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'Every little detail': Inside The Spa at the Inns of Aurora, opening soon
'Every little detail': Inside The Spa at the Inns of Aurora, opening soon
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'Every little detail': Inside The Spa at the Inns of Aurora, opening soon

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I edit The Citizen's features section, Lake Life, and weekly entertainment guide, Go. I've also been writing for The Citizen and auburnpub.com since 2006, covering arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.

LEDYARD — The word "intentionality" comes up a lot in conversation about The Spa at the Inns of Aurora.

Opening June 28, the 21,000-square-foot spa is the first project built from the ground up by the luxury resort. So unlike the historic properties it restored into hotels, such as Zabriskie House and Wallcourt Hall, the Inns of Aurora could design the spa however it wanted. And whether it was the basic layout of the facility or its most subtle flourishes, the resort did just that.

For instance, using a virtual reality version of the spa generated by architect Hart Howerton, Inns of Aurora founder Pleasant Rowland was able to decide where she wanted to locate each piece of art inside. She selected more than 50 pieces from her personal collection, from the spectrum of still life flowers in the salon to a whimsical image of hot dogs roasting in the café.

"That level of intentionality behind every little detail is a hallmark for us," said Alex Schloop, the resort's director of marketing and creative director, during a tour of the nearly finished spa Friday.

Most of those details were decided with the spa's guests in mind. Schloop called the facility a "demand generator," something that can draw people to Aurora during the months when the resort's hotels and restaurants alone might not. Indeed, the Inns of Aurora designed the spa for the whole year. Its abundant windows and its lighting, which changes throughout the day in response to the level of sunlight, will make "every season a different experience," Schloop said. But the actual draw, he continued, is the suite of wellness services offered within the dazzling facility.

The Citizen's tour of the spa with Schloop began in its reception area and boutique, which sells products by local artisans and the resort's partner at the facility, Rasa Spa, of Ithaca. The area also offers a mud room for the footwear of guests who come to the spa from the 3.5-mile Inns of Aurora Nature Trail, as the resort anticipates some traffic from it, Schloop said.

The reception area, which is open to the public even without an appointment, will likely be the first impression of the spa for most. It introduces a few visual motifs that recur throughout the facility, including Rowland's art and the many picturesque views of the surrounding fields on the 265-acre property. Schloop said they will be planted with alfalfa and lavender. Additionally, the reception area boasts high ceilings with hidden lighting, free of beams or fixtures that could interrupt an aesthetic the Inns of Aurora wants to be a minimalist but "as residential as possible."

"We didn't want to build something that didn't fit the landscape, but Pleasant also didn't want to create something that's faux historic," Schloop said.

"We wanted to honor the agricultural heritage of the area, but bring it to life in a very contemporary way." 

Adjoining the reception area is the salon. It will offer manicures, pedicures, makeup and hair services, and it can be used by visitors who aren't using the spa's other services. Seated Friday in the salon's chairs were Inns of Aurora employees helping staff prepare for their first guests. They'll have plenty: Schloop said the spa is booked solid through at least July 12.

Spa 9

The café at The Spa at the Inns of Aurora.

The spa's café, which is for guests only, will offer them what Schloop called a "grazing table" of light bites to keep them nourished through the day. A la carte espresso drinks, kombucha, wine and craft beer will also be available. Some of those beverages can be enjoyed in the spa's courtyard, which includes a fire pit area with poured concrete benches that are heated. 

The facility itself is heated geothermally using 40 wells dug on the property. That raised costs up front, Schloop said, but lowers them in the long term both financially and environmentally. Rowland acquired the 700 Sherwood Road property more than a decade ago, and its use was limited until she decided to locate the spa there after three previous sites didn't come to fruition. Construction made more of the property farmable, Schloop added. Hart Howerton sculpted the terrain and planted native species to retain water, as runoff to the village had been a problem.

"Part of our brand is telling the history of this area and the agricultural component, which is really the driver of the wealth that built all the homes down in the village," Schloop said. 

Also planted outside the spa are several ginkgo trees, a nod to the first four imported to the United States from Japan and planted in the village of Aurora in 1856. Near them is a historic barn that's been renovated for use as meditation or personal space, as well as a room connected to the main facility called Pond View. It offers groups like families and small work teams their own space apart from others, Schloop said, or it could be used for private functions like couples yoga classes. Outside the room are walkways around the titular pond nearby.

Spa 12

The indoor hydrotherapy area at The Spa at the Inns of Aurora.

Spaces like the café and Pond View were designed to supplement the reason most will come to The Spa at the Inns of Aurora: treatments and hydrotherapy circuits. For guests unsure how to navigate those services, Rasa provides cards with recommended circuits for each treatment in order to curate the experience for guests with, as Schloop repeated, "intentionality."

The spa's treatment rooms, locker rooms and hydrotherapy areas can be accessed from a stairway Schloop called "the heart of the building," complete with its own water feature to muffle the noises converging there. Among the locker rooms is an all-gender changing room for people who are nonbinary, and the men's and women's each contain a sauna and a steam room.

The latter room mimics the look of Cayuga Lake with tile that fades from light to dark blue the lower it gets, Schloop said.

"We could have done something very simple, but instead we decided to make a kind of design statement in those spaces," he said.

Hydrotherapy circuits are located inside and outside the facility. They consist of multiple pools, so guests can go from hot to cold to warm water as recommended. The indoor area includes a reading nook by a fireplace, while the outdoor one is highlighted by an infinity edge that heats water as it falls from the top pool to the bottom one. There are six pools total, two inside and four outside, and their temperature can be adjusted depending on the time of day or season. The outside area also offers mixed-gender couples and groups the opportunity to share a pool.

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The outdoor tranquility area at The Spa at the Inns of Aurora.

On the second floor, guests start their treatments by waiting in the tranquility room to be collected by a Rasa therapist. The room consists of an indoor lounge with custom, heavily cushioned seating, as well as a porch with a clear view of Cayuga Lake and the bridge connecting the spa to the Inns of Aurora Nature Trail. Schloop called it his favorite room in the facility.

"It's just been so amazing to have been talking about this project for so long and now to actually see it come to life," he said. "It hasn't quite sunk in yet."

The spa has 10 treatment rooms: four with fireplaces, three for couples and two with showers for mud, wrap and other wet treatments. Like the rest of the facility, the rooms were built to make the guest experience as seamless as possible. Therapist stations lie behind doors hidden in the walls, and lights peek out from custom sconces that look like peeled drywall.

As The Citizen's tour concluded, Schloop noted that the spa is asking guests who aren't vaccinated against COVID-19 to wear masks. The facility was midway through construction when the pandemic began, so the Inns of Aurora decided to obtain its WELL Certification in case it was needed. As a result, the facility circulates air at a higher rate than most hospitals, Schloop said.

But with the pandemic receding, the Spa at the Inns of Aurora opens with one less obstacle in the way of realizing its potential for the luxury resort and its lakeside home.

"This project will be a before and after of the Inns of Aurora," Schloop said. "It's really transformational for us."

Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or david.wilcox@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.

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I edit The Citizen's features section, Lake Life, and weekly entertainment guide, Go. I've also been writing for The Citizen and auburnpub.com since 2006, covering arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.

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