Wildwood Spa Retreat: The Ultimate Coastal Spa in the Forest
Wildwood Spa is a private spa in the forest on the North Devon coastline
If I were to ask you to imagine your dream getaway to help you relax, recharge and rejuvenate, what would you say? For me, without hesitation, it would have to be a spa in the forest. I would want somewhere close to home to minimise travel time, somewhere with immediate access to nature, somewhere quiet and isolated away from other people, and somewhere I could really disconnect from the chaos and the speed of everyday life. Doesn’t that just sound blissful?
“This is what I prayed for. A piece of land – not so very big, with a garden and, near the house, a spring that never fails, and a bit of wood to round it off.’’
Quintus Horatius Flaccus, Roman Poet (also know as Horace), 65BC-8BC.
Well, it turns out that a place that fits all of these criteria is just a stone’s throw away from my home in South Devon. And in an amazing twist of fate, I won the press trip jackpot when I was invited to come and experience it firsthand thanks to the generosity of Wayfair, one of the World’s largest home retailers.
Wildwood Spa in the Forest of North Devon
Wildwood Spa is a private and secluded spa in the forest. This luxury one-bedroom self-contained spa sleeps two and is located in the picturesque village of Lee near Ilfracombe. It is nestled amongst 12 acres of private woodland on the North Devon coastline.
Managed by boutique travel company Ravendere Retreats, Wildwood Spa has been expertly furnished and styled by Wayfair and is available to book via holiday rentals marketplace HomeToGo. Although I say it’s available to book, it’s actually fully booked right through to December 2023 with over 800 people on the waiting list, which speaks volumes about just how special this place is.
Wildwood Spa is clad in timber using the ancient Japanese architectural technique Shou Sugi Ban
And it should come as no surprise to you all that such a place is my idea of heaven given that you are all well aware of my long-lasting love affair and obsession with Biophilic Design. And it also makes perfect sense that holiday retreats that incorporate the principles of biophilic design are some of the most sought after given just how quickly an experience of nature can elicit a restorative response. Think about it! When we pick holiday destinations we often look for places near the beach or near lakes, in the mountains or in the forest because we know that these kinds of environments make us feel better.
“After the turbulence of the last two years, relaxation and restoration have never been more important and there is an unprecedented appetite for uniquely peaceful escapes, which truly soothe the soul.”
Nadia McCowan Hill, Resident Style Advisor at Wayfair.
Tapping into the Principles of Biophilic Design
And it all boils down to Biophilia, a word formed from the two Greek words ‘Bio’ meaning ‘nature’ and ‘Philia’ meaning ‘love’. Biophilia is our innate biological connection with nature. It helps to explain why humans love the sound of a crackling fire or the crashing waves; why we love beautiful natural views; why playful shadows and dappled sunlight caused by light filtering through a leafy canopy both intrigue and fascinate us.
Our increasingly urban existence and dependency on technology have given us an enhanced desire and need to reconnect with nature and natural systems as we have become aware of just how much our health and well-being are impacted by our environment and our behaviour.
Biophilic design has become an important tool for helping us to bring nature into the built environment. Studies have shown that biophilic design can provide opportunities for mental and emotional restoration by reducing stress, tension, anxiety, anger, fatigue, and confusion. It can also improve cognitive function and creativity. It can help to improve our physical well-being by relaxing our muscles, lowering our blood pressure and reducing stress hormone (cortisol) levels in the bloodstream. It can also speed up healing.
By implementing the principles of biophilic design we are able to create spaces that are inspirational, restorative and healthy which is exactly what Kieran and Helen Fisher, the owners of Ravendere Retreats have done with Wildwood Spa (and their other retreat, The Tree House).
So let’s take a look at how Wildwood Spa uses the principles of biophilic design and how you could emulate this in your own home or use them if you are planning to build your own home or retreat, even if it’s not a spa in the forest.
We will be examing three main concepts:
- Bringing nature into the space
- Incorporating organic, non-living evocations of nature
- Considering spatial configurations in nature
Bring Nature into the Space
Wildwood Spa in North Devon has a living roof that is completely covered with vegetation
Bringing nature into the space is paramount in biophilic design and can include the incorporation of plant life, water and animals, as well as breezes, sounds, scents and other natural elements. This can be anything from potted plants, flowerbeds, bird feeders, and butterfly gardens, to water features, fountains, aquariums, courtyard gardens and green walls or vegetated roofs.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways that Wildwood Spa brings nature into the space.
Create a Visual Connection with Nature
Wildwood Spa in the forest has 360 degree views of natural landscape and a vegetated roof
Creating a visual connection with nature means providing views of nature where we can see living systems and natural processes taking place. When we provide views of nature this helps us to reduce stress, improve concentration, lower our blood pressure and heart rate, reduced feelings of sadness, anger, and aggression and improve our overall happiness as pleasure receptors are triggered in our brain.
