Feather Your Nest

By Laura Allen
[Business Side]

Personalizing your space is easy enough if you’re in business for yourself, but there are still some rules to guide your choices. If you work for someone else or practice in a medical setting, gym, or salon, nesting your space may present a challenge, and there may be rules that can cramp your style about having personal items in the workspace.  

If you work for a franchise, chances are each therapy room looks alike—same color of paint, same furnishings in the same positions, etc. Part of the philosophy of such establishments is that the client knows exactly what to expect—from the massage, to the sheets on the table, to the pictures on the wall. Most franchises provide a tabletop frame for your license so you can take it to the room you’re working in, and that may be the only personal item you’re allowed to display.

Regardless of the setting, there are ways to personalize your workspace and make it more comfortable for you and your clients. Here are some tips for feathering your nest, no matter what circumstances you’re in.


Your Own Space

Whether you’re the owner or renting space and free to do as you wish, please bear a couple of things in mind. First, cleanliness is the most important thing. It doesn’t matter if you have the latest in modern lobby furniture or an antique cabinet in your massage room, the ambiance is lost if it’s wearing a layer of coffee stains or the dust bunnies are multiplying underneath. It’s a reflection on you as a professional. You greet clients and give massage dressed in spotless clothes, so have a spotless office to match.

Second, clutter is not conducive to a relaxing experience. It’s amazing how easy it is to accumulate things, and you’ve got to suppress the urge to keep it all in your massage space. It’s OK to personalize your workplace, but keep knickknacks and personal mementos to a minimum. Do periodic purges of extraneous stuff. Take things home or give them away. Recycle the magazines in the waiting area.

Therapists who practice at home must be especially mindful of clutter. If it’s at all possible to have a separate entrance into your massage space, it will keep clients from traipsing through your home. If you own your house, it may be well worth the investment to have a door installed so you can truly have a private workplace. If that’s not possible, remember that clients coming in your front door shouldn’t see last night’s cold pizza on the coffee table or have to tiptoe over toys on the way to the treatment room. In the event that the desk or table you use for business is located in the same room as your massage table, keep it neat or purchase an inexpensive screen to hide it.

If you can choose the color of paint in your space, pale shades of blue, like robin’s egg, and pale shades of purple, like lavender and lilac, are soothing to the senses. Pastels, like buttery yellow or pale pink, and neutral hues are also appropriate, as are creamier shades of white. Avoid using vibrant colors in your space, except for small accents.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a nicely decorated office. Green plants are cheap and they add a lot to your atmosphere (not to mention helping to filter the air). Even if you don’t have windows, there are plenty of plants that thrive without sunlight.

Other than your massage table and stool, all the furniture you really need in your massage room is a small table or shelf to hold your lotions and a couple of stacking shelves or a small bookcase to hold your music, sheets, and so forth. If you need extra pillows, sheets, and towels, under-the-table shelves are great storage places for things you want hidden, but easily accessible.

A chair for clients is a necessity. They need to be comfortable while you’re conducting the intake interview and have a place to sit for putting their shoes on, post-session. If space is at a minimum, a folding chair will work; you can put it behind the door during the massage and unfold it for them on your way out. You can make a small room appear more spacious by covering one wall with mirrored tiles or by hanging a larger mirror horizontally (never vertically, that actually makes the space appear more narrow).

Don’t make the wall decorations too busy. Of course you will want to display your credentials; in most regulated states it’s a requirement. Other than your license and/or certification, a few well-placed pieces of artwork or photography are all you need. Massage suppliers sell posters and framed prints specifically for massage therapists. If you don’t want to use those, choose artwork that harmonizes. For example, use all pictures of birds, flowers, landscapes, or other things that are coordinated. A reprint of Leonardo DaVinci’s Creation is nice, and so is Andy Warhol’s popular culture art, but it’s distracting if they’re hanging side by side.

You may also want to have a muscle chart in your treatment room—not because you don’t know the muscles, but because it’s a great client education tool. A lymphatic drainage practitioner might want a lymphatic system chart instead; a Shiatsu practitioner might have a chart of acupuncture/acupressure points.

Wherever You Are

No matter what type of place you’re working in, if you can’t do much decorating, there’s one thing you can do: make your massage table as luxurious as possible. A waffle pad or memory foam pad can easily enhance a massage table, even if it has thick padding. Add a table warmer for an extra degree of comfort.

