Artistic sensibilities and sophisticated style elevate a traditional point of view at the new Hotel Bel-Air Spa by La Prairie.
How to re-envision a beloved but dated historical property, keep all that’s delightful and iconic, yet take it boldly into the 21st century? That was the challenge faced by the spa design experts at Champalimaud, a New York City-based interior design and interior-planning firm that specializes in revitalizing luxurious hotels, restaurants and spas around the globe, when asked to create the Hotel Bel-Air Spa by La Prairie in Los Angeles. Set in a new building erected on a former hotel parking lot, the spa needed to be “respectful of the Bel-Air’s history but not burdened by it,” says principle designer Jon Kastl.
Previously the hotel (which Champalimaud also renovated) had been kitted out like a French Country manor surrounded by lush, legendary gardens and sheathed in a candy-ish Bel-Air pink (a detail to work around). The 7,000-square-foot spa space had to wrestle with that legacy as well as accommodate all the rooms and areas required for a full spa program.
Yet the space had to be adaptable to intimate gatherings, bridal and professional-event based. Flowers, always prominent in the Bel-Air’s motifs, meant that garden blooms had to be a major design theme—but chintz was definitely out. How to make floral feel modern, not fussy? The solution came in unexpected color palettes, cooperation with cutting-edge artisans, layering surprising details and redefining luxury as high-art details, sensual textures, and an appreciation for history and modernity, space and serenity.
While the property’s former spa was big on heavy swag, with draperies on all the windows, “That’s not indicative of what luxury is today,” says the designer, whose six-person team lived for months at the hotel to complete their work. “We wanted luxury to be less fussy, with cleaner details and quality materials, and to help create special moments.”
As with all storied hotels, “This one has a past that you want to be respectful of, but you also want to look forward,” Kastl explains. “We tried to create a spa that worked with the rest of the property but that also offered something different; we wanted a space that was living in a contemporary world. It was a fine line to walk.”
Above: THE ENCLAVE The stunning couples room, which features two treatment beds, an in-room tub, hand-embroidered wall covering, a vaulted ceiling and a private garden, is not only for lovers; it is also perfect for bridal parties. The room is flexible: All furniture can be wheeled out. A bride and her bridesmaids can have their nails done in this room, and sup on catered food and champagne in the private garden. The black stone fountain on the patio contrasts in tone with the Bel-Air Pink garden walls, communicating a graphic, contemporary message.
RECEPTION The designer’s inspiration for the reception desk—a black crystal-tiled podium set against gently reflective ivory walls—was a Judith Leiber jeweled clutch evening bag the team had spotted in an ad. Working with a tiny reception area, the team wanted the clients to be “filled with excitement” as they entered the spa. “We knew this would be their first interaction with the spa but also that they wouldn’t be spending a lot of time here,” Kastl says. “So this is a little surprise that has a lot of impact.”
Inset: RETAIL BOUTIQUE The small retail space had to accommodate products, samples, wrapping paper and bags, as well as a closet for clothes and a sound system—all in a tiny space. The designers worked intimately with La Prairie on functionality, building distinct spaces for what needed to be displayed and stored.
THE DETAILS While the lobby is a dazzling statement with bright walls, the boutique is a transitional space, with an earthy, dark brown charcoal ceiling and subdued lighting to quiet the mind and prepare the client to enter an inner sanctum. The modern potted plant hints at the spa’s indoor/outdoor message.
WOMEN’S STEAM ROOM Entering the Steam Room feels a bit like walking into a chic Atlantis, with Italian mosaic tiles by Sicis. The coral, beige and brown shell-like tones of the women’s steam room echo the hues of the females-only relaxation room. Tiny lights sparkle from the ceiling, like little stars that shine through the steam.
Inset: MEN’S STEAM ROOM The men’s version mirrors the women’s, with one wall of wave-pattern tiling, but the colors are distinctly male: ocean-like hues that match the color scheme of the men’s locker room.
THE DETAILS The original design called for each wall to have a wave pattern of tiles running across the room, but the custom tile pattern, painstakingly arranged by Italian artisans and sent across the Atlantic, became extremely costly. The designers decided that having just one wall of wave would stand out visually and save money.
Kastl envisioned soft, unusual lighting in the steam room. These twinkle lights, arranged in a random night sky pattern, were created by poking hundreds of fiber optics through a sheetrock ceiling and then cutting the strands off flush to the ceiling. Builders then tiled around the fiber optics. “It’s a pretty cost-effective way to do interesting lighting,” says the designer, explaining that with fiber optics there is only one light source; it sits hidden in the locker room. “We can change the color of the light and even have the light move in a pattern from one side of the room to the other. It’s romantic and surprising.”
RELAXATION ROOM This unisex space opens out onto a patio. Inside, walls are covered floor to ceiling by a wide oak paneling that has cerusing (a technique in which an artisan paints the wood and then wipes it off so only suggestions of color remain). “We wanted this room to shift in feeling from the rest of the spa and feel simple and luxurious,” says Kastl.
Made-to-order side tables (by Argent Custom Furniture) reference tree stumps, sconces (by Laura Spector Design) are shaped like topiary and chaises are covered in layers of natural fiber textures. A striking gold-plated chandelier hangs at an atypical length, casting unusual patterns of light onto the ceiling. “We wanted something quirkier for this room,” says Kastl, “Something fun and luxe that reminds you of how special this spa is. It’s a rich detail that communicates that life is good.”
