Create the Perfect Treatment Space

By Kayse Gehret

It’s easy to remember the treatment rooms we’ve experienced by recalling certain items that stood out—a perfectly arranged wicker basket of towels in a Victorian home, the feel of crisp sheets and a warm blanket in the office of a part-time practitioner, or the comforting aroma of lavender oil that filled the treatment room of a day spa.

Whether it’s a memory, a memento, or a scent from the session, what lasting impressions will you create for your clients?

The setting you create for your clients is an extension of you, and it sets the foundation for your clients’ massage experience. Designing your treatment space isn’t just fun—it’s a vitally important part of your practice. With a bit of creativity and imagination, it’s possible to create a five-star massage space without breaking the bank.
Always remember that your office is one of your practice’s most valuable branding and marketing tools. It should be as unique as you are. The design, layout, and feel of your space is crucial to your clients’ experience, as well as to your daily comfort and happiness. You will be spending many hours in this space, so take your time and make it as beautifully yours as possible.

Have a plan
When setting up a new massage space, you might be tempted to run straight to the store with your credit card—but wait! The first step is to grab a note pad. Spend time in your new space to get a sense of the lighting, noise levels, and temperature at different times of the day and evening. Take measurements of doors, walls, and windows. Note the placement of electrical outlets. Write down any obvious shortcomings, so you can compensate for them with design choices. For example, is there a place for clients to hang their clothing and store personal items? If not, you will need to purchase wall hooks or furniture. Do windows and doors have appropriate closures and coverings to ensure your clients’ safety and privacy? Is the floor covering suitable? Wooden or tiled floors are much easier to keep clean than carpet, but they can get cold and also make it more difficult for you to stand for long periods of time. A secure area rug can help.

Set the stage
Think of your studio space as a stage set—the backdrop to your client’s overall massage experience. From the moment clients walk into your treatment room, they should begin to sense the energy surrounding you and your practice. When choosing your design elements, ask yourself what it is you want your clients to feel: Balanced? Open? Welcomed?
Visit restaurants, shops, and spas that have design esthetics you admire, and take notes. What are your favorite design elements and how do they make you feel? You may only have a fraction of the space and size to work with, but you can take away useful insight and inspiration.
A five-star massage space will touch all five senses: sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch. Everything your clients touch should feel clean, inviting, natural, soft, and warm—blankets, carpeting, linens, towels, and more. Your massage room might offer purified water infused with berries, cucumber, or lemon, providing a pleasant and refreshing taste clients can associate with their massage. Everything clients see in your massage space should be relaxing, calming, and promote health and well-being. Dim lights, flickering LED candles, beautiful art or sculpture, and natural elements like wood, plants, or stone can soothe the eyes and mind. Offer books and magazines in your waiting area that encourage healthy living. Soft music or trickling fountains allow many clients to further tune out the outside world and deepen their relaxation. You may opt to diffuse relaxing essential oils or set fresh flowers in your treatment room (avoid flowers with a strong fragrance, though, to avoid triggering allergies).
You might be surprised at how memorable all these little elements are to your clients. With each visit, these simple touches will become part of your clients’ memories of the amazing massage you provide.