If you’re supplying your own linens, invest in flannel sheets or the highest thread count cotton sheets you can afford and a wonderful blanket or comforter. Quality linens can turn the most functional table into a comfy and cozy nest. They will make clients feel good before you even place your hands on them. Don’t forget to equip yourself with a couple of pillows and/or bolsters.

Another strategy that works great for therapists who can’t permanently personalize a space is to have a small folding table or tray covered with a beautiful scarf. It can hold your massage oils or lotions. Add a small vase with a single rose, an iPod, and a dock, and you have instant atmosphere.

Baskets are also good. They can be used to store and/or carry everything except your massage table, and they add a nice, natural-looking touch to a room. Use one with a lid for your soiled linens.

At a Gym

Clients who get massage at the gym are either athletes looking for sports massage or people who work out there and find it convenient to receive massage at the same place. Before you take a job or rent space in a gym, check out the room during a busy time when the gym is full. Noise may be a prime factor including humming treadmills and bikes, aerobic music, and clanging weights.

There’s not much you can do about the noise unless the owner had the foresight to put extra insulation in the walls and use an exterior door for the treatment room. If it’s noisy, you might offer the client a pair of earplugs or an iPod with earphones, or invite them to use their own. Another alternative is using a white noise machine. Some have programmable sounds like the crash of ocean waves or falling rain.

At a Salon

A busy salon may have the same noise issues as a gym, and on top of that, the smell of chemical odors may pervade the air. If that’s the case, a little aromatherapy may be in order.

Avoid using chemical air fresheners. They’ll just compound the problem and many people are as sensitive to those as they are to the ammonia-smelling color and permanent solutions emanating from the hairdressing stations. Diffusing a pure organic essential oil, or even a drop or two of oil sprinkled right on the sheets, is a good cover-up for that salon smell. People who are chemically sensitive are usually not irritated by essential oils, as it’s the propellants and other laboratory-manufactured ingredients that affect them, but check with the client first.

If you have a variety of oils, you might offer to let the client choose one. Peppermint oil is stimulating, wintergreen smells medicinal, rose oil can be very uplifting, and citrus oils are nice and usually the least inexpensive.

In a Medical Office

If you work in collaboration with a physician or chiropractor, or rent space from one, chances are the atmosphere is clinical instead of cozy. Ask if you can have a little leeway in your massage room. Point out that stress is probably causing, contributing to, or resulting from whatever condition the person is being treated for, and you’d like to create a stress-free zone in your massage room.

Don’t go overboard. You’re not trying to create a spa-like atmosphere. You just want to make the room look a little more inviting than a hospital room. Medical offices almost always have overhead fluorescent lighting that doesn’t create the effect you want. There may be prohibitions against having candles in the office for safety reasons or because some patients use oxygen. Instead, use a small table lamp, electric candles, or an unobtrusive floor lamp. Again, something as simple as a beautiful blanket or comforter on the massage table can make the room appear less harsh. Even though clients are there for medical reasons, you want them to feel relaxed and nurtured during their time with you.


Therapists performing outcalls may go to the client’s home or office, a hotel or bed and breakfast, or may be providing chair massage in a corporate setting. You never know until you arrive what the atmosphere is going to be like—so bring some with you.

The table warmer will fit in your massage table carry case. Memory foam pads can be rolled up and carried along, too. Nice linens always make a good impression. A rolling suitcase can hold the small folding table for your accoutrements like your table scarf, and if you don’t want to carry fresh flowers, pack a tiny vase with one realistic-looking silk flower.

If state regulations require displaying your license wherever you go, you could have a smaller copy made and put it in a nice frame. Take along your music. If you’re doing chair massage, put a single drop of lavender on the face cradle cover. Even if you’re providing massage in the middle of a noisy factory, you can enhance the experience.

Although it’s your effectiveness as a massage therapist, your professionalism, and your personality that bring clients back, it’s clean, uncluttered, pleasing surroundings that can enhance their total massage experience. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Creating an atmosphere of peaceful serenity for your clients will help them shed their stress at the door and soothe your workday as well.  

  Laura Allen is the author of Plain & Simple Guide to Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork Examinations (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2009) and One Year to a Successful Massage Therapy Practice (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2008). A third book, A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Business, will also be published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Allen is the owner of THERA-SSAGE, a continuing education facility and alternative wellness clinic of more than a dozen practitioners of different disciplines in Rutherfordton, North Carolina. Visit her website at www.thera-ssage.com.