How To Create A More Soothing, Welcoming Reception Area

Elevating your reception area using the five senses.

A good first impression goes a long way, and that stands true for the reception area of your spa or clinic, too. This space sets the tone for what the client should expect, and the general atmosphere of your business. So it’s essential to create a calm, tranquil area where clients can relax and feel at peace before their treatment even begins.

Tresna Lee

Scent, touch, sound, sight and taste are all integral to achieving this tranquility. We spoke with Tresna Lee, an experience design consultant and founder of luxe incense brand Kin North, to find out how to create a relaxing space and the importance of utilising all five senses to create calm.

What is the power of scent when it comes to creating a calm, soothing atmosphere?

TL: Our sense of smell is developed before we are even born, so when we do come into the world, it’s one of our most powerful senses. Olfaction influences many parts of our brain, one of them being the amygdala which is responsible for our emotional function. 

There’s also a strong link to our sense of smell and memory, which is why you might sometimes smell something and have a nostalgic feeling or suddenly have a very old memory come rushing back. Knowing this, we can use scent to create positive emotional responses. 

I created Kin’s ‘Home’ incense in collaboration with Tokyo Kodo as a way to remember my childhood which was filled with tree climbing, baking apple pies with my grandmother and my grandfather’s cologne. Interestingly so many people who try it say that they have a nostalgic response when burning it! 

How can incense elevate our mood?

TL: Apart from all the benefits of infusing our space with a high quality scent, incense offers something a little extra through the ritual of selecting a stick, positioning in a holder and then lighting. This ritual invites us to pause, just for a moment, and tune in. 

The smoke that unfurls is beautiful to watch, and can be a form of visual meditation. I love shorter sticks of incense, as they burn for 15 minutes and are therefore the perfect visual timer for a little time out. 

How can spa or clinic owners create a calm, tranquil space?

TL: When creating spaces or events, I like to think about all of the senses and the ways in which I can ignite each of the five senses and create the emotional response I’m after. When creating a calm space I’d be thinking about:

Touch: Texture can play a part in the experience even before a treatment, whether that’s a soft throw, a velvet cushion or a textured ceramic mug that can be held while sipping warm tea.

Sound: Of course a soothing playlist is always welcome, but I also like to think about the flow of a space and how the sound might travel between spaces. I’ve experienced some very un-relaxing massages in my time with the sounds of loud voices or upbeat music floating through from another room! I’d be asking how I might be able to reduce that for guests.

Sight: When there’s too much to look at it’s hard to feel relaxed, so removing visual clutter is essential in creating calm spaces. Artwork or coffee table books that remind us of tranquil experiences are great, or you might try playing with the sense of sight by removing it altogether with a blindfold to spark a different connection with other senses. 

Taste: A warm tea, a cool fruit-infused water, perhaps a small chocolate or piece of dried fruit at the end of a treatment… These are all obvious ways to play with the sense of taste, but we can also think about the close link between scent and taste.  In Japan, incense appreciation sessions might ask the guest to “taste” the scent.  Breathing residual scents that float in the air into our mouth actually creates a taste sensation. Another reason why having a great smelling space is important! 

Scent: While scent can be powerful in creating an emotional responses, this is certainly a sense you don’t want to bombard.  Too much of a good thing can, of course, be bad. A high-quality Japanese incense will infuse the space during the burn time, and the scent will continue to linger for a while.

If using directly in a treatment room, I’d recommend burning a smaller stick of incense (simply break a stick in half or thirds) and light it 5 minutes before your guest enters the room. They will enter the room as the gentle smoke dissipates — a visually beautiful moment — and will be able to enjoy the scent without directly breathing the smoke. In larger areas, burning an entire 15 minute stick a few times a day will infuse your space.

My favourite incense for creating calm are from Kin North: Murmure de la Foret, Lotus du Japon and Home. 

Do you have any simple styling tips for creating soothing spaces?

TL: At home I like to think about all the senses and then choose a few to dial back or overlap. On a lovely day when I can hear birds outside, I won’t put music on. I’ll use incense both as a way to stimulate my sense of smell, but I might watch the smoke unfurl as a visual relaxation technique. 

The rest of my house might be in utter chaos, but I like to have a little space in my lounge room and also beside my bed that is always tidy and arranged in a pleasing way. I know that even when everything else feels out of control, I can come to this place and burn a stick of incense and find that sense of calm.

This also applies to clinic spaces. If you’re going really big on igniting one of the senses that also ticks the box of another, I wouldn’t add more into the mix. Less is more when we’re going for calm. I’d also make sure there are little landing zones of calm for customers where everything feels orderly and welcoming.

What habits should we avoid when we want to create calm?

TL: One way I introduced more calm into my day was to eliminate all technology from my bedroom. Having devices in my bedroom meant that I went to sleep with a mental tether to the day and the first thing I did when I turned off my phone alarm in the morning? Checked my email and messages! I would launch myself immediately into work mode. You may want to consider implementing a no-phones policy in the reception area of your spa so clients can unwind and immerse themselves in the experience before treatment even starts.

I also like to think about what we can embrace, or do more of, versus what we should avoid. Little rituals that I like to punctuate throughout the day include:

  • Waking up, lighting a stick of incense and then opening all the doors and making a pot of tea while it burns. 
  • Playing a soothing song while I journal all the thoughts and to-dos in my mind. 
  • Lighting a stick of uplifting incense at around 3pm when I have an energy slump (usually Tokyo Kodo’s Wisteria du Japon or Agarwood). I use the 15 minute burn time to do something physical, away from my desk. 
  • Preparing my home in the evening for winding down includes closing all the blinds, burning a cosy incense (Tokyo Kodo’s Baby Angel or Home are my current go-tos)


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