The Maestro of Spa - Sylvia Sepielli
Sylvia Sepielli is the master of the spa: the American spa designer with Sicilian roots has already created concepts for numerous resorts around the world – including the Dolder Grand in 2004. Never have such places of rest and relaxation for body and mind been more important than in today’s world. The perfect time, then, to look back with the expert on her first European project and talk about her inspirations.
“Live creatively” or “Have a joyful life experience” are just a few of the principles that guide the life and work of Sylvia Sepielli, one of the best-known spa designers on the international scene. The retreats that she has created during her career include some of the most beautiful in the world. They are located on Hawaii, in Palm Beach, Florida, in Malaysia, in Japan – or in Zurich in the Dolder Grand. Media such as “The New York Times”, “Forbes” or “Architectural Digest” report on a regular basis on the creations of this American with Sicilian roots, a woman who exudes so much charm and tranquillity.
A mother of two and now also a grandmother, Sylvia Sepielli grew up in the late 1950s with a strong awareness of her Sicilian-American origins. The American Summer of Love in 1967 also made no small impression on the young Sepielli, as she recounts. The designer lives and works in Sedona, in the federal state of Arizona. For us, she reflects once again on the refurbishment between 2004 and 2008 of the multi-award-winning Dolder Grand Spa, back then one of her first European projects.
High above Zurich, on the Adlisberg, during a comprehensive renovation project directed by famed British architect Sir Norman Foster, a recreation and wellness facility extending over 4,000 square metres was created in an oriental style over 15 years ago. The Spa is inspired by Sylvia Sepielli’s recollections of Japan, where she spent a whole decade: “I studied the oriental art of healing in great depth. This time helped to shape my understanding of a spa as a place of relaxation and renewal just as much as it guided my sense of the aesthetic,” recounts the designer and consultant. The special thing about this Spa is its perfect standard of service and the loving attention bestowed on even the tiniest of details.
Visitors to the City Resort will find a 25-metre swimming pool made of much-loved Italian Bisazza mosaic, sunaburo baths, an ice room and an outside pool with a view over Lake Zurich and the Alps. There are 18 treatment rooms available for body and facial treatments. Anyone wishing a totally private world can book one of the two Spa Suites, each measuring more than 70 square metres, including a whirlpool.
Another highlight is the meditation area crowned by a mirror mosaic cupola. The way to it leads along the spiral Meditation Walk between limestone walls from the Valais region that are several metres in height. This entire structure symbolises a gorge where a spring rises that widens out into a river: “This spiral route directs attention inwards, into mindfulness, guiding each guest into surroundings characterised by water in a flowing manner,” explains Sylvia Sepielli as she outlines the concept.
Creatively inspired by the natural world
It is most especially through her concepts that this designer has made such a name for herself, incorporating aspects of the local surroundings and giving each spa an authentic feel. Sepielli is particularly interested by what is true and genuine about a given region. This includes local conditions and features, but also the people and their culture, the natural world and the landscape. All things that also give her a great deal outside her world of work: “With few exceptions, I take myself on a 3.2-kilometre run every day and enjoy the sunrise. Quite simply, I enjoy being outside while the world is slowly waking up,” she reveals.
Switzerland as a muse
When she began to devise the concept for the Dolder Grand Spa, she conducted research work in a great many national and local archives, which also took her on a journey right across Switzerland: “I wanted to develop a feel for the elements that would help to define the character of this Spa,” she reasons. Other elements are wood and light. Switzerland becomes her muse: “The expanses of the landscape, the majestic mountains and the depth of the gorges all had a profound impression on me.”
The design and interior appointment of the Dolder Grand Spa gave it a great name far beyond the frontiers of Switzerland and garnered it a range of awards. These included, in 2011, the “SpaFinder Readers’ Choice Award”, followed just a year later by the British title “Hotel Spa of the Year, Europe” and, in 2015, the “Best Spa” award by Virtuoso, a luxury travel network.
Growing demand during the pandemic
With her distinctive style, Sylvia Sepielli is evidently in tune with the mood of the era: in 2017, the German study “FutureHotel spa and wellness experiences” found that visitors exhibit a clear preference for “specialist concepts that extend beyond what is commonly on offer”, and that combine the natural world and a sense of privacy. Moreover, the study also found that the availability of spa facilities was the decisive booking criterion for over three quarters of the guests, or at least had a role to play in the choice of which hotel to book.
During the pandemic, there now is an even greater need for peace, security and physical well-being. For many, the spa is a place of refuge that combines all of these things. The study had already established that these topics were “important trends of our time”, and since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, that has become even more compelling.
“People need nourishing contact”
In an interview, Lutz Hertel, a graduate psychologist and Chairman of the German Wellness Association, explains that “as a result of the extensive press coverage, greater awareness has been raised for the significance of health, personal responsibility and lifestyle”.
An observation that our expert, Sylvia Sepielli, also makes: “A lack of interactions with people and virtually non-existent social contact leads to people quite literally longing for physical treatments. They need these nourishing contacts.” She has heard from many spa directors around the world that the demand for treatments has therefore risen hugely.
She herself is convinced that a strengthened immune system is the best protection against all kinds of illness, which also includes a healthy mind and body. Here is another of her lifestyle mottos: “How you feel determines results” – a principle that is now surely more apposite than ever before.