As you can see, the views of nature are abundant at this spectacular spa in the forest. Not only is the retreat surrounded by woodland on all sides giving completely immersive views of nature, the design of the retreat means that the views of nature are also completely accessible from inside the buildings.
Create a Non-Visual Connection with Nature
A non-visual connection with nature is also an important principle of biophilic design. This means bringing auditory, haptic, olfactory, or gustatory stimuli into the space. These stimuli should prompt a deliberate and positive reference to nature, living systems or natural processes.
Therefore you should look to bring in sounds, aromas, and textures that are reminiscent of being outdoors in nature. Doing this will result in lowered blood pressure and stress hormones and improvements in mental health and tranquillity.
Non-visual sensory interactions such as the triggering of powerful memories through scent or the act of touching real plant life, water or natural materials can induce relaxation.
When we arrived at Wildwood Spa, the sound of birdsong was audible immediately and the smell of the forest permeated the air both outside and in. The striking Shou-Sugi-Ban timber cladding and dry-stone feature walls were begging to be touched outside and there were also many opportunities to engage with natural materials inside, from the tree branches that were dotted around to the many plants that adorned the space. The furniture and accessories that had been carefully chosen by Wayfair also incorporated many natural materials and textures.
When we arrived at the spa in the forest, the hosts had kindly left a welcome package which included champagne and a Fine Foods of Braunton graze board for two which included freshly prepared local cheeses, cured meats, fresh fruits and chutney, nuts, olives, a savoury biscuit selection, mini cakes and chocolates. Definitely some tastes of nature that were extremely delicious.
Introduce Non-Rhythmic Sensory Stimuli
Exposure to non-rhythmic sensory stimuli encompasses things such as unpredictable movement that we might catch in our peripheral vision, such as a butterfly flying past, leaves falling or billowing in the wind, a brief moment of cloud movement, the sound of a babbling brook or shadows that change over time.
These momentary experiences occur subconsciously and allow us to recover from mental fatigue and physiological stressors.
These types of experiences were occurring continually at the spa in the forest. Dragonflies, bees and other insects were making appearances throughout our stay, catching our attention and bringing us back to the present moment. As we didn’t leave the retreat for two days we were able to enjoy the sounds of running water thanks to the heated infinity pool, the chirping of birds and the sound of the breeze rustling the leaves of the trees.
Incorporate Thermal & Airflow Variability
Temperature and airflow are also important principles of biophilic design and this serene spa in the forest is perfectly designed to take advantage of these principles. Incorporating subtle changes in air temperature and relative humidity, encouraging airflow across the skin, and making the most of surface temperatures that mimic natural environments were all techniques used at Wildwood Spa.
Sensory variation in light, sound and temperature is easily achieved due to the large floor to ceiling windows which capture the changing light throughout the day and the doors that open onto the covered walkway and out to the tropical outdoor shower allowing a steady breeze to pass through both living spaces.
Add the Presence of Water
Wildwood Spa boasts a heated infinity pool that looks out over a small stream and pond
Seeing, hearing or touching water adds to the biophilic experience. As humans, we have a visual preference for and a positive emotional response to environments that contain elements of water. Being near water has been proven to reduce stress, increase feelings of tranquillity, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and elicit a higher restorative response.
Wildwood Spa boasts a stunning infinity swimming pool that is heated to a warm 36 degrees and that looks out over a small stream and pond. The sound of running water can be heard consistently as the water cascades out over the pool edge. You can also hear the sounds of the stream that runs into the pond.
Bring in Dynamic & Diffuse Light
Floor to ceiling glazing at the spa in the forest allows dynamic and diffuse light to flood the living space
Two sides of both living spaces are comprised of large floor to ceiling glazing which invites daylight inside and allows you to witness the varying intensities of light and shadow that change throughout the day. As the daylight transitions through colours from yellow to blue to red, our bodies respond by releasing either serotonin or melatonin which affects our circadian rhythm and consequently our mood and quality of sleep.
Connect with Natural Systems
Wildwood Spa is set in 12 acres of private woodland
The location of Wildwood Spa within 12 acres of woodland is a prime position to create awareness of natural processes and systems. You are hyper-aware of the seasons and of cycles of life as you look out over the forest and out to the pond.
Incorporate Organic, Non-Living Evocations of Nature
The Wildwood Spa was expertly furnished and styled by Wayfair
Whilst bringing nature into the space is important, so too is bringing in organic and non-living evocations of nature. This can include objects, materials, colours, shapes, sequences and patterns that are found in nature. Think artwork, ornaments, furniture, décor, and textiles. Particularly popular at the moment are objects that mimic shells and leaves, or furniture with organic shapes, and natural materials that have not been overly processed or extensively altered.