Add the extras
Moving beyond the essentials, focus on what your clients will actually experience. Spend your budget on the things that matter to them. If they will never see your computer desk, there is no need to spend a fortune on it. Expensive artwork in the treatment room may please you, but your clients will have their eyes closed for 95 percent of their time with you. Clients are more likely to remember and appreciate those items that are chosen for their comfort and care.
Mirror: Clients usually wish to check their hair and clothing once the session is complete. They will appreciate a makeup mirror or a full-length mirror. Additionally, a strategically placed mirror can open up a small room, lend depth and light to the environment, and allow you to check your body mechanics while you work.
Furnishings: Clients need to sit down, change, and store their belongings. When it comes to furnishings, aim for quality over quantity. A spacious room with clear surfaces allows people to feel relaxed and creates physical and mental space. Opt for a few quality pieces over a mishmash of cheaper items. I like to add some containers to make it easy and intuitive for clients to store their belongings: a nice cedar box for shoes and a decorative bowl or small dish for watches, earrings, and other jewelry. Your containers might be glassware, pottery, or wood; choose the medium that best suits your office esthetic. Don’t forget an umbrella stand if you live in a rainy climate!
Purchasing used furniture can save you a bundle and clients will never know the difference. Terrific deals can be found on Craigslist, eBay, and at garage sales. Just make sure the items are in near-new or very good condition, and view them in person if possible before purchasing. Sounds silly, but give them a good smell test before buying.
Lighting: Your room should be bright enough for clients to see easily and move around safely, but dim enough so their eyes and mind can begin to relax. During the session, the lighting should be low enough that when you turn the client faceup, she isn’t shocked by excessive brightness. This is also true after the treatment ends; allow your blissed-out client to come around slowly and not adjust to daylight until she is ready. Dimmer switches are nice alternatives to standard lamps or overhead light bulbs. Rechargeable, flameless candles are a nice touch, too; they give the ambience of a warm, flickering candle without the fire hazard.
Temperature Control: Keeping your clients at an ideal temperature is vital to their overall enjoyment and ability to fully relax. On average, men and perimenopausal women tend to run warm, while other women get chilled more easily, especially when faceup on the massage table. An adjustable table warmer will add comfort and cushioning to the surface of your table and provide warmth to the client without overheating you.
A space heater can be a nice addition to your treatment room in the cooler months, especially in the morning when first warming up your office. For warmer months, air conditioning and fans might be necessary in many locations. Fans also prevent your room from becoming stale or muggy. Women in the midst of hot flashes will love that you have a fan at the ready!
Keep an array of blankets handy, from light, summer-weight linens to cozy quilts. Choose blankets that have natural textures, are ultra-soft to the touch, and retain heat without being heavy and suffocating.
Last, but not least, don’t forget to keep your hands warm and toasty! If you’re prone to chilly digits, wear gloves on your commute to work and begin to warm your hands before your client arrives.
Music or Ambient Sound: Playing soft music will go a long way toward minimizing outside noise and enriching your client’s relaxation. You may choose a stereo system, CD player, iPhone or other device, or an online music streaming service. Music is deeply personal and many clients have strong preferences, so I keep a range of music on hand to accommodate a variety of tastes. Whatever medium you choose, the music should be commercial- and interruption-free, and should not cause you to stop and restart the massage to attend to it. White noise machines are also a great investment. The gentle whirring sound is relaxing, and minimizes outside traffic noise and voices.
Decorations: If you have a small space, limit your wall hangings and other decorations to a few prominent pieces that add character without cluttering the room.
Tapestries add warmth to a space while reducing noise. It can be fun to invite local artists to hang their creations in your office at no cost in exchange for promoting their work to your clients.
If you display information such as your qualifications, code of ethics, or business policies, decoratively framing these will draw attention, complement your office design, and brighten up your shelves.
Think of the natural elements—air, earth, fire, and water—and bring some of them into your massage room. Fans and diffusers are calming and keep the air fresh and fragrant. An aquarium, fountain, or shades of blue in your décor can add a soothing water element. Plants are wonderful ways to bring nature indoors, and there are a number of hardy, easy-to-care for plants (bamboo, ferns, succulents, or umbrella trees) that thrive with minimal attention. Fresh flowers add a happy element to any setting; we float a single gardenia in a bowl in each of our treatment rooms at Soulstice Spa and clients rave about them. Heated tables, hot towels, stones, and flameless candles provide the fire element in a welcoming, yet safe way.