DETAILS The chandelier, custom-designed by Alger Triton, is composed of cascading leaves, handcrafted from gold-plated brass. Champalimaud scours cutting-edge design shows and showrooms to find “beautiful, exciting new things,” says Kastl. “We wanted to punctuate the spa with memorable lighting and furnishings.”
Open since: October 2011
Design team: Alexandra Champalimaud
Spa size: 7,000 square feet
Facilities: Seven treatment rooms; relaxation room; male and female locker areas; single-sex steam rooms; reception and retail boutique area; private courtyard garden
Most popular area: The Enclave, a couples treatment room with private garden. (“Watching clients enter this space is like watching a child unwrapping a beautiful gift,” says Hotel Bel-Air Spa director Nicole Weigand.)
Designer’s choice: “The locker rooms are stunning—refined and lush, but not overdone,” says Champalimaud principal Jon Kastl.
Left: CORRIDOR The barrel ceiling and soft up-lighting in the narrow hallway invites clients into the interior world of the spa. Abstract ivory plaster bougainvillea crafted by Canadian artists Moss & Lamb climb the walls.
Right: WOMEN’S LOCKER ROOM ROTUNDA An artful chandelier (from mossonline.com) featuring stylish black metal blooms on black branches graces the vaulted ceiling. The hotel, famously surrounded by lush gardens, inspired the contemporary floral allusions. “We wanted to reference the gardens in an unexpected way,” says Kastl. “It’s not the ‘ye old hang-a-picture-of-a-flower’ way, but floral references that have more edge.”
FLOORS The floors throughout the spa have been constructed from engineered wood made for commercial use; the top inch of flooring is real wood. Engineered wood has more structure and, unlike solid wood, does not expand with moisture and cannot warp. The floor was tested extensively to make sure it would stand up to massage oil and beauty product spills. All floors were finished with a hard-core sealer. “If spills are dealt with quickly there shouldn’t be any problems,” says Kastl. “We haven’t had any post-occupancy issues.”
WALLS AND LIGHTING The walls throughout are covered with high reflexivity paint (which, it should be noted, is not the same as glossy). The result: “Everyone looks a like a million bucks in here,” says Kastl. When you select paint, the designer points out, you can look at an index for how much light the paint reflects. (For the Enclave, the designers used Benjamin Moore’s Albescent; for spa treatment rooms, Pristine.) High reflexivity paint makes client faces glow, as does indirect lighting, which Kastl and his team positioned on top of cabinets and hidden on other surfaces. “There’s no harsh glare anywhere in the spa,” he says.
THE MANICURE-PEDICURE STATION Each station is a lacquered box, with tables and implements that fold out of the sides. “It’s our take on a Donald Judd sculpture,” says Kastl. “It’s like a little puzzle with doors that open, panels that flip down and hidden machines. It’s very clever.” The dazzling grassy green color (Stem Green from Benjamin Moore) is a visual echo of the hotel’s expansive lawns. “We went through many, many paint samples before we came across this color. It has some yellow. It’s bright and clean and fun, as if fresh out of the garden,” says the designer. The hand-painted mural of the bougainvillea branch was done by Moss and Lam in Japanese ink. “We wanted a graphic contrast to the softness in the room,” says the designer. The room has French doors that open out to a patio, allowing fresh air and sunlight to flood the space.
DETAILS “Our firm has done a lot of spa work so we understand functionality,” says Kastl. Working closely with La Prairie, the designers discussed to the smallest detail which built-in elements would be needed in each station. Kastl and his team then layered in operational features—the footbath, faucets, manicure tables and tool storage—that the space had to accommodate. To finish the surfaces, they used a hardcore catalyzed lacquer resistant to stains. The result: Sublime temples of private pampering with an unexpected pop of color.
As resort spas become more elaborate, they can also become more expensive to build. Here are some DIY tips for day spa owners who want to replicate the best of contemporary designs in their own spas—all within the limits of a smart budget.
• One of the most striking design elements of the Hotel Bel-Air Spa is the backdrop of lush greenery. Day spa owners can achieve a similar ambiance by simply incorporating indoor gardening into the spa space. Bringing the “outside” in is a common luxury spa theme, but keeping greenery alive with limited lighting is a challenge. That’s why designer Carmen Salazar created the Growlight: It uses indoor plants such as tropicals, herbs and succulents to create sculptured gardens with built-in lighting and maintenance. These are longer-lasting and far less costly than buying weekly flower arrangements.
• Hand-painted wall designs [as shown above] add a signature touch to any room, and create a kind of “branding” for your spa. This same look can be achieved for a fraction of the price with high-end wall decals. Look for some of the most creative (and least expensive) options at etsy to view my personal favorites. And see how you can change the look of an entire room in under an hour and for less than $100!
• If your retail shelving is dark and your product line difficult to see, clients won’t be excited to purchase what you are selling. But it’s easy to brighten up shelves simply by adding a mirror base and acrylic blocks. Have your local glass and mirror store cut mirror the size of your shelf unit, and place it opposite this shelving unit’s light fixture. The mirror will reflect the light and artfully showcase your product display. Then rest the products on top of clear acrylic blocks Lifestyle Trimco—giving them a “glow” that will prove alluring and be irresistible to your clients!
• Mosaic tiles can add a luxurious, unique touch to a spa locker room. For the most modern tile designs, I avoid expensive designer prices and go right to the product source. Caledonia Stone and Tile works with any size project and can ship anywhere in the country. The newest mosaics come in a mix of colors, shapes and sizes—a budget-friendly way to give your spa that extra touch of panache.
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