There are places and spaces that demand you relax. Usually they’re spots where you’re barred from having your phone, if we’re honest. Capybara Bathing is one such spot, and it’s open from early morning till late at night in Surry Hills. As you step over the Commonwealth Street threshold, your shoulders drop, your jaw unclenches. You’re here to really relax.

“We want this to be a slow place to go, to take [people] out of the fast-paced city life,” co-owner Natalie Cheung tells Broadsheet. Cheung is one of Capybara’s six-part team of friends. There’s Rebecca Qin, Justin Lo, Daegeon Song, Nicholas Souksamrane and Sebastian Tsang. Between them, that’s four architects and one ceramicist (Song, who founded Newtown art and design studio Project Snail along with Qin).

Capybara Bathing is an ode to wellness experiences from across the planet – as well as the South American critters. The sento and onsen of Japan, Russian banya and Moroccan hammam, as well as Mayan temazcal, Jewish mikveh and Korean jjimjilbang – all were looked to when conceptualising the space. “In northern Asia, there’s a tradition of people resting [on hot benches] in public bathhouses after the sauna, and the family will gather there,” Qin says, referencing Capybara’s heated benches. “We’re trying to bring together a collection of different cultures.”

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While the team worked to retain the high-ceilinged, exposed-beam charm of the building, what they’ve created is something totally new. “We want to promote local artists and emerging designers and craftsmen,” Qin says of the zen space. “That’s why we want to have all these little details incorporated into the experience.”

Those little details include a ceramic basin made by Song, and staff uniforms made by their fashion designer friend Sean Tran, of Redfern-based label Shhorn. There’s a huge painting by Sally Anderson – Cheung's “favourite artist” – and striking plants from High Swan Dive, a garden store in Newcastle that the team’s been visiting for 10 years.

Navigating the space is fluid. Groups of up to four arrive every 15 minutes and scatter throughout the space, which maxxes out at 20 guests for a 90-minute session. After a cleansing shower, you’re free to sweat in the hot-stone sauna or steam room, then soak in the large heated ice-blue magnesium bath. Scrubs are available to purchase on arrival, and there are tidy nooks for you to scour your body and rinse. There’s a two-person ice plunge, too. Then there’s the nook dedicated to a heated bench and ice scrub.

“For the ice scrub, I did myself for the first time [in Antwerp],” Cheung says. “There was a heated bench and an ice fountain. It was really enjoyable, and it’s less common in wellness centres in Sydney.” Next to a brushed concrete bench, shards of crushed ice sit frozen, ready for a cool exfoliation.

Accessibility for all has been a focus from the outset. You can book low-sensory sessions, there's capacity for support people (free of charge), and the team is committed to catering for all – the inbox is open for specific requests. “For us, inclusiveness is very important. That’s why we did social bathing,” Cheung says. “Bringing everyone together is key.”

As for the chubby-cheeked capybara, the team couldn’t pass on the name. “We’ve always had this fascination with the spirit of capybaras,” Qin says. “It’s a really cute animal, and it’s also one of the friendliest animals – it loves to make friends with other species, and it soaks in the waters for most of the day. As a philosophy, we want to promote that. You know, share this wellness experience with friends and family.”

Capybara Bathing
Ground floor, 235 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills

Mon to Fri 8am–9pm
Sat & Sun 8am–7pm
Advanced bookings required.