Stay Connected with the Wickaninnish Inn online:


The exterior of your spa may be one of the most important factors in drawing clients in to the spa, but keeping them inside, and coming back for more, is a different task altogether. As soon as they walk through the door, a client is passing judgment on whether or not your spa could be their go-to for esthetic treatments and relaxation.

Has the interior of the spa been designed in such a way as to create a feeling of calm and welcoming while still appearing clean and professional? There are endless possibilities for the interior of the spa, but in order to have the most effective design, each design element must fit two criteria. It must be deliberate and appropriate, according to experts. Each design choice must be made for a specific reason. Why are you purchasing that light fixture? Why choose that colour of paint? An accent isn’t placed in a location because the accent was leftover and needed somewhere to be. Rather, an area needs an accent and you set out to find precisely what it needs. Appropriate design elements fit with the image of the spa. If your spa were designed with an Asian theme, would you add leopard print flooring?

One spa that has made consistently deliberate and appropriate design choices is Ancient Cedars Spa at the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino, British Columbia. With the help of Vancouver-based BBA Design Consultants Inc., Ancient Cedars has evolved to become a prime example of spa design done right.

“There were two aspects to our overall design choice when building the spa,” says Charles McDiarmid, Owner of the Wickaninnish Inn. “It was important that the spa keep with the theme and feel of the west coast setting as well as the rest of the inn, so as to not create a design contrast.”

At the same time, McDiarmid wanted the spa to be unlike any other space at the inn.

“When you’re coming into the spa, it’s a totally unique setting,” he explains.

The feeling, says Sharon Bortolotto, Founder of BBA, was to be much like the landscape surrounding the building. “It was meant to be healing, organic and very back-to-nature,” she says.

The problem, however, was that the spa had low ceilings. It felt confined, dark and uncomfortable. To address this specific issue, the choice was made to panel the roof with Douglas Fir.

“It then felt cozy and intimate as opposed to dank. A negative become a positive through creative design,” says Bortolotto.

Not only was this choice of material appropriate as it was harvested locally, appears in various uses throughout the inn and Douglas Fir trees surround the spa, but the natural colour of the wood fits, in combination with proper use of light, with the warm and welcoming objective of the spa.

Lighting is a design element that can have a significant impact on how the accents and colours in the spa are received.

“Lights are a specific choice, they highlight certain areas and each is placed with a use in mind,” says Bortolotto.

“If you’re going to use wood,” McDiarmid adds, “you might as well set up lighting in a way that people can appreciate the look and feel of the surfaces.”

Lights were also placed to highlight greenery placed throughout the spa, enhancing the presence of nature and adding further texture to the wood surfaces throughout the spa.

Bringing the outdoors in
Incorporating wood in the spa design is not the only way of bringing nature inside.

“We’re on the margin between the old growth forest and the open ocean, so we bring in elements of the sea in addition to the elements of land to emphasize those aspects of our setting,” says McDiarmid.

Sand from the nearby beach was brought in to increase the presence of nature in the retail area. Unobtrusive acrylic columns were constructed to house the sand, fading into the spa décor seamlessly.

Most windows at the spa are large and often uncovered, framed in soft white drapes that still let much sun through, or wooden blinds that don’t fully close. Stone from the surrounding shore and forest also enhances the natural setting.

“Most recently, we moved the ceramic tile from the mens’ and ladies’ lounges and replaced it with stone. The ceramic wasn’t quite in keeping with the theme of the spa,” says McDiarmid. The choice to include blue glass tiles throughout the lounges was also deliberate, symbolizing the ocean, as is the use of blue flower pots on the patio surrounding the spa.

“Every detail is important with the design; the details are what make the spa special,” McDiarmid says.

Taking the indoors out
Design choices should not be made hastily.

“When the demand for side-by-side treatments began to grow, we erected a tent out on the rocks to test the waters and see if it would be as popular as it was shaping up to be,” says Miranda Moore, Spa Director at Ancient Cedars.

“When it proved itself, the decision was made to build a free-standing building overlooking the ocean,” she says.

The Cedar Sanctuary was built to emulate the ambience of the main spa. The colour scheme, presence of nature and all touches present in the main building extended to this new space.

“Typically, we try to stick to one theme throughout a facility,” says Bortolotto.

The idea of creating different themed rooms throughout your spa may work with your target demographic, but generally the best approach is to create a uniform flow.

In 2004, when Ancient Cedars created Rainforest Haven out of a repurposed hotel room, the theme of the spa flowed across the exterior space and into this separate building as well.

“We used local driftwood to craft a staircase that spirals from the ground up,” says Moore.

“We want everything to be unique and interesting, yet maintain the flow of the spa. This is why we built the spiralling staircase,” says McDiarmid.

Enlist professional help
None of the design choices Ancient Cedars Spa has made through the years have been made without professional consultation.

Once choice that doesn’t fit with the rest of the spa or one that isn’t made with complete specificity can throw off the entire feel you’ve been working to create.

“Our spa has evolved with our design consultants from the very beginning,” says McDiarmid. “We’re not running off and doing this on our own, turning the spa into a patchwork quilt. Our ideas go through BBA and they make sure what we’re doing fits with what’s already there.”

  • A Proud Relais & Chateaux Member
  • Rated a Top Travel Destination