area, staff office/lounge, restrooms
No. of employees: 4 massage therapists, 1 esthetician, 3 full-time chiropractic technicians, 2 receptionists
Product lines: Pevonia Botanica, Dr. Renaud Skincare
Most popular offerings: Deep-tissue massage (60 min./$65) and spa membership ($49.50/month includes a monthly massage and discounts on other services)
BEFORE: Awaken’s proposed reception area—a former dentist’s practice—was drab, clinical and looked more like a vet’s office than a spa!
Architects from Tulsa’s 1 Architecture tore out the walls to expand the reception area into the former dentist’s office, and elevated the ceilings to expose the beams. “We painted them using a low-VOC paint from Sherwin Williams,” Lau says.
Concrete countertops, painted midnight blue, turned out to be a wallet- and earth-friendly decision. “Unlike granite, which is cost-prohibitive, concrete isn’t a limited resource,” Lau says. “Plus it could easily be shaped just how we wanted it. The molds were set and poured on-site.”
The textured surface below the countertop was created by simply gluing rocks onto the concrete.
The circular track lighting over the desk is low-voltage and provides “softer lighting that feels more natural, complementing the warm colors we used—what we feel you might find in nature,” Lau says. Behind the front desk, that same countertop wraps around to become Awaken’s new smoothie bar and lounge.
BEFORE - Reception Space: The former dental reception space next door was transformed into Awaken's smoothie bar once Lau took over the space and had the walls knocked out.
AFTER - A Smoothie Bar: “On Tuesday we serve dollar drinks, because it’s our slowest day,” Lau says. “And we offer smoothies with healthy protein as an add-on to massages and chiropractic adjustments. We’re thinking about incorporating a juice bar, but that requires more produce, which gets costly.”
Lau’s team ripped out the carpeting in the reception and relaxation areas, replacing it with strandwoven bamboo floors from Sustainable Flooring. “We put a quarter-inch layer of cork underneath it to absorb shock and make it softer to walk on,” Lau says.
After raising the beams for a more open feel, Lau installed insulation and tectum panels on the ceiling for sound absorption. “The tectum’s made from straw, so it’s eco-friendly and provides added insulation,” he says. “When you’re dealing with hardwood floors there can be quite a bit of sound. This keeps everything quiet.”
“Those dark wall panels are bamboo—the same exact material as the flooring,” Lau says. “We put in new drywall and used metal studs to mount the walling, which are more sustainable and preserve better than the wooden studs we’d previously used.”
The warm-hued treatment rooms feature recycled carpet tiles from Tandus Flooring. "It's good to muffle sound during services and I love the look and softer feel," Lau says.
The treatment room hallway now features tiny skylights—yes, those are windows on the ceiling!—to let in extra light.
BEFORE: Awaken's exterior
AFTER: A cool-toned and low-VOC paint on Awaken’s exterior helps set the tone for the airy oasis that awaits guests. “We ripped out a big tree obscuring the door and did all new landscaping. We added holly, hawthorns, begonias, dwarf bamboo and roses, and used all-natural compost and organic fertilizer,” Lau says. “We also added stairs and twin blue spruce trees to flank the entrance. Our new Awaken leaf logo is made out of recycled aluminum. And we stained the concrete right in front of the front door to give it a homey feel—despite the industrial surrounds. We’re getting an awning soon too!”•
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