Wellness by Design - Willow Urban Retreat by Melanie Beynon and Megan Hounslow

Words by Sophie Sisko
Photography by Sharyn Cairns

The many-faceted offerings of Willow Urban Retreat define its tranquil presence as a haven for health, connection and self-improvement.

The retreat is designed to serve guests with a diverse choice of remedies for the body and mind that range from spa treatments, movement and meditative practices to naturopathy and acupuncture. It takes an in-depth understanding of what a visitor to this space might intend to seek, both tangibly and emotionally, to create an architectural response that will support this intention.

Architect Melanie Beynon and interior designer Megan Hounslow, working together as Meme during the time of the project, identify through their design of Willow Urban Retreat the exceptional impact our surroundings can make to our state of being. “Our process explored how space, light and materiality can actively contribute to human health, performance and well-being,” describes Megan.

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The language of arches is delivered in varying degrees throughout the entirety of the project.

Restored facades of the retained Victorian shopfronts meet the streetscape with a presence reminiscent of the building’s original decadence. A textural concrete render introduces the interiors palette within, while the existing arches set a precedence for the construction of the internal forms that follow. From the exterior, there are hints as to the level of consideration that has been expressed throughout this design, but it is impossible to grasp the detail entirely without stepping foot inside.

Passing through the threshold, a new build from this point forward is revealed, tailored to inhabit the vast offerings of the spaces within. The ambience is gentle and relaxed, and many factors play a role in the formulation of this sensation, including the use of advanced air purification systems and acoustic treatments that distinguish the interior experience from the world outside. Materials are carefully selected to ensure they release minimal toxicity into the environment and feature a colour palette that is delicate and unassuming.

Melanie elaborates on the unique material selection by saying, “Identifying a soft, consistent, hand-applied finish throughout drew us to using the render. It is a perfect fit as it is able to be applied in wet areas and robust enough for application to the floor. Being hand applied gives it a human natural touch whilst it also fit the low-to-no VOC material selection criteria.”

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Persian green onyx features colour delivered in its organic form within the interior.
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At the front of the site, guests can enjoy a nutritious meal at the café where produce is sourced with a farm-to-table ethos. It is the activity hub of Willow Urban Retreat where the public can come to gather. Beyond this point, each zone extends further into privacy and lucidity. The light is consistent and soft as it reaches through the artfully-placed linear skylights. The exploration of curved forms within the traditional architecture institutes unexpected imagination behind the longstanding heritage facade.

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Melanie states her favourite part of the completed project to be that, “the project unravels as a journey and there is a sense of discovery through the venue.” Configuring treatment spaces to best accommodate each area’s specific needs was a task of great consideration. Megan describes the approach to planning by stating, “A key challenge was to connect the overlapping spaces and programs, without sensorial disturbances.” Investigation into the effects of sound, smell and visual interaction between zones were all crucial factors to the success of the arrangement.

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A narrative is told through each design decision that highlights the human craft in its presence. The hand-worked render of the walls displays a depth that can be appreciated in the undisturbed peace of the surrounding interior. Custom and handmade furniture selections develop a further human connection to the artisans whose collaboration makes a project such as this come to life.

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From local farmers producing food, to artisans hand-made trades, and the hands of health professionals who share their knowledge in these spaces, an accounability is shared with honesty and care in a way that simply invites the good. Wellness by design is the curation of a positive space that serves as a platform for human connection to self, community and place. For a designer, defining moments that provide a sense of purpose and connectivity between occupants to a space is a profound offering, one that extends beyond the built form.

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Custom designed stools for the project made by local artist, Maddie Sharrock.
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Christopher Boots pendant light made locally in Melbourne.
Custom designed bar for the project made by local artist, Maddie Sharrock.