Most spas are white-walled paragons of brightness and light, but The Luxe House on Dempsey Hill is the opposite – moody, dark and ornate. Founder Chris Tan tells Isabel Ong why she’s bucking convention.
In Singapore, the spa aesthetic tends to be achingly modern or hippie Balinese, and either way there’ll be bright lights and natural elements – wood, stone, a few well-placed plants. But The Luxe House is no typical spa: My first thought upon entering it is that it doesn’t look like a spa at all.
The reception area looks like the lobby of a five-star hotel or a private lounge in an upscale nightclub, with carpeted floors, dark-coloured walls, high-backed armchairs and clusters of bare light bulbs dangling from the ceiling. The spa’s opening hours – 1pm to 1am daily – seem to cater more to the party crowd too.
This is a spa with wall-to-wall mirrors, dark wood panelling and black marble floors.
Its founder, Chris Tan, who calls herself a wellness junkie and whose forte is interior design, puts this down to the fact that she is a newcomer to the local spa scene. “I didn’t feel burdened to design a spa [according to preconceived notions] because I had zero experience doing so,” she says candidly. What she did instead was apply nine years’ experience in hotel interiors – most recently the revamped Movenpick Heritage Hotel in Sentosa in 2010 – to designing her own luxurious wellness retreat.
The dark, cavern-like atmosphere of The Luxe House is Tan’s most obvious departure from the vernacular. Instead of allowing natural light in, she had existing glass panels covered up and lights with dimmers installed to control the amount of light in the spa. Tan also opted for a palette of dark browns, greys and blacks for the spa’s interior. “Darker tones provide a more relaxing and soothing ambience than light tones,” she explains. “I would never [use] white. It feels very medical and makes you feel like you’re in a hospital.” The materials she chose for the finishings – Italian marble for the floors, for one – add to the spa’s decadent feel.
To help guests relax, treatment rooms feature larger-than-average treatment chairs, which double as beds.
By having the spa stand out among others here, Tan hopes to entice locals, business people and travellers into making The Luxe House – which is open to the public as well as members – their new hangout. That’s also why she has designed four group treatment rooms that can accommodate three or four people at one time. “[People can head here] instead of going to casinos, clubs or karaoke bars for social gatherings,” she says. In these spacious private rooms, guests can interact as well as enjoy complimentary teas or a light snack during their treatments.
Though the spa’s dimly lit space raises concerns about hygiene, Tan assures me that the lights are turned up to facilitate clean-ups before the spa opens daily and throughout the day, after every treatment session. A specialised cleaning company cleans the reclining chairs (which double as treatment beds) regularly, and hygiene standards are further maintained with guests using disposable cotton bathroom slippers and custom-made towels.
Founder Chris Tan is also an interior designer.
Tan is savvy enough to know that appearances alone aren’t enough to differentiate the spa from its counterparts and keep customers coming back. Another major draw of The Luxe House is its Oriental treatments, which promise tangible health benefits, unlike typical Western treatments offered at most other spas that simply aim to relax and de-stress. For example, foot massages are not only a basic component of every treatment, but acupressure points are also stimulated to prevent ailments like hypertension and diabetes.
The emphasis on foot massages is another carefully considered move. Tan tells me that she finds that many high-end spas here don’t offer them, preferring to focus on body massages. This led her to work with master therapists from China and Thailand to craft five signature foot therapies that address a variety of issues, from water retention in the legs to muscle tensions and aches.
And it’s not just the massage techniques that are healthfully designed. The spa has created five oil blends for guests to choose from for their massages, each with a specific purpose, from relieving jet lag to soothing sensitive skin. For my 100-minute Royal Meridian Foot & Back Therapy (specifically designed to address chronic fatigue and backaches), I chose the citrus-scented Metabolic & Detox blend. This has grapefruit and lemon to purify and cleanse, and peppermint, ginger and cinnamon to boost metabolism.
Even the ingredients in the teas made exclusively for the spa are chosen for their ability to improve well-being. Loquat leaves, for example, relieve coughs and reduce phlegm.
This group treatment room comfortably accommodates three, with large plush chairs that recline fully to double as treatment beds, and side tables for tea and snacks.
Responses to The Luxe House’s social spa concept and health-focused treatments have been, in Tan’s words, “very good”. Five families come in for weekly appointments, and the spa sees about three to five group appointments on both Saturdays and Sundays. There have also been requests for the spa’s closing time to be extended to 3am to cater to guests who arrive late, and membership – from $1,000 to $2,000 for a three-year package – is growing rapidly, although Tan is unable to provide any concrete figures now.
In essence, Tan says The Luxe House exemplifies her own idea of wellness: “It is a place to entertain friends, while other spas focus mainly on [treatments for] yourself. I believe that Oriental treatments have health benefits… I go for massages three to four times a week and a lot of people say I look much better now.”
The Luxe House is at 7A Dempsey Road (tel: 6479-9997) and is open from 1pm to 1am daily. Prices range from $20 for a foot bath to $248 for a full-body treatment.
Photography Vee Chin Art Direction Caroline Chua Hair & Makeup Phoebe Pong