Rock of ages
Ancient harmony reigns at L'Incontro spa, a Simone Micheli design in Romagnano Sesia, Italy
Roberta Mutti -- Interior Design, 5/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
For a quick pick-me-up in the city, day spas are unbeatable—don't get us wrong. But there's still nothing quite like a real escape, geographically and psychologically. That's where L'Incontro enters the picture. This extraordinary spa and fitness complex is situated in Romagnano Sesia, a small northwestern Italian town in the midst of Novara's hills, along the banks of the Sesia River.
L'Incontro began life as just a 3,200-square-foot gym. After 17 years, however, the owners perceived a need for a more inclusive health experience in the area. Architectural Studio Simone Micheli secured the commission to renovate and expand the former industrial building. It now totals 6,500 square feet divided into three main areas: the gym, a pool, and a spa.
"There's an increasing need for fitness centers that offer not only workout rooms and lap pools but also spaces to rejuvenate the soul and promote harmony with the universe," says principal Simone Micheli. These days, such New Age spa-speak tends to manifest itself in a Zen-inflected look. Not at L'Incontro. Micheli stayed closer to his Mediterranean roots, paying homage to the baths of the ancient Romans and Greeks. "The ancient baths had great cultural and social significance. The elegance of their mosaic floors and travertine walls was extraordinary," says the architect. At L'Incontro, that legacy assumes the more earthy guise of walls and floors covered in gneiss, a foliated metamorphic rock quarried locally. "It's exquisite—warm, pleasant to the touch. And it interacts well with water," says Micheli.
The decompression experience begins in the spa's moodily lit, gneiss-clad main corridor. Emerging barefoot from the men's or women's changing room, guests encounter a 50-foot-long channel sunk in the stone floor. The channel is filled with cool water and polished river stones, glowing blue from underwater LEDs. "It's a foot-massage path," the architect explains. "For total wellness, every part of the body must be involved. Foot massage is an essential element. It soothes the joints and improves circulation." In Micheli's version, hydro-jets lightly spray the ankles as spa-goers traverse the channel. A handrail in brushed stainless steel prevents them from losing their balance as they proceed through the water, along a frosted-glass wall.
Behind the frosted glass is the relaxation room, a long space just wide enough for eight Micheli-designed daybeds covered in black faux leather. The gneiss flooring reappears here, but the architect chose white-painted plasterboard for the walls to lighten the atmosphere. Dropping the ceiling allowed him to conceal small dichroic spots, which wash the walls with soothing light. Piped-in ambient music and aromatherapy scents encourage guests to relax between, say, yoga and a steamy session in the hammam.
The hammam mixes Turkish references—a concrete bench, oriental fragrances—with the overall L'Incontro idiom. Clad once again in gneiss, the 90-square-foot room accommodates four guest-attendant pairs at a time. The massive concrete bench, built into the wall, lets guests sit as they absorb vapors.
The hot-cold shower area draws on the Roman calidarium and frigidarium—only, rather than plunging into a hot or cold pool, guests simply enter another gneiss-clad room. When they walk beneath one of three sensor-activated showers, a vertical stainless-steel pipe pumps out massaging thrusts of water.
Another stainless-steel pipe, installed in a corner of the main corridor, dispenses crushed ice into a bin of the same material— strategically placed en route from sauna to pool. The pool area itself is of course clad in gneiss, with the surround heated from beneath to a comfortable 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The pool's black PVC liner gives the impression of limitless depth.
From here, guests can see through a glass wall to L'Incontro's new gym. This 3,200-square-foot facility, a brightly lit gneiss-free zone, features the usual battery of cardiovascular and weight machines, plus a locker room, a trainer's office, and a solarium; 10 clay tennis courts are right outside.
The natural environment has its place in Micheli's plan, too. His environmentally driven choices include solar panels and energy-efficient condensation boilers to heat water for the complex. So the planet can enjoy the same state of well-being as L'Incontro's guests.