Photos courtesy HBA London/Hirsch Bedner Associates and ESPA at The Edition Istanbul

The new ESPA at the Istanbul Edition marries traditional rituals with contemporary design.
When the spa-design experts at HBA London/Hirsch Bedner Associates were commissioned to create an ESPA at the new Edition hotel in Istanbul, Turkey, they faced an interesting design challenge. The final plan for the gutted space (a former bank) called for 10 luxurious treatment rooms, a VIP suite, café, fitness center, hammam and more—all within 20,000 square feet, split across three subterranean levels. “The big question,” says HBA associate Nathan Hutchins, “was how to break up personal and social spaces correctly to make sure that the social elements”—the café, pool and hammam—“didn’t impede on the private ones.” Their solution? Flip the design. “Typically, you enter a spa and circulate down, but we placed the reception area and changing rooms at the bottom, allowing guests to circulate up through the spa, so that the treatment rooms were at the end of the guest’s journey.” Opened in May, ESPA at the Istanbul Edition has become a fast favorite among business travelers and locals seeking refuge from the bustling city. “Once you enter the spa,” says ESPA International’s spa associate Terry Prager, “it’s a total escape from reality. Just incredibly calm and peaceful.”

RECEPTION (above): As guests circulate through ESPA, they may notice the many interesting angles and curved walls: straight lines were intentionally avoided in the spa’s overall design.

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The handmade decorative curtain behind the reception desk is composed of 529 crystals across 69 rows of bronze chains. “Crystals connote healing and balance and we wanted to showcase that when you enter the reception area,” says Hutchins. “They really glow and the lighting reflects off the facets, creating shadow play.”

Stunning spa design is all for naught if the flooring, walls and interiors become stained and tattered under the wear and tear of spa-going traffic. HBA London and ESPA worked together to pre-empt any design disasters. “We had a process with ESPA where we’d take all their oils and different treatment products and apply them to flooring and wall products, leaving them for a time, to test out all the materials beforehand,” Hutchins says. That process ensured that the embossed, bronze, handmade tiles in the lobby; the chocolate leather flooring in the treatment rooms; and the smoked-oak floors and Macassar ebony veneers on the lockers in the changing rooms were as beautiful as they were durable.

Turkish artisans are known for creating beautiful screens in ornate patterns. “We wanted to play with that,” says Hutchins, “so, above the lockers, we punched and scattered holes in the vents, which we’ve also backlit. It’s a nod to Turkish tradition. We’re scattering the patterned light across the ceiling.”

“There’s a quality of light in Istanbul that you don’t find anyplace else—the way it reflects on the water, the rolling hills, the clouds—there’s a moodiness,” says Hutchins. “It’s just one of those cities where lighting strikes me.” That mysterious light was an important and challenging theme for HBA London, given the spa’s subterranean location and lack of natural light. Solutions included installing warm, soft lighting that bounced off the walls creating playful patterns in the locker rooms, treatment rooms and hammam. The candlelight and glowing backlit wall in the relaxation lounge (pictured) creates a serene scene, while the chord drapes (“They look beautiful but they’re simply nylon chords and actually very inexpensive!” notes Hutchins) create an aura of privacy.

“Some of the best hammams in the world are in Istanbul, but they’re all very traditional and we wanted to add a fresh, contemporary take to shift the mood,” says Hutchins. To that end, all of the materials and finishes are chocolate-brown Italian marble (most Turkish hammams use white or gray marble). There’s also a private scrub room, (a nod to Western guests who may be shy about the group experience), with a heated marble table that can be automatically raised or lowered. And instead of bars of soap, automated soap dispensers provide fine Turkish suds.

A vent cut into the stone of the hammam’s steam room creates shadows in Turkish patterns on the entry door.

“We had this picture that we really liked of an antique piece of gold jewelry with little hammer marks in it,” says Hutchins. “We were inspired by the shapes, so we turned to an Austrian glass-chandelier maker, showed him the photo, and asked, ‘How can we do this?’” The result: a backlit, feature wall made from frosted acrylic and varying densities of sand and grit that create the golden-hued patterns and flickering light that dance on the pool water.

ESPA has 10 treatment rooms, including a VIP suite, each with a similar color palette and leather floors. The linens, valance covers, towels, etc. were handpicked and in some cases custom-made. “There’s one or two treatment rooms that I could move into and be quite happy to live in,” jokes Hutchins. “They’re rich and interesting but also very calming.”

A simple bronze tassel—carved with facets that reflect the spa’s angular design theme—hangs by the door to signal that a treatment room is occupied. HBA worked with a Turkish artisan at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul to create them.

The wall sconces in the treatment rooms were hand-blown by a local artisan, who added dyes and pigments to the glass to echo the moody lighting reminiscent of Istanbul. “Turkish lighting traditionally uses very ornate chandeliers, with cut glass,” says Hutchins. “But here, we wanted a warmer, softer color in the treatment rooms.”

Ready to replicate these contemporary Turkish designs in your own spa? Here are some simple ways to capture resort spa beauty on a day spa budget

• ?ESPA’s Turkish hammam is beautiful, yet building a hammam in your own spa can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars—an investment you might never recoup. Offer guests the health benefits of a hammam—at a fraction of the cost—with a private infrared sauna. I like the Serena Infrared Sauna (

• ?Recreate ESPA’s exotic, Middle Eastern aesthetic, by exchanging your basic white linens with table skirts, sheets, blankets, saddles, bolster covers and throw pillows in jewel-toned fabrics. Check out the Mineral Mélange line from Comphy Company and choose from rich colors such as Garnet, Copper, Rust and Gold.

• ? ?A rich, artful mix of textures and materials on the walls makes this spa feel deliciously decadent. Create this look in your own spa with textured wallpaper. Once considered passé, this art form is making a stunning comeback. Check out the modern designs by Graham and Brown that mix contemporary prints with indigenous colors.

• ?ESPA’s shadowy lighting is alluring and dramatic. The Turkish chandeliers, sconces and table lamps from Palmyra Design can bring that same look into your spa.

• ?An eco-friendly fireplace adds design and warmth to your spa lounge. A beautiful assortment is available from Ecofire Store. Fueled by bio-ethanol, these fireplaces don’t require vents or installation and they cost around $500.

Alexis Ufland is the director of the New York City–based Lexi Design, a full-service spa consulting firm that provides assistance with start-ups, business bootcamps and interior design for spa owners.


Open since: May 2011

Design team: HBA London/Hirsch Bedner Associates

Spa size: 20,000 square feet over three subterranean levels

Facilities: Ten treatment rooms; a VIP treatment suite; his-and-hers locker rooms; relaxation lounge; hammam; library/spa café; fitness center; swimming pool and vitality pool; nail and hair salons; steam room; rock sauna; lifestyle experience showers; and a snow cave that literally bathes guests in the white stuff

Most popular area: The hammam. “Businessmen love it,” says Prager. “We offer hammam treatments from 25 minutes to two hours.”

Designer’s choice: “I think the thing that I, as a designer, would take away from this project most,” says Hutchins, “is how wonderful it is not to have straight walls all the time. It adds intrigue and interest to play with the shapes and angles of a space.”

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