A Wabi-Sabi inspired Design scheme for a Spa

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The suggested ‘Spa Design scheme’ possesses a rustic charm and character where various elements (including sustainability and biophilia – nature inspired design elements) come together in a uniquely wabi-sabi way; at the same time incorporating antiquarian minimalism to add that swank and oomph factor perfectly suited for a luxurious spa scheme; where it will be all about nostalgia and storytelling; where beauty would not be about abandoning self-care or  spending all your time to spackle over every freckle or cover up every gray hair or turn your face into a blank canvas, for that matter; but rather pampering your body without nipping and tucking into submission; taking good care of yourself, your health, wellbeing – much the same way that the Japanese tea masters took exquisite care of their pottery, cracked and imperfect as it was.; wholly engaging ourselves and our senses with nature and the world around us – the natural ecosystem – in fact being in harmony with it. After all, Our stories lie in our imperfections, the scars we got from doing a sport we love, the chipped nails after a day spent in our beloved garden.

If we were to apply purely wabi-sabi design ideals and aesthetic principles, that would mean incorporating all of the above mentioned along with cultivating an imagery of genteel poverty; where wabi-sabi is known to have grown as a Japanese take on a way of living as being a simplistic aesthetic centered around eliminating/trimming away the inessentials.; hence, obviously balancing between the peripheries of minimalism. However, keeping abreast of current trends and despite being based upon Wabi-Sabi principles at large, this proposed spa design will be incorporating ‘Antiquarian Minimalism’ at its core instead of the ‘Stark Minimalistic Japanese Zen’ ethics; lest towards much more sensual and visually rich designs.

INDIVIDUAL DESIGN ELEMENTS:

  • Choice of natural stones (see reception counter in mood board- utilizing dark grey basalt split), plaster, bricks, natural wood and concrete (for floors and walls) to maintain the wabi-sabi as well as the biophilic feel. This would be perfectly complemented by Low/Zero VOC Paints.

 

  • The interface between the outside and the main area provided by the reception circumscribed by indoor/outdoor living plant solutions by Vivid DesignThe plants only need to watered about once in two months.

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  • Antique Copper Finish sink bowl perfectly synchronizing with ‘Antiquarian Minimalism’ as well as the ‘Wabi-Sabi’ appeal.

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  • Japanese Onsen Bath Barrels made of Cedar wood

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  • A black cerused wood counter attached to one of the walls of the relaxation area,  where all kinds of tea (including the ‘Well-Coveted’  Japanese Matcha Tea) will be cooked live in the presence of the client –  so as  to enable him/her to immerse into the aroma and essence of the respective ingredients; in turn providing a overall sensory experience; to cater to the clients’ need to have an ‘experience’ as opposed to only tangible/material gains; in turn something that would stick with them and cause repeated business

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  • Reclaimed wooden built-in shelf showcasing any and every possible (organic/self-grown) ingredients that can be used to create the concoctions of treatment. The clients will be invited, upon arrival to experiment with them according to the treatment they choose/book for (Where Wabi sabi principles suggest the natural, simple, and that prepared from intuition – the entire process being a creative, joyful act, gratifying for the senses). As a result this would give them the opportunity to indulge their senses (touch and even taste in certain instances), appreciate and nourish the whole ingredients – adding immense value to the entire ‘experience.’ The aim would be to taste as well as quite literally inhale that richness of smells and also hear the sounds and feel the textures hands-on. Clients will also be given an option to buy these upon exiting.

 

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  • Japanese tatami mats and boughs of cedar filling the sinks, not allowing the slightest of sounds. Even though tatami mats are not well-suited for bathroom areas due to moisture and humidity, there are tatami mat replica tiles (composed over natural stone such as limestone) which can be used in such areas to achieve similar visual and sensory effects.

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  • Sheaves – Reed/bamboo bench by Steven Banken; an idyllic representation of the Wabi-Sabi simplicity, raw-ness as well as the uniqueness of Antiquarian minimalism. Ofcourse, it being manufactured of purely natural materials makes it a perfectly green and biophilic choice as well.

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  •  Hammock as a choice of seating – made out of natural cotton rope:

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  • Organic jute/bamboo-replica relaxing lounge chairs.

