Hotseat
Paul Smyth

Set up during the Olympics as an affordable pop up spa, the Barking Bathhouse has been so popular that it’s returning as a permanent facility. Paul Smyth, co-founder of Something & Son, tells us more


What’s your background?
I trained in engineering design at Warwick University between 2003 and 2007. There was a strong emphasis on sustainable and simple engineering in my studies.

I worked on various environmental campaigns while at university. After university, I worked for sustainability consultancies Inbuilt and Beyond Green, as a senior sustainability consultant and associate respectively.

I met Andy Merritt three years ago through a mutual friend, and we set up Something & Son shortly afterwards.

Merritt comes from a background in graphic design. When we met he was working as a sculptor and in schools teaching about art and design. I was at the stage in my life where I wanted to work a bit more creatively, and Merritt was also looking for different types of work, so we set up our eco-social design practice, Something & Son, together with Sam Henderson [who has now left the practice].

What’s the philosophy of Something & Son?
We’re interested in environmental and social design, and in exploring how to bring ideas that could be a bit abstract to people, by anchoring them to something they already know. For example, with the Barking Bathhouse, we took the spa as a central idea, and used it to engage people around the issues of sustainability, wellbeing and happiness.

It’s not like an art installation where people aren’t sure how to respond – everyone knows how to react to a spa and engage with it. It’s about trying to find those points of connection between an idea and your audience.

FARM:shop was your first big project. How did that come about?
It grew from an interest in food and the future of the supply chain. The idea we had was to put a farm in a shop, and see how much food we could grow – in doing so we were hoping to reconnect people with the food they eat.

How did the idea develop?
We applied to a competition in 2010 – the Art and Empty Spaces Programme, run by Hackney Council – and won the chance to take over an empty building on Dalston Lane in east London.

In July 2010 we began the transformation of a four storey empty shop into an urban farming hub.

FARM:shop launched in March 2011, and is now a sustainable business growing food, breeding fish and chickens and running a café, workspace and events venue. The business is run by us with the help of several partner organisations and also a dynamic team of volunteers.

Since launching Something & Son, we’ve worked on a range of other ideas, including CAR:park, which saw us transform a car into a small park for the London Festival of Architecture; the Rotting Compost Tea Bar, which involved converting rotten kitchen waste into heat, which was used to brew tea at the V&A Museum; and the Floating Garden, an installation for the Gwangju Bienalle in South Korea. Plus, of course, the Barking Bathhouse, which is our biggest project to date.

How did the idea for the Barking Bathhouse come about?
We were approached by the arts commissioner Create in 2011. At that point there wasn’t a set project, they just wanted us to work with them on designing something for Barking as part of the Create Festival [which showcased art and design in east London in the run up to the London 2012 Olympic Games.]

Together with Barking and Dagenham Council, we worked up a funding application for a green pavilion, which would act as an events space. We quite quickly decided that the pavilion wasn’t the best idea, because we were worried about what would happen to it once the Olympics were over – we didn’t think there was much chance of it continuing. Also, we don’t find event spaces particularly interesting; we’d rather do a living, working space that can also act as an events space.

Merritt and I had been thinking about spas and how they could be more interesting for some time. We pitched the spa idea, and everyone loved it.

What is the concept of the Barking Bathhouse?
It is a social spa and it is accessible for everyone – the treatments are very affordable. We wanted to create somewhere that people from all parts of the community could use, without a drop in standards.

It was built for the duration of the Olympics, in order to raise the profile of Barking. It was initially supposed to run for eight weeks, but we got an extension for a further three weeks, and it closed in October 2012.

The idea was based on the old bathhouses – Barking had a public bathhouse which closed in 1986 after 87 years of operation. We asked ourselves, how were the old bathhouses operated? They were right at the centre of the community; people used them from all different backgrounds. They were social spaces where people could talk and hang out and sometimes get a bit merry.

We wanted to incorporate all of those elements of a spa. Most spas in this country tend to be about escapism and self-indulgence and perhaps about more of an individual experience than a collective one. We felt we could try something different.

It’s maybe a bit more fun and riotous than a normal spa – you hear a lot of laughter at the Barking Bathhouse.

How much did it cost to set up the initial facility?
It cost around £230,000. It was mainly funded by the Outer London Fund, which was set up by [Mayor of London] Boris Johnson at the time of the Olympics. The fund was designed to give the outer London boroughs additional support and to help strengthen their high streets and town centres.

Looking forward, we’re working on a figure of around £300,000 to build, develop and set up a Bathhouse. What were the biggest challenges of the project?

