Tropical heat meets an elegant cool front at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, home to the Silver Rain spa by D'Aquino Monaco
Tom Beer -- Interior Design, 7/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Its name evokes the purity of nature, the fantasy of wealth. However that name, Silver Rain, was practically all D'Aquino Monaco had to work with when the firm was asked to design a spa at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. La Prairie, the Swiss creator of ultra-luxe skin-care products, would run the spa, named for a women's fragrance in the process of being created. And there the complications began. Not only would the facility be part of a luxury resort with a traditional aesthetic—quite distinct from La Prairie's minimalism—but the location was also a Caribbean island about as far removed from snowy, landlocked Switzerland as you can imagine.
"La Prairie is a high-tech company. Despite the interest in a project with a hotelier like Ritz-Carlton, executives couldn't figure out how that brand would cross over to the natural, tropical world," architect Francine Monaco explains. "How do you create an identity that's diametrically opposed to its environment?" Another challenge was spatial: The spa's future location, 20,000 square feet on the Ritz-Carlton's first floor, had a cast-concrete staircase and plumbing already in place. (On the upside, an opportunity existed to build internal walls and lower the ceiling to create an upper level.)
Monaco and fellow principal Carl D'Aquino began by gathering their team of three around the firm's oval conference table for a brainstorming session. "Our concept was water, in its many states," D'Aquino says. "From glacial ice formations to the warmest, bluest Caribbean sea." Different colors and materials—even different sounds and scents—would suggest water's transformation as the spa experience unfolds.
It begins with a gentle roar, heard even before you pass through the silver-leafed doors of Silver Rain. The sound comes both from waterfalls cascading down the foyer's walls of white quartzite, a typically Swiss stone, and from the rushing stream beneath the cast-glass floor. D'Aquino Monaco used the same glass for enormous jagged screens, suggesting ice crystals. A pair of square columns, lit from within, are fused glass. Transporting you from the tropics to the arctic, the slightly lower temperature here offers a cleansing chill. "It's all very sensual," D'Aquino says. The room is even lightly scented with Silver Rain fragrance.
The water running beneath the foyer's ' floor flows into troughs along the perimeter of the reception area's quartzite flooring. Meanwhile, "rain" drips down an internally lit column of stainless-steel beaded chains. "The water becomes calm," D'Aquino explains. A thick white shag rug adds texture, and silvery faux leather covers a free-form sofa—custom, like most of the upholstered furniture at the spa.
Emphasizing La Prairie's luxury theme, the changing rooms are absurdly elegant domains with silver-leafed ceilings, crystal chandeliers, and lockers with carved, lacquered doors. Then there's what the firm likes to call "wall caviar": silvered paper appliquéd with tiny glass beads. Opposite the changing rooms, D'Aquino Monaco grouped saunas, whirlpools, and showers.
Upstairs is one of the spa's most distinctive features, the Silver Haven lounge. "Even the most luxurious of spas have very minor waiting areas. They don't dedicate space to that transition," Monaco says. "Silver Haven is a huge area you can go to before your treatment and come back to after." Because the lounge is used by both men and women, dressed only in linen bathrobes and slippers, D'Aquino points out, "People may feel shy and in need of privacy." White spun-polyester curtains section off seating areas. Chaises are configured as singles, doubles, or larger groups, and upholstery is a textural composition of silvery leather mixed with velvet, linen, and cotton.
Halls on the second level are hushed, with dimmed lighting. For barefoot clients en route to the 17 private treatment rooms or the manicure-pedicure area, flooring of tactile sandblasted glass feels like a rocky riverbed worn smooth by water. Silver-glazed ceramic vases, set on the floor, suggest stylized raindrops. The rooms themselves are spare, with subtle incandescent lighting. "You're not lying on the table, staring up at down-lights," D'Aquino says. Iridescent glass mosaic tile or irregularly pleated silk covers the walls.
"This project was the first time that La Prairie was really able to work with designers to deliver what it means to be five-star. It's a prototype for us," says the company's manager of spa development, Aileen Sein. For the team at D'Aquino Monaco, Silver Rain offered a five-star introduction to the spa idiom, paying scrupulous attention to every detail. And an opportunity to get a free stone-therapy massage.