The humble spa has been reincarnated, and it seems Melbourne is the conduit via which the elaborate, long-upheld traditions of European bathhouses have become a local luxury. The boutique oasis that is Comma has been holding space albeit the unrelenting lashings of the last two years’ lockdowns. That space is one of indulgence, introspection, beautiful adornments, and solace.
The house’s core ‘spa’ zone features all kinds of foreign experiences to the regular urban dweller — mood-lit saunas, a plunging mineral hot tub, and ice-cold buckets hovering over hot showers (ready to cool you off and reset your body temperature at the tug of a large lever-like rope). The whole ethos at play is to “do as the Scandinavians do”, meaning “bathe, soak, wash, sweat, surge, and be immersed”, oscillating between each designated ‘zone’ in the house. And if you’re not one for self-led treatments, there are tailored lymphatic massages, reparative back massages, and tension-unlocking services to undergo with a Comma professional, one-on-one.
That space is one of indulgence, introspection, beautiful adornments, and solace.
Today, we check in with Susie McIntosh, founder of the Melbourne (and Byron) relaxation realm that is Comma. Here, we hear Susie’s insights on the industry, the challenges of the last year, the remedying rituals of borrowed European bathhouses, meticulous design processes, and the new initiatives to expect on your next Comma visit. With the gifting season well on our radar, perhaps a pre-purchased moment of sanctity and restoration is the ultimate reward for a loved one on your Chrissy list…
For those to whom the concept is foreign, what exactly is a modern ‘bath house’?
A place to soak, wash, sweat, plunge – to let go, detach and indulge oneself.
Marrying old-world tradition with new-age luxury, our bath house has been designed to recalibrate, reinvigorate, and restore equilibrium to bodies that need it.
A place where you can oscillate between hot and cold, where phones are encouraged to be turned off, a place just for you, to take your time.
What’s Comma’s ethos? We exist to make people feel good.
It’s been a turbulent year to be a wellness studio in Australia. What have been some of the ups and downs since opening?
Six lockdowns in our first year of business was tough. But, we’re here to see another day! The highlight has been how welcoming Melbournians have been to Comma.
Also, I get such a kick out of seeing people actually using the services as we intended. We can genuinely see people unravelling once they immerse themselves in the hot tub, or sweat out the toxins. You have these crazy dreams, and when it comes to life and people actually love it, it is such a thrill.
Cremorne is a pocket of corporate chaos, busy millennials and the general bustle of Richmond. Why this location for Comma? (Is it to remind everyone to take some time out perhaps?)
We want to be accessible. We know that people are busy, life can sometimes get in the way, we want to be in the heart of a beating city where people can easily drop in for an hour and escape the rush of city life.
How did you emulate the Comma Byron energy and aesthetic in Melbourne? And then how do they differ?
We actually deliberately didn’t. We carried over elements we loved, brass ware, the cosiness of the massage tables, the rituals, but we wanted to the space to look and feel different. Byron is more neutral and coastal, whereas Melbourne is more immersive and intriguing, a deliberate breakaway from city life outside. We introduced elements of timber, sharp edges, brass, a bath house. There isn’t a curved archway in sight! Byron you’re on holidays, Melbourne you could be on holidays, but you could also be on your lunch break – we wanted it to feel a little more sophisticated.
Talk us through your interior design process. What was the brief and how did you get there?
A good friend of mine happens to be an architect and super clever. Eloise and I travelled to Japan in 2019 and spent a lot of time visiting onsens and immersing ourselves in their bathing culture. A lot of the design was working backwards focusing on the customer journey. How they check-in, when do they pop on their robe, how do we create the ultimate sense of relaxation and how do they flow through the space? Is there enough space to stop and sip tea, when do people pop their phones into the locker (no phone rule in the bath house – we do enough time on them. The hour is just for you), at what point do all the senses come to life. Eloise has a keen appreciation for Japanese architecture and minimal but layered design, brining that vision to life in Comma.
Building a bath house in an old mechanic workshop with budget constraints did come with limitations, but we’re over the moon with the final result and hope people feel like they’re stepping into something special when arriving at Comma.
What’s an unexpected treatment or service you offer?
We’ve also introduced a 30 and 60 minute facial that incorporates massage, it’s the best of both worlds!
Why do you think there’s been a recent rise in the boujée bath house phenomenon?
Ha! It’s true! It seems crazy that they’ve all popped up recently as this has secretly been the plan since we opened Comma in Byron back in 2017, it just took a little time to save the money to bring it to life.
I think we’re all so connected now and have unlimited exposure to what happens around the rest of the world, we have finally caught up with the bathing culture that the rest of the world has been enjoying for hundreds of years and thought, “why don’t we do that in Australia?”… and here we are.
What are some of the best things we can do for ourselves in between Comma visits?
We’ve tried to create moments at Comma that are just for you. Choosing an essential oil, sipping tea, taking a deep breath, these are all moments that can be replicated at home. Take a bath, light a candle, go outside and sweat. All these little things can make you feel alive.
How do you unwind outside of the spa?
I try to move everyday, go for a swim and always try to share a laugh and a margarita with friends. I try to break out of the rhythm that is my typical working day. I’m all about balance, never deprivation.
Anything new and notable coming up at Comma this summer or into the new year?
We’re still finding our feet after a very turbulent start in Melbourne. Up north, we’re working on a Byron bath house.