Our role was to design and oversee the operations at the spa, and when we started, we’d never run a spa before, so that was a bit of a challenge! The construction was also quite challenging, as we’d never done a building before either.

We did have a good knowledge of business, however, which is quite unusual for a design practice, having run FARM:shop for nearly three years.

What were the advantages of it being a pop up?
We actually wanted it to be permanent, but the nature of the site meant that wasn’t possible. There were some advantages to it being a pop up, however – it gave us more freedom to experiment, for example. We were also really cautious about investing too much into the building, because we knew it wouldn’t be there for long. It felt unethical to spend too much on it, which meant we ended up with this simple, bare bones aesthetic, which was actually very popular.

How would you describe the design of the Bathhouse?
We were partly inspired by Barking’s industrial past and by the idea that an old warehouse had been converted into a spa with trees growing through the building and furniture crafted from reclaimed materials. The design was very simple – I would describe it as eco-industrial chic.

You’re launching a permanent Barking Bathhouse in the summer. What will this feature?
We are still finalising the plans, but it will feature three and a half treatment rooms – the spaces will be flexible, with partitions that allow us to transform them into larger spaces for classes and events.

We’ll have another wood-fired sauna and we’re looking at bringing in some very clever, low-energy, low carbon systems to run some hot tubs. We want people to spend a bit longer there than they did last summer. We’re planning an outdoor area with very cold bucket showers, which will replace the ice room we had last year. We also hope to have some sort of greenhouse/solarium, which will be a standalone space.

It will have a bar and café. Last year the bar served drinks, salads and sandwiches, but we’d like to expand the food offer this year.

It will retain the indoor/outdoor experience, with a walled garden, but it will be designed for use all year round as opposed to the last one, which worked best during the summer. The building itself will be very well insulated, but we’ll also be able to open it up during the summer.

The design will be quite iconic and industrial, but slightly more finished than the last Bathhouse. The spa will have a big chimney, centred around a wood-burning furnace, which will provide heating for the building. It will be made from timber again, and will feature fresh cut logs and black wood.

It will also feature a community garden for people to relax in. The front half of the garden will be open to everyone, while the back will feature more secluded areas. Landscaping will be very important – we’re looking at using heaps of logs and gravel to create secluded spaces.

How have you considered environmental sustainability?
We want it to be one of the world’s most environmentally sustainable spas.

We’ve employed something called the Passivhaus principle, which was pioneered in Germany. It works on the idea of reducing heating loss to a minimum by insulating your building as much as possible, meaning that you need minimal heating. We want to use natural materials as much as possible, while keeping construction costs low.

We’ll use a woodchip boiler to heat the water, it will feature triple glazed windows and low energy lighting.

The team have continued treatments at the Barking Learning Centre over the winter. How did that come about?
We did that to keep the concept going and keep the team together. We created three treatment rooms at the back of the Barking Learning Centre, designing them in the style of the Barking Bathhouse. It’s been great in terms of developing the treatments and connecting with the community.

We wanted to use the winter to very carefully start to connect with people in the local area, where perhaps we didn’t quite have the time to do that with the pop up. Bookings have really increased recently – the team are getting out there and meeting people in Barking and really making connections.

You’re in talks with councils in Bristol and Brighton about creating more Bathhouses. What do you look for in an area?
Our key criteria is a local authority or private landowner who wants to work with us, shares our vision and loves what the Bathhouse is about.

Once we’ve got the permanent Barking Bathhouse open, and working really well, we’d love to find a partner who shares our vision and wants to come and work with us. We’d be really open to an established spa operator or someone who wanted to invest.

We genuinely want to change spa culture in the UK – to make spas more affordable, and to get people to use them more regularly. In order to do that, we need lots of Bathhouses out there, and we recognise that we need help to make that happen.

What are you working on now?
We’ve got a few projects on at the moment. As well as the new Bathhouse we’re working on some more urban farming projects, some sculptures and research into a new type of care home, which would be based around young and old people living together.

How do you relax?
I play football, eat good food, hang out with friends. I like being by the sea.

What is your philosophy?
I think it’s important to be really open to opportunities. Keep your eyes open, because you never know who is going to walk through the door.


Barking bathhouse
The Barking Bathhouse opened in July 2012.

It featured:
- Three treatment rooms
- A terrace
- A bar and café
- An indoor/outdoor garden for relaxation (within the building, but with an open roof)
- A gravel beach area for relaxing in
- A wood-fired sauna
- An ice room with ice tiles

The spa closed in October 2012, but the team have continued to offer treatments at the Barking Learning Centre over the winter. The spa offers a range of affordable body and beauty treatments, including Thai Yoga massage, hot stone massage, reflexology and deep tissue massage for £25 for 30 minutes or £35 for 60 minutes. Manicures cost £15 and a Neal’s Yard purifying facial costs £35.

