S. Russell Groves helps take the edge off New York's fast pace with his serene setting for The Greenhouse day spa.
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 2/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
" IT WAS A PLUMBING and electrical nightmare," recalls S. Russell Groves of the most serious challenges presented by the design of The Greenhouse day spa at 57th Street between Lexington and Park Avenue. Although a veteran in the retail and residential arenas, which comprise roughly 80 and 20 percent of his practice respectively, he was a neophyte in this new and exploding genre. But Groves, who proved a quick study, observes that the design problems of a spa and those of Manhattan apartments-which account for the lion's share of his residential work-are not so different. Both project types demand tight organization of service and storage needs to support serene environments. Behind spare and stunning interiors clients still need a place to stow their stuff-whether it be manicure paraphernalia or housewares.
The efficient use of space at New York's Greenhouse spa, heir to a Dallas predecessor, remained the designer's paramount concern. "The client needed us to pack in as much as possible," Groves relates. But beyond this requirement, he had carte blanche: the client didn't insist on any stylistic references to the previous Dallas location.
The 5,200-sq.-ft. site, with street-front presence, encompasses three levels. Its organization includes not only treatment areas and the all-important retail center, but also addresses a distinction between customers coming in for a spur-of-the-moment manicure and those scheduling a full day of serious pampering. The entry places visitors right in the shop itself, which then segues to the reception area. Next one moves on to four manicure/pedicure stations, which are intended primarily for the drop-in crowd. A split stairway leads to mezzanine and basement levels. Guests ascend to the 400-sq.-ft. lounge, where a pre-existing sloping skylight quietly alludes to the greenhouse theme. "This is the transition space," says Groves. "It's where one leaves the everyday world for the calm of the day spa, which starts on the second floor as a result of this segregated plan." The day spa encompasses five facial and six massage rooms, four more manicure/pedicure enclosures, a soaking tub, steam shower, two wet rooms, and a pair of doctors' rooms for advanced treatments (read: laser work and Botox injections). Changing rooms occupy the basement.
Groves conducted his own research tour of comparable facilities to help solidify exactly what he wanted-and what he wanted to avoid. He describes his vision as "tranquil, not like a night club," and one that eschews "a lot of tricks." Groves sought to create "an escapist environment, suggesting a natural sense of well-being." Indirect lighting and natural materials were the means to this end.
Sophisticated without being slick, Groves's Greenhouse has interior components executed in a variety of materials: rift oak with a clear finish for furniture and sliding door frames; ipe for main-level and lounge flooring; cork for sound-absorptive flooring on the second level; etched glass for translucent door panels; and limestone for counters. Metal is used sparingly; steel, for example, appears only in retail fixtures, where the metal's cold sheen is softened with a white powder-coat finish.
For both commercial and residential commissions, Groves opts to tap into his talent as a furniture designer when appropriate. Here he designed the lounge furniture and numerous storage components, all of which adhere to a plain, rectilinear aesthetic. Even the manicure/pedicure stations-whose cabinetry incorporates small-screen t.v. monitors, foot baths with fold-out covers, drawers, and touch-latch compartments concealing equipment, electrical outlets, and phones-appear as nothing more complicated than a partitioning system of foot-deep dividers. Overall, simplicity supports a complex operation. "It meant we had to think about things three-dimensionally," he says.
Groves admits the 14-month-long project, with its challenging program, "was a stretch for the office. Now we have the first one under our belt and are ready to pursue more." Credits for the project extend to project architect Rachael H. Grochowski, senior designer Laura Bernstein, and junior designer Sun Lee.