Late last year, Mary Minas and Freya Berwick opened Sense of Self, an ethereal massage and mindfulness studio on the top floor of a converted Collingwood warehouse. But that was only ever half of the plan.
Now the pair are doubling down on their self-described brand of “healthy hedonism” with the opening of their hotly anticipated Roman-style bathhouse and spa – in the space downstairs.
How does one go about recreating an ancient Roman bathhouse for 2021, though? Well, for Minas and Berwick, it was about taking the concept of communal bathing and elevating it with traditional, unfussy wellness rituals – such as a Finnish sauna and a cold plunge pool. And going in with an approach that’s all-inclusive and body positive.
“Bathing is an ancient tradition rooted in communion and inclusivity,” says Minas. “It’s a ritual that gets to the essence of wellbeing – think community, acceptance, restoration. Leisure without the artifice.”
You’ll find no clinical white corridors and attendants in lab coats here, as in some wellness settings. Instead, the warehouse’s soaring ceilings and mostly opaque windows mean the space is airy and often flooded with warm natural light.
The bathhouse’s design wouldn’t feel out of place in a luxury home – which is kind of the point. Here, you can feel at home. A collaboration between an all-female team of local creatives from Setsquare Studio, Chamberlain Architects and Hearth Studio has resulted in a space rich in natural textures – from the travertine tiles in the showers (punctuated with brass fixtures), to the sturdy cedar sauna and the greenery placed thoughtfully throughout.
“We call it ‘Mediterranean brutalism’,” says Berwick. “Mixing the soft warmth of the Mediterranean with brutal[ist] architecture … It’s quite big and demanding, and you can’t ignore it.”
“The building played a big part in it as well,” Minas adds. “We knew the warehouse would be really incredible because it has the scale to give you a feeling that’s different to other kinds of wellness and spa spaces.
“I think for a long time spas had utilised, very smartly, those basement spaces in the CBD – kind of very dark and moody. [But] we wanted to bring back the idea of an ancient bathhouse … They were very light-filled spaces – and social as well.”
With the addition of the bathhouse, Sense of Self is now something of a choose-your-own-adventure wellness destination. You can swan between a roomy, glass-mosaic-tiled mineral bath heated to a balmy 39 degrees, that striking 80-degree Finnish sauna and the cold plunge pool, which will be available for use in the coming weeks.
Essentially, comfort is key. In a physical sense, sure – but it’s also part of the business’s ethos. It’s all about getting in touch with your body and the space it inhabits, and cultivating that connection through comforting experiences. Of course, acceptance comes in many forms – and here it’s not only the acceptance of self, but of others too.
“The challenge was that something like this hadn’t been designed before in Australia,” says Berwick. “There was a layer of consulting with the community – especially the transgender community – to make sure it was as inclusive as it could be, and that was how we landed on it being an all-gendered space with privacy where you need it.”
That means individual changing booths and a “no-bullshit” policy when it comes to discrimination against any one or any body.
To start, there’ll be all-gender, “bathers-on” sessions for 20 people, with a view to expand to around 35 as restrictions continue to ease. Dedicated “bathers-off” sessions for single or multiple genders are planned for the future, and a traditional Turkish hammam experience (with a large steam room and the option of a personal spa attendant) is slated for wintertime.
Sense of Self’s bathhouse opens on March 16. Two-hour sessions are $49 Monday to Friday, and $59 Saturday and Sunday. They include access to the bath, sauna, showers and courtyard.
Sense of Self
30–32 Easey Street, Collingwood
Tue to Fri 7am–9pm
Sat & Sun 9am–7pm
Tue to Fri 11am–8pm
Sat & Sun 10am–6pm