“With its plush furniture, organic silhouettes and mood-boosting details, Wildwood Spa channels the new season’s biggest home trend, in a one-of-a-kind staycation setting.“
Nadia McCowan Hill, Resident Style Advisor at Wayfair
Use Biomorphic Forms & Patterns
Choose biomorphic forms and patterns to bring biophilic design to life in your home
There are very few straight lines in nature and as a consequence, we have a visual preference for biomorphic forms and patterns. These are contoured, patterned, textured or numerical arrangements that can be found in nature. Many living things, particularly plants, follow particular mathematical or numerical sequences such as the Fibonacci series, or the Golden Angle.
It is therefore advisable to create spaces using elements inspired by trees, bones, wings and seashells or to incorporate fabric patterns or wallpapers that are based on leaves, flowers, and animal skins.
Add a Material Connection with Nature
The stone wall around the upper deck of Wildwood Spa reflects the local geology
Creating a material connection with nature can be done by incorporating minimally processed materials and elements from nature that reflect the local ecology or geology. By using materials that are from the surrounding landscape we can create a distinct sense of place which feels rich, warm and authentic, and sometimes stimulating to the touch.
The upper deck at Wildwood Spa is surrounded by a stone wall which is clearly inspired by the landscape directly around it.
Consider Spatial Configurations in Nature
As humans, we have a natural instinct to want to be able to see beyond our immediate surroundings. We also have a fascination with danger and the unknown so we like obscured views and revelatory moments too. So there are certain spatial configurations that are particularly appealing.
Wildwood Spa is set slightly up above the pathway used to access the property
A space with a good prospect condition has an unimpeded, elevated view over a distance, for surveillance and planning. This makes it feel open and freeing, and creates a sense of safety and control. Views may include shade trees, bodies of water or transparent materials.
Wildwood Spa, whilst it doesn’t have a particularly elevated position, being at the foot of a valley, it is still set up above the pathway that is used to access the property and the large glazed windows give uninterrupted views of the surrounding landscape.
Allow for Refuge
The outdoor tropical shower and cedar sauna provide seclusion and privacy at Wildwood Spa
Refuge provides a place to withdraw from environmental conditions or the main flow of activity. It provides somewhere that offers protection, a sense of retreat and feels safe. Refuge conditions are important for lowering stress and allowing us to feel restored.
The covered walkway between the two separate living spaces at Wildwood Spa offers a sense of safety and refuge. As do the operable opaque blinds that can be partially or fully lowered in both spaces to provide complete privacy and concealment from the outside world. The covered outdoor dining area provides a sense of refuge as you are protected from the weather and it creates a sense of privacy. And the cedar and glass sauna also provides a small enclosed area to retreat into.
The upper deck area at Wildwood Spa features a covered outdoor dining area
Add in Some Mystery
The bedroom at Wildwood Spa offers views through the bathroom to the outdoor tropical shower
Partially obscured views that make us want to go deeper into an environment to see what lies beyond or what is around that bend are very attractive as they leave us wanting more information. Another way to achieve this is to provide auditory stimulation from an imperceptible source.
In the bedroom at Wildwood Spa, the Japanese-style sliding door opens to reveal glimpses of the bathroom which leads through to intriguing views of the outdoor tropical shower.
Play with Risk & Peril
The bedroom at Wildwood Spa features a beautiful free-standing bathtub with views out to the surrounding woodland
As mentioned, we humans enjoy the existence of an identifiable threat as long as it is coupled with a reliable safeguard. A space that provides a good Risk/Peril condition can feel exhilarating and a little mischievous. It can feel irresistibly dangerous and result in a strong dopamine or pleasure response.
Whilst the spa in the forest is situated on private land with no public footpaths or rights of way, there is a public footpath in a neighbouring woodland which can be seen from Wildwood Spa across the pond and on the other side of the stream. So whilst the retreat does offer a sense of refuge there is also that feeling that someone could walk past or be watching you from a distance as you swim in the pool or take a bath.
Get the Look
- Matilda 76Cm Wide Wingback Chair
- Purley 41cm Table Lamp
- Braley Hall Tree with Bench
- Portledge 1 – Light Single Drum Pendant
- White/Brown 23Cm Stoneware Table Vase
- Chumbley 118Cm Solid Wood Dining Table
- Kyng Solid Wood Slat Back Dining Chair
- Gutshall Cotton Cushion with Filling
- Fike 85.2Cm Wide Tufted
- Alaniz Solid Wood Pedestal Coffee Table
- 3 seater sofa
- Hogansville 2 Piece Coffee Table Set
- Pepe 182cm Arched Floor Lamp
So that is how Wildwood Spa in North Devon uses the principles of biophilic design to create the ultimate coastal spa in the forest. And you too can apply many of these principles to create your own biophilic retreat at home. Which of these principles could you easily apply at home today? Let me know in the comments if you found this post useful and if you will be applying any of these tips at home.