Communal bathing is commonplace in many cultures. From the Japanese onsen to the Turkish hammam, people all over the world come together for relaxation and pampering. In Australia we have the local pool (where you can overhear gossip in the sauna), but for the most part pampering is reserved for the day spa, where beauty treatments and massages are relaxing – and expensive.
Freya Berwick and her business partner Mary Minas feel the typical Australian day spa experience promotes a limited understanding of beauty and wellness – rather than the more accessible, diverse, communal bathing experiences they’d had overseas. Their in-the-works bathhouse, Sense of Self (SoS), is their attempt to change the culture here.
“[Sometimes] you feel you want to do something for yourself, “ says Berwick. “A massage is nice but it’s quite expensive to do frequently. A facial or getting your nails done, it doesn’t have enough meaning for me … it doesn’t treat what I’m wanting to treat, which is to connect with myself and give myself something nice.”
Currently under construction in a Collingwood warehouse, SoS will promote body positivity and encourage a relaxation-based – as opposed to performance-based – concept of wellness.
“We have quite a lot of wellness practices, but they’re skills and we measure them. We have expectations of ourselves in doing them. What we’re seeing is that we’re competing with ourselves even in leisure and that’s a bit problematic,” says Berwick.
“You can’t go for a walk now without measuring the number of steps that you do. Sometimes these things add up as a list of things that you should do for yourself and it becomes, instead of a delight, a bit of a task.”
Berwick is a trained botanist who got a taste for hospitality while renovating and working at boutique hotel and restaurant Fjærland Fjordstove in Norway. Minas is a filmmaker by trade whose plan to make a documentary about the 40-plus bathhouses she visited across Europe, North Africa and Japan eventually led her to her opening her own. The pair met while completing a Masters of Entrepreneurship at the University of Melbourne and began working on SoS at the end of 2017, and together, they want to remove the concept of beauty from wellbeing.
“[The experience] isn’t here to improve your skin or decrease your aging … it’s here for you to be you and have a connection with yourself and your body.”
SoS will offer bathing and steam rooms, massage treatments and meditation spaces. But a key part of the offering will be the DIY treatments: rather than paying someone for an exfoliation treatment, you can apply a mud scrub yourself – the idea being that you spend less and increase your agency in your own wellbeing. Berwick will use her experience as a botanist to formulate some of the different treatments available.
Stone, wood and plants will feature in the space, which is being designed by Setsquare Studio, Chamberlain Architects and Hearth Studios. Promotional materials describe it as “Mediterranean-Brutalist” in execution. Think big bold lines, earthy tones and tactile surfaces.
“The idea is to bring people into their bodies, and for the space to be what helps their experience in being present,” says Berwick. “It’s a space that demands presence. You notice things, there are unexpected things. It’s not just ‘This is a shopfront. I’m arriving’.”
Despite guests having free reign of the space and products (the aim is for treatments to start below the $50 mark), Berwick seems unfazed by the possibility of a mud fight breaking out: “If it’s fun, I don’t care.”
Sense of Self will open in spring.
This article was updated on June 28, 2019.