Social wellness trends reshaping design, for the better

Five ways to achieve maximum-impact wellness experiences in minimal space

What’s the Point?

Wellness spaces come in all shapes and sizes — including small ones. For multifamily communities and workplaces where square footage is at a premium, wellness-centered design can have an outsized impact, sparking purpose and vitality for residents, employees and visitors alike. The key is to understand the human need for mind-body-spirit and social connection and design accordingly.

Connecting the dots between wellness and design

Physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing priorities are here to stay, with a staggering 79 percent of people in six countries saying that wellness is important. But what exactly does this mean for residential and office design?

The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness as “the active pursuit of activities, choices, and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.” By delivering live/work/play environments where people feel empowered and inspired in these pursuits, organizations foster healthier, happier communities and combat the larger loneliness epidemic plaguing the U.S.

How? Details matter when considering thoughtful wellness amenities. “Right now it’s all about the new generation of sauna, complete with infrared therapy, salt, ionized air, aromatherapy, and chromatherapy options,” said Jenn Zella, Principal and Director of Design at CID Design Group. Together with steam rooms or showers, cold plunges, and meditation rooms, leading developers are delivering these prize amenities in new projects.

But a holistic wellness experience means thinking deeper than the trends. It even means going beyond practical wellness-related design certifications like WELL, Fitwel and RESET. While these can be meaningful tools for scope and accountability, the first step is to explore the location’s foundational intentions: Where can people go to experience sanctuary? Where can they go to connect with others through a lens of social wellness? And how do these spaces align and intersect?

Some forward-looking developers have answered these questions by taking a cue from the past and reimagining the gardens and bathhouses of antiquity as ‘social wellness’ spaces in modern multifamily and workplace communities. Humans, after all, are social beings who benefit from group support and motivation, including on their wellness journeys.

Often, those connective journeys must take place in small footprints, such as meditation rooms or a stargazing nook. But even when only a solo sauna chamber will fit, meaningful humans’ connections occur simply by crossing paths with others in the surrounding areas.

How to shape a maximum-impact ‘wellness circuit’ in minimal space

At CID Design Group, a best practice is to design spaces based on how people will move through them. At a gym, for instance, you might run a circuit through cardio and strength machines. “In wellness spaces, we paint a clear picture of how people will move most meaningfully through the different functions, such as contrast therapy where people can move from heat to cold plunge, from dry to wet, from rejuvenation to movement,” said Zella.

“And you don’t need a giant canvas to paint this picture, either,” Zella advises. The following tips can apply to spaces from as small as 500 square feet and up.

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  1. Incorporate flexible wellness space into your floorplan. A flexible and multipurpose wellness room can be positioned and styled for any self-work goal. Meditation space? Check. Wellness events room, from massage and yoga to nutrient IV therapist? Check and check. A lounge area for recovery after a big workout or meeting? Yes, to all that and more.

    The space can leverage pods or booths to achieve the same concept but smaller and more dispersed. In many corporate interiors, movable, prebuild, premanufactured pods have already been deployed as mini heads-down offices — now reimagine these movable spaces as a wellness pod, a quiet little ‘hug’ of space to think, dream, meditate or even workout, depending on how you outfit the studio.

  2. Give people the fresh air and access to nature they love. Embrace biophilia by bringing the outside in wherever possible. High-impact small-footprint ideas include a Zen garden sanctuary, fountains, green walls, filtered lights, and terrace, rooftop garden, and courtyard areas. These outdoor touches needn’t be big, but they are best when adjacent: People should be able to flow from indoor to outdoor wellness spaces with ease.

    And don’t underestimate the importance of fresh air. Operable windows and balconies were stripped away in urban areas in recent decades — now thankfully there’s a post-COVID push to help people access working windows and terraces.

  3. Get creative with spa offerings. Small spaces can house coveted spa amenities, with strategic selection and placement. Want cold therapy? Equip experiential showers with a pull-chain for a cold rainhead to avert the need for separate stalls. Salt therapy? Add a salt wall in the flex wellness room.

  4. Design for experiential wellness. From apartment and office interiors to social areas, choose fixtures, finishes, equipment and other design elements that support health and wellbeing and create what Zella calls a “high-vibe environment.” This can include everything from air quality and water filtration to massage chairs, original art, and quality acoustics. Bonus points for supporting chronotherapy (healthy sleep patterns) with smart circadian lamping programmed to follow natural daylight, or chromatherapy with different light colors that affect mood in specific ways.

  5. Name wellness offerings to promote education and adoption. Even the most inviting wellness space goes underutilized when people don’t know why or what it is. Creative signage can help pique their interest, and remind them to come back. For inspiration: “Hygge Lounge,” “Turkish Bath,” or “Om Pod.”

    Inside wellness spaces, use counters and walls to offer educational materials that help set the stage for wellness, from yoga pose posters and framed instructions for unfamiliar equipment, to shelves featuring mindfulness reference books and visible affirmations.

Community wellness design for today, and tomorrow

Every development’s wellness design journey should be uniquely crafted for its residents’ values, lifestyle, and brand experience. It can be designed to be low-burden, easily self-operated, and cost-effective with elements such as an om pod, massage chair, filtered alkaline remineralized water tap, and more.

A sense of security should always be embedded into the design, too, with transparency, visibility, and non-locking spaces all helping contribute to peace of mind.

By embedding holistic wellness into building design, leading organizations are winning over occupants and setting a new standard for multifamily and workplace destination design. Join the movement to wellness and the fruit of your labors will be nothing short of better human and business outcomes today — and into the future.