Picture perfect
After you set up your space, take one last step inside. Enter with fresh eyes, playing the role of a client. What is your very first impression? How does the space make you feel? Does it wordlessly communicate a sense of welcome? Is there an obvious place to hang your coat and store your belongings? Is checking in for your appointment seamless and intuitive? Is it easy to find the restroom? Are any wires or cords visible? Can you move fluidly around the room, or do you feel cramped? Are the linens clean, crisp, and fresh? Walking through the experience of being your client—from session start to finish—can provide you with fresh insights.
Once your massage room is picture perfect, it is time to do just that: take pictures! You should have high-quality images to share on your website, online review sites, and marketing materials. A picture tells a thousand words, and, in time, it will reach a thousand clients, so hire a professional to take photographs that will present your practice in an ideal light.
Like other aspects of your massage practice, your office design will grow and evolve in the years to come. Whether you’re starting from scratch or redesigning your current space, your office should be your home away from home and a reflection of you, so create a memorable place that you—and your clients—will love to return to again and again.

What's Essential
Department stores make it easy to go in for just a few things and later get home with several items you never intended to buy. Strategize ahead of time and make two lists: “Need” and “Want.” Set a budget. If you still have money remaining in your budget after addressing all your needs, you can treat yourself to some of the items on your “want” list.  
Highest on the “Need” list are your tools of the trade: a massage table, face rest, stool, bolsters, linens, and lubricants.
When choosing a table, consider whether your table will stay in your treatment room or if you will occasionally pack it up for mobile sessions. If it will remain in your studio, you can opt for a heavier table, even one with built-in drawers. If not, you will likely want a lighter table with a carrying case. Your massage table is a very important part of your clients’ experience, so try to obtain the most comfortable table possible for the type of work you do. Do your homework, ask colleagues for their opinions, and test different models. This is one purchase that calls for you to invest time, research, and money—you won’t regret it!
The face rest is extremely important to your clients’ comfort as well, so take your time to get this one right. Ask for recommendations from colleagues and be sure to test-drive it yourself. It should be well cushioned, stable, and fully adjustable to accommodate a range of clients.
Your stool should be comfortable, silent, mobile, and easy to adjust. Having the ability to raise and lower the height will improve your ergonomics, protect you from injury, and enhance your clients’ experience.
You will need a way to keep track of time while in the treatment room. Whether you choose a wall clock or desk clock, you’ll want a silent model. Any sort of noise—even soft ticking—can disturb your more sensitive clients.
Also on the “Need” list is equipment for special modalities you offer, such as a hot stone kit. Consider investing in a hot towel cabinet. Adding a few hot towels to a client’s session may seem like a small thing, but it can make an amazing difference to your client’s experience.
Before you go shopping, think about the atmosphere you would like to portray and what colors will best complement it. Modern? Clinical? Comfortable? Classic? See the sidebar on page 61 for ideas on choosing a color scheme.

Home Office Space
Setting up a massage therapy space in your home is the most cost-effective way to work. Not only do you save on rent, you will also save a bundle on gas, parking, tolls, and other commuting expenses. Don’t underestimate the value of saving time: more time in your day allows you to spend more time on marketing your business and seeing clients.
When contemplating a home office, you need to be realistic and honest about your lifestyle. Here are a few important questions to ask yourself:
Are you willing and able to maintain a high degree of cleanliness and lack of clutter, not just in your massage room, but throughout your house (inside and out)? One of the foundations of a stellar massage space is a clean, clear, and spacious setting. Some of us are neater than others, and it’s far easier to maintain an impeccably clean office space than it is an entire house.
How noisy is your household? Your clients deserve a serene, consistent ambience. If you have busy pets, active children, noisy neighbors, or street noise, ask yourself how you can shield your clients from these elements.
Do you have pets? Many people have allergies to our four-legged friends. Even if you keep your pet outside your massage room, chances are good that dander or fur will make their way onto your linens and towels. Other clients may fear animals. If you work at home and have pets, let new clients know before they book, so they can let you know if they object.

Sharing Commercial Space
Sharing space can be a terrific way to reduce costs. Unless you plan on working seven days a week, it’s possible to share a single office with another massage therapist. Or you could work in a group setting alongside other health-care practitioners. In addition to sharing costs, this allows you and your colleagues to refer clients to one another and develop a supportive, professional rapport. In this scenario, you may decide to sublet an office from a business owner who holds the master lease on the overall space, or all of you may be cosigners on a single lease.
If you decide to share space, it’s vital to communicate clearly about expectations, rights, and responsibilities. Be absolutely sure to get everything in writing, and ensure it is signed and agreed to by all parties. This is also true if you lease office space on your own and are negotiating with your potential landlord. Do your homework and research your potential officemates. Do their practices receive strong reviews? Have they shown patterns of high professional integrity and responsibility? If you are going to share a lease, you may each wish to provide references for the other parties to call. Here are some questions you will want to answer before everyone signs on the dotted line:
• Will the rent be a fixed amount for the term of the lease? If not, how much can it be raised yearly?
• What is the term of the lease? One year? Month to month? If you want to get out of the lease early, or sublet part of the space, are there penalties?
• If your office is in a shopping center or office complex with multiple businesses, you may want to ask for a noncompete agreement from your landlord to ensure no other massage therapy business will lease space within the same center.
• Will you have complete freedom when it comes to painting and decorating the space? Will you be able to bring in fixtures? If so, will those fixtures remain your personal property or will they become part of the space (and owned by the landlord)?
• If you will be sharing space, how will you decide how that space is decorated? For the sake of client comfort, as well as your own sanity, you and your colleagues will want to clearly communicate and approve each other’s design choices.
• Who is responsible for utilities such as air conditioning, electricity, garbage collection, heating, Internet service, laundry, and water usage? Are there common expenses such as janitorial or reception services? Are these expenses fixed, and if not, how much can they vary? The better handle you have on what your true expenses will be, the better you can budget.
Take the time to introduce yourself to your potential neighbors if you are renting a commercial space. They can provide much insight and give you firsthand, unbiased information about the property. How long have they leased their space? Are they happy there? How easy is it to deal with the landlord or property manager? And, of course, they are potential clients, too.
If things go south, what does the worst-case scenario look like, and what is the solution for that scenario? For example, if you rent space with another practitioner who pulls out of the lease after a few months, how long can you afford the rent on your own? If you become ill or injured, or otherwise unable to work, will you be able to afford the costs or be able to get out of your lease?

Kayse Gehret is a massage therapist who includes celebrities, professional athletes, and rock stars as clients in her Northern California practice. She is the author of Body/Work: Careers in Massage Therapy (Soulstice Media, 2010) and founder of Soulstice Spa, a massage therapy spa and vegan product line based in Sonoma Wine Country. Contact her at

Choosing Colors
By Anne Williams
There are many ways to think about color and choose the colors that are right for your business. Two methods are color psychology (the study of how colors affect human behavior and emotion) and color symbolism (the cultural significance of what colors mean to different groups of people).
Using color psychology, a therapist who delivers relaxation treatments might decide on a green palette because studies have demonstrated that green colors decrease tension, slow breathing patterns, and, in some cases, decrease blood pressure. A clinical massage therapist might note the results of a study showing blue colors seem to promote strength, physical gains, and physical performance. A therapist working with pregnant women, parents, and infants would not choose a yellow palette because research shows babies cry more frequently in yellow rooms.
Awareness of color symbolism is appropriate in businesses with cultural overtones or a specific client group. For example, a business focused on Eastern bodywork might use red because in Asian cultures, this color is associated with good luck. A therapist catering to executives in a busy urban area might choose a blue palette because in Western society, blue is often associated with excellence, loyalty, and intelligence.

Adapted from Anne Williams’s text Massage Mastery: from Student to Professional (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2012).

To read this article in our digital issue, click here.