The Barking Bathhouse featured a gravel beach area for customers to relax in
Last year’s pop up Barking Bathhouse was made from black timber and featured a wood-fired sauna
Last year’s pop up Barking Bathhouse was made from black timber and featured a wood-fired sauna
The ‘eco-industrial chic’ design of the temporary spa will be continued in the permament Barking Bathhouse
 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Leisure Management
2013 issue 2

View issue contents

Leisure Management - Paul Smyth

Hotseat

Paul Smyth


Set up during the Olympics as an affordable pop up spa, the Barking Bathhouse has been so popular that it’s returning as a permanent facility. Paul Smyth, co-founder of Something & Son, tells us more

Paul Smyth (right) with Something & Son co-founder Andy Merritt
The Barking Bathhouse featured a gravel beach area for customers to relax in
Last year’s pop up Barking Bathhouse was made from black timber and featured a wood-fired sauna
Last year’s pop up Barking Bathhouse was made from black timber and featured a wood-fired sauna
The ‘eco-industrial chic’ design of the temporary spa will be continued in the permament Barking Bathhouse

What’s your background?
I trained in engineering design at Warwick University between 2003 and 2007. There was a strong emphasis on sustainable and simple engineering in my studies.

I worked on various environmental campaigns while at university. After university, I worked for sustainability consultancies Inbuilt and Beyond Green, as a senior sustainability consultant and associate respectively.

I met Andy Merritt three years ago through a mutual friend, and we set up Something & Son shortly afterwards.

Merritt comes from a background in graphic design. When we met he was working as a sculptor and in schools teaching about art and design. I was at the stage in my life where I wanted to work a bit more creatively, and Merritt was also looking for different types of work, so we set up our eco-social design practice, Something & Son, together with Sam Henderson [who has now left the practice].

What’s the philosophy of Something & Son?
We’re interested in environmental and social design, and in exploring how to bring ideas that could be a bit abstract to people, by anchoring them to something they already know. For example, with the Barking Bathhouse, we took the spa as a central idea, and used it to engage people around the issues of sustainability, wellbeing and happiness.

It’s not like an art installation where people aren’t sure how to respond – everyone knows how to react to a spa and engage with it. It’s about trying to find those points of connection between an idea and your audience.

FARM:shop was your first big project. How did that come about?
It grew from an interest in food and the future of the supply chain. The idea we had was to put a farm in a shop, and see how much food we could grow – in doing so we were hoping to reconnect people with the food they eat.

How did the idea develop?
We applied to a competition in 2010 – the Art and Empty Spaces Programme, run by Hackney Council – and won the chance to take over an empty building on Dalston Lane in east London.

In July 2010 we began the transformation of a four storey empty shop into an urban farming hub.

FARM:shop launched in March 2011, and is now a sustainable business growing food, breeding fish and chickens and running a café, workspace and events venue. The business is run by us with the help of several partner organisations and also a dynamic team of volunteers.

Since launching Something & Son, we’ve worked on a range of other ideas, including CAR:park, which saw us transform a car into a small park for the London Festival of Architecture; the Rotting Compost Tea Bar, which involved converting rotten kitchen waste into heat, which was used to brew tea at the V&A Museum; and the Floating Garden, an installation for the Gwangju Bienalle in South Korea. Plus, of course, the Barking Bathhouse, which is our biggest project to date.

How did the idea for the Barking Bathhouse come about?
We were approached by the arts commissioner Create in 2011. At that point there wasn’t a set project, they just wanted us to work with them on designing something for Barking as part of the Create Festival [which showcased art and design in east London in the run up to the London 2012 Olympic Games.]

Together with Barking and Dagenham Council, we worked up a funding application for a green pavilion, which would act as an events space. We quite quickly decided that the pavilion wasn’t the best idea, because we were worried about what would happen to it once the Olympics were over – we didn’t think there was much chance of it continuing. Also, we don’t find event spaces particularly interesting; we’d rather do a living, working space that can also act as an events space.

Merritt and I had been thinking about spas and how they could be more interesting for some time. We pitched the spa idea, and everyone loved it.

What is the concept of the Barking Bathhouse?
It is a social spa and it is accessible for everyone – the treatments are very affordable. We wanted to create somewhere that people from all parts of the community could use, without a drop in standards.

It was built for the duration of the Olympics, in order to raise the profile of Barking. It was initially supposed to run for eight weeks, but we got an extension for a further three weeks, and it closed in October 2012.