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  • In her book ‘Japanese Interior Design’, Galindo (2011) explains how it is “typical of Japanese interior design to find the combination between open space and solid volumes” and playing with perspectives. These ‘scaled-up’ soft and comfy seating pads could serve a similar purpose; pebble-like seats in pastel hues are actually part of a recreational area in an arts university in Tokyo created by Igarashi Design Studio:

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  • Organic furniture designs such as this ‘Organique bed by Gie El’ – customizable according to the client needs and utilizing concrete, steel and handbrushed wood:

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  • Biodegradable fabric for sofa/bed covers/sheets: Reportedly produced by the Swiss Firm Rohner, the team decided to design (compostable material) a fabric that would be safe enough to eat. Not only has it led to reduction in waste disposal costs for the company, but has also provided the opportunity to sell the scrap of the all-natural product (in the form of felt-like material) to local farmers/gardeners – to be used as Mulch or Ground-cover. Regulators reputedly claim that the water discharged in the aftermath of the factory operations is as clean (or even cleaner). 

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  • A Japanese style Shoji opening up into the main reception area:

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  • followed by another one opening up to the main activity/treatment area; two more will be placed on the relaxation area walls; these in particular will be intended to look like museum quality reproduction similar to the likes of the 18th Century Japanese set of four Fusuma. In the 19th to 20th century Japanese artistic influences were carried over to Europe and paintings no longer functioned only as windows into nature but also as aesthetic ornaments part of an overall planned decor scheme:

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The print chosen will be less luminous (so as to keep the surroundings not too bright/lit-up) to keep up with the overall Wabi-Sabi feel.

The screen opening up into the reception area would use glass panels instead of paper for security, insulation as well as preventing wear and tear purposes. However, for all the other shoji-style partitions part of the design scheme, the Awagami Inkjet Paper (AIJP) will be used. The particular paper type chosen is KOZO (mulberry). According to the Awagami facory, “it has the basic Japanese washi look with extreme durability and the subtle beauty that kozo fibres afford”. It is best suited for purposes here as it is highly recommended for “giclee’ prints, museum quality reproductions, fine art, scrolls” and especially Asian-style works. Additionally, it is known to be great for backlit for example, requiring semi-transparent paper with very high tensile strength. The overall aim is to emanate a cultural/exotic as well as a handcrafted/artisanal feel. Ofcourse most importantly, these Japanese partition encounters will ensure a wabi-sabi touch from the very beginning of the clients’ ‘stepping-into-the-spa-premises experience’; in that by their very nature, Japanese art from the very beginning of time, employed reduced colour palettes, inspiration from nature, and arabesques. The most mystical detail is that each and every painting is as if ‘cut’ out of a bigger scene – that no one piece shows a complete scene; so as to encourage the viewer to ‘imagine’ the rest of the story. Similarly in Japanese interiors as well, a lot is left on the eyes of the beholder

  • What could be more perfect than to embellish the reading/relaxing area with Nicholas Jones’s work, a perfect blend of wabi-sabi and antiquarian- minimalism culture:

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  • Light shadow effect in the reception area using a particular ceiling arrangement of ‘Arish’ (structure made from Palm Tree and Fronds – hence locally available in the UAE, making it low carbon footprint as well as a biophilic as well as a wabi-sabi design choice) and ‘Natural Wooden Beams’. Directional spotlights from ‘Superfuture Design’ will be used to replicate the effect of warm sunlight peaking through portions of the ceiling façade and in turn, creating the light/shadow interplay. It is claimed that individual light fixture can produce up to 8.1 m^3 of purified air for the surroundings. ‘SuperFutureDesign’ recently showcased how these lights work through their ‘Bettair- Housing’ installation at the recent Dubai Design Week (November 2017). These draw upon the principles of sustainability and materiality utilizing eco-friendly, anti-polluting light fixtures which work even when switched off.
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  • Stretched ceilings systems (shown below) made from special PVC membranes, stretched with a hot air blower and fixed to proprietary europrofiles. A perfect depiction of bringing nature inside and hence ‘biophilic design’.

 

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  • Ceiling pendant lighting locally manufactured (hence minimising the carbon footprint) from natural/reclaimed wood – serving as the most apt biophilic, green as well as a wabi-sabi design choice:

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  • Matcha utensil shaped lighting pendant constructed out of all natural materials /wood. 
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  • 12.29scent make scented products including candles, room sprays, perfumes, hand and body washes, reed diffusers, scented tissue papers and clothing. Perhaps the candles could be appropriately placed to create the right aura and clients could also have lavender scented gowns and towels while undergoing the treatments at the spa: A candle scent titled ‘A Vivid and Wild Beauty’ claimed to tap into the subjects visual, auditory and tactile senses; the scent itself being composed of “Lactonic Florals, Freshly Turned Earth and Crunchy Vegetal Green’; adequately befitting our biophilic surrounds as well as the overall design’s ‘emotional’ requirements:

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  • This exquisite gold-plated medallion/wall-jewel by Carina Wagenaar, about 89 by 55 cm in size:

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Each of the medallions represents its individual story but revolves around the common theme of ‘spiritual rejuvenation’. This one in particular is called ‘Horus’ and is centered around “care for earth” in the creator’s own words. This would perfectly embody the essence of  ‘Antiquarian Minimalism’ together with ‘Biophilic Design’

  • Oriental ‘Antiquarian’ wardrobes and cupboards.
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  • To further deepen the sensory experience, some of the tea utensils will be  similar to black lacquerware, gilded and antiqued around the edges – light and soft to touch and hardly giving out a sound. This teapot (shown above) is by tang pin tea and Kyoto mugs (ceramic) by Blythecollectiveshop – to serve tea to clients after treatment in the relaxation area. Utensils with heft and texture will be chosen in a way to deepen the overall sensory experience.

 

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MOODBOARDS:

Mood Board - Reception_A3Mood Board - Relaxation Room_A3Mood Board - Treatment Room_A3

MATERIAL SAMPLE BOARDS:

Material Sample Board - ReceptionMaterial Sample Board - Relaxation RoomMaterial Sample Board - Treatment Room

 

Decoupage and Mixed Media Craft Techniques!

Creating Mixed Media for Different Surfaces

Every craft technique to embellish or transform a particular surface has a basic set of skills or steps that can be learnt or followed to achieve the desired look. When the same becomes a form of artistic expression, the result is a truly special, one-of-a-kind, unique and creative ‘Self-Expression’.  When I first tried my hand on the very basic decoupage technique, it was more of a source of rejuvenation and a way to unwind, up until I decided to test the markets here in the UAE and received an immaculate response.

I use decoupage as a base for my pieces and then to make them 100% waterproof I embellish with Acrylic paints, wax pastes finally coating with thick water proof varnish layers – subsequently making them potential heirlooms! Each of my creations presents a story in itself – it must never be out of any context at all! After all, tis the era of personalizing, storytelling and emanating a nostalgic, cozy, snug and homey vibe! This one in particular (see above) is closest to my heart – mainly because it’s based on the Japanese design philosophy of ‘wabi-sabi’ – beauty in the imperfect, incomplete and the impermanent. As I studied more of it for my thesis which was part of the Master’s degree in interior design, it grew on me and I started identifying more and more with it. That is when I attempted to encapsulate the gist of this beautiful philosophy in the form of this ‘shadow box wall hanging’. Some of the core spiritual pillars of the primitive/ancient Japanese ideology and belief include the belief in harmony, respect, purity, tranquility, anti-rationalism, transcendental truth and leading an unencumbered life. This shadow box in particular, attempts to embody the essence of the ancient ‘Japanese tea house’ – the Japanese tea ceremony in spirit, principle and as a moment in time creating experience. The tea-making process itself is as simple as fetching water, collecting firewood for boiling, preparing tea and ultimately serving it. Instead of expensive/conventionally beautiful utensils, warm bamboo tea scoops made of virtue of their age for example, and handcrafted bamboo vases are employed; a whiff of the ‘perfectly imperfect’, ‘age’ and ‘patina’. A successful ceremony is to leave its participants with a feeling of ‘jaku’ – tranquility and ‘Sei’ –Purity.

When it comes to mediums, I usually work with wooden skeletons (trays, coasters, candle-holders, stationery-holders, trinket boxes, cameos, shelves, furniture pieces); however I have never aimed to restrict myself in this regard. Besides wood, I also work on glass, terracotta, as well as pebbles and stones. I have also tried some techniques on walls especially chalkboard paints (Easily available at Ace Hardware) – they come out beautifully!

Basic Technique

1.The very first step is ‘Sanding’ the skeleton or piece (In case of wood. You don’t need to prime glass or terracotta). This is done with the help of sanding paper whereby you attempt to scrape  off the tiniest layer off the wooden surface with the aim to get rid of any irregularities, marks and imperfections – in a nutshell, to smooth out the surface. I usually prefer higher grit sandpaper for my smaller wooden pieces; the lower grit ones tend to make the work-surface too coarse. Always remove the ‘Sanding Dust’ (I frequently use a damp cloth for that) before moving on to the next step.

2. After sanding, it is always advisable to prime the surface. My favourite is the ‘Gesso Primer’, most commonly used to prepare surfaces for oil and acrylic painting. And since I usually use acrylics, it works just fine! Ideally two layers of gesso for surface preparation are perfect with a 30 minute- 1 hour wait to allow drying in between the layers. Both sponges and paint brushes may be used for the purpose – If the surface has corners and edges (like in trays and shelves), I prefer to use paintbrushes as it is easier to reach the corners for a smooth covering. For flat surfaces like coasters, sponges work perfectly too. The purpose of this step is to prevent the paint layers (later) from seeping in too much and also to help the layers adhere onto the surface better.

3. Then come the paint (your choice of colour) layers.For a neat and crisp look, proceed with two layers of acrylic paint colour of your choice allowing about 30 minutes – one hour for drying in between; till the surface is touch-dry.

4. You can now start embellishing the surface with different mediums. For decoupage, you can use decoupage paper cut outs (possibly placed in a collage-type arrangement) – use decoupage glue to help transfer the images; I usually use Modge Podge. After applying one modge podge layer and transferring the image I allow 10 minutes drying time and then apply a second layer of modge podge all over the image especially the edges subsequently allowing drying time again.

5. Varnishing: Finish off the look with layers of varnish (at least two to make it a waterproof surface). I usually prefer water-based varnishes as these are known to dry and build up very quickly, don’t have any effect on the colour scheme, are environmentally friendly and not a fire hazard. Varnishing also adds a sheen to the product instead of a rough/raw look. To give you an idea, adding twenty to thirty layers can actually make the surface glass-like!

Some TIPS and TRICKS:

1.When cutting out images for decoupage transfer, cut as closely as possible around the edges making sure there is little or no white space around them. The more precise the cut, the more exquisitely beautiful the final look. You may use similar coloured markers/paints/wax pastes to cover the white parts once already transferred onto the working surface.

2.Decoupage papers come in different thicknesses. It is better not to apply too many coats of modge podge and varnish over the extremely thin ones (and additionally which have faded version of images), especially when the base colour is very similar (or different from white) as that could cause the image to disappear and become less visible or occasionally acquire that unpleasant ‘soaked’ look.

3.Sometimes instead of cutting with scissors, you might want to wet the image edges using a water-dipped paint brush and then pull the image out using fingers – this helps create a shabby chic look.  I absolutely love employing this technique for postage stamp and vintage images in general!

    

4.For an antiqued look, start off with a layer of the colour you would want to show from beneath as the ‘patinaed/rusted layer’, and add the second layer as the colour of your choice to show on the top; of course allowing drying time in between. The trick is to apply brief patches/coatings of wax paste (any brand) before applying the top acrylic paint layer, wherever you would want the rusted effect to show. It usually takes about 15 to 20 minutes for it to dry. Once all these aforementioned layers have dried, you can use sanding paper to lightly sand the surface once again to reveal the antiqued/rusted patches on the surface!     

5.Like any glue, make sure you clear out the ripples with hand movement while using modge podge layers to transfer images. Also, avoid applying too thick a layer of modge podge as that will risk creating ripples while trying to transfer images.

6.To make sharp edges less obvious and also to cover any white spaces in the cut-outs, 3D embellishments, wax pastes and decoupage overlay (transferring another image onto an already decoupaged one) come in quite handy. Apart from these, occasional strokes and painting with acrylic paints will help look your piece look more original and genuine rather than a mere collage/collection of images

7.If possible allow the layers to dry overnight as insufficiently dried layers might cause them to lift up from the surface when additional coatings of colours, images and embellishments are applied later.

8.And finally, try your best to improvise as you go from one stage to another instead of deciding the complete design details in mind beforehand. In my experience, even though it is undoubtedly useful to have an outline in mind, the colours, the theme (for instance, vintage, floral or patinaed) and the primary images, try not to imagine the scheme in total; let it unfold before you as and when created and you will end up having a genuinely unique piece truly reflective of your thoughts, self-expression and personality. Indeed, it is the small details that make a difference and help create a masterpiece!

For some of my completed pieces, click on this link! 🙂