We take spa pleasures for granted and we often fail to recognise the amount of work and expertise needed for their design. Architect Rumiana Tiholova knows this well. The founder of Intoarch Architecture Studio specialises in design of spa interiors and is the author of some of the best spa centres in Bulgaria in the past 20 years.
Why did you decide to specialise in spa interiors?
I could say that it happened by chance, but I believe that chances are never accidental. During a trip to Malta in 2003 I stayed at a hotel with a spa centre. I visited it out of curiosity as at the time in Bulgaria the field consisted mainly of sanatoria with thermal waters and balneological procedures.
This spa centre's atmosphere enchanted me. As if I were in another world. For the first time I saw equipment like the snail adventure showers with their different types of flush like "tropical rain" and "sprayer," range of temperatures and aromas of mint, lemon, orange flowers. I was delighted by the different saunas which included not only traditional Finnish one, but also herbal, infrared, aroma and salt steam baths, and a pool with seawater.
When I returned home I started reading, looking for information and gathering materials about the process of preliminary research and design. Now with the experience I have accumulated I have realised that each spa centre is so very different. Its uniqueness is defined by its type and location, the characteristics of the region where it is located, the vision and ideas of the investor, the architect, the technologist, its future SPA manager.
What is the secret of the good spa centre?
First, it is the right functional scheme solution. It requires some good knowledge about the connections between the different zones. One should consider which zone will be close to which, which should be at a quieter place and far from the main stream of visitors. Second, the architect or the interior designer creates the space's interior. In my case, I take care of both tasks. This is the optimal approach for achieving an impressive final result.
What is the biggest challenge in designing a spa centre?
Reconstruction in already existing buildings. Such spa centres are usually located in the basement level, and these spaces also hold all possible type of installations and important structure elements – beams, columns, supporting walls that unfortunately cannot be removed. This requires from us high professionalism in balancing between compromising and finding the best functional scheme and interior design solution. All of these should be hidden from the visitor, allowing him to immerse in the pleasant atmosphere without noticing the work behind that was needed for achieving this final outlook. At the end of the day the satisfaction of the accomplished project is immense.
Which are the latest trends in spa spaces design?
Trends are towards more open spaces. The contemporary spa centre should be designed, if possible, at ground level so that the relaxation zone, some of the connecting spaces, the gym and the yoga room, the fresh bar have direct access to a garden or terrace in warm weather. The same trend in designing pools asks for providing a direct connection between the indoor and the outdoor swimming pool. Sauna cabins in the thermal zone require larger windows with view of the spa centre and outside. Energy efficiency design is also trending and is becoming increasingly popular.
Tell us more about a favourite, memorable or challenging project of yours?
Each of my projects is a favourite, because I apply a different approach in all of them. One of my biggest challenges was a hotel spa centre in Boyana neighbourhood, Sofia. The existing spa centre was not functional and was built with expensive, but unpractical materials like polished tiles on the floor that would become very slippery when wet. We had to literally "demolish" the centre and to start anew, while being careful not to damage the existing floor heating system during the old flooring's removal. With our team's united efforts and constant author's supervision we achieved a radically different interior. The biggest satisfaction from the project and its realisation came when I overheard an old client of the spa centre after her first post-renovation visit. She said: "Now everything is so different, I feel well and calm and I will return with great pleasure." This recognition was my greatest award as it meant that we had excelled in doing our job. To create a space full of harmony, with colours, materials, light, music, aromas and offering a feeling of timelessness.
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