The idea was based on the old bathhouses – Barking had a public bathhouse which closed in 1986 after 87 years of operation. We asked ourselves, how were the old bathhouses operated? They were right at the centre of the community; people used them from all different backgrounds. They were social spaces where people could talk and hang out and sometimes get a bit merry.

We wanted to incorporate all of those elements of a spa. Most spas in this country tend to be about escapism and self-indulgence and perhaps about more of an individual experience than a collective one. We felt we could try something different.

It’s maybe a bit more fun and riotous than a normal spa – you hear a lot of laughter at the Barking Bathhouse.

How much did it cost to set up the initial facility?
It cost around £230,000. It was mainly funded by the Outer London Fund, which was set up by [Mayor of London] Boris Johnson at the time of the Olympics. The fund was designed to give the outer London boroughs additional support and to help strengthen their high streets and town centres.

Looking forward, we’re working on a figure of around £300,000 to build, develop and set up a Bathhouse. What were the biggest challenges of the project?

Our role was to design and oversee the operations at the spa, and when we started, we’d never run a spa before, so that was a bit of a challenge! The construction was also quite challenging, as we’d never done a building before either.

We did have a good knowledge of business, however, which is quite unusual for a design practice, having run FARM:shop for nearly three years.

What were the advantages of it being a pop up?
We actually wanted it to be permanent, but the nature of the site meant that wasn’t possible. There were some advantages to it being a pop up, however – it gave us more freedom to experiment, for example. We were also really cautious about investing too much into the building, because we knew it wouldn’t be there for long. It felt unethical to spend too much on it, which meant we ended up with this simple, bare bones aesthetic, which was actually very popular.

How would you describe the design of the Bathhouse?
We were partly inspired by Barking’s industrial past and by the idea that an old warehouse had been converted into a spa with trees growing through the building and furniture crafted from reclaimed materials. The design was very simple – I would describe it as eco-industrial chic.

You’re launching a permanent Barking Bathhouse in the summer. What will this feature?
We are still finalising the plans, but it will feature three and a half treatment rooms – the spaces will be flexible, with partitions that allow us to transform them into larger spaces for classes and events.

We’ll have another wood-fired sauna and we’re looking at bringing in some very clever, low-energy, low carbon systems to run some hot tubs. We want people to spend a bit longer there than they did last summer. We’re planning an outdoor area with very cold bucket showers, which will replace the ice room we had last year. We also hope to have some sort of greenhouse/solarium, which will be a standalone space.

It will have a bar and café. Last year the bar served drinks, salads and sandwiches, but we’d like to expand the food offer this year.

It will retain the indoor/outdoor experience, with a walled garden, but it will be designed for use all year round as opposed to the last one, which worked best during the summer. The building itself will be very well insulated, but we’ll also be able to open it up during the summer.

The design will be quite iconic and industrial, but slightly more finished than the last Bathhouse. The spa will have a big chimney, centred around a wood-burning furnace, which will provide heating for the building. It will be made from timber again, and will feature fresh cut logs and black wood.

It will also feature a community garden for people to relax in. The front half of the garden will be open to everyone, while the back will feature more secluded areas. Landscaping will be very important – we’re looking at using heaps of logs and gravel to create secluded spaces.

How have you considered environmental sustainability?
We want it to be one of the world’s most environmentally sustainable spas.

We’ve employed something called the Passivhaus principle, which was pioneered in Germany. It works on the idea of reducing heating loss to a minimum by insulating your building as much as possible, meaning that you need minimal heating. We want to use natural materials as much as possible, while keeping construction costs low.

We’ll use a woodchip boiler to heat the water, it will feature triple glazed windows and low energy lighting.

The team have continued treatments at the Barking Learning Centre over the winter. How did that come about?
We did that to keep the concept going and keep the team together. We created three treatment rooms at the back of the Barking Learning Centre, designing them in the style of the Barking Bathhouse. It’s been great in terms of developing the treatments and connecting with the community.

We wanted to use the winter to very carefully start to connect with people in the local area, where perhaps we didn’t quite have the time to do that with the pop up. Bookings have really increased recently – the team are getting out there and meeting people in Barking and really making connections.

You’re in talks with councils in Bristol and Brighton about creating more Bathhouses. What do you look for in an area?
Our key criteria is a local authority or private landowner who wants to work with us, shares our vision and loves what the Bathhouse is about.

Once we’ve got the permanent Barking Bathhouse open, and working really well, we’d love to find a partner who shares our vision and wants to come and work with us. We’d be really open to an established spa operator or someone who wanted to invest.

We genuinely want to change spa culture in the UK – to make spas more affordable, and to get people to use them more regularly. In order to do that, we need lots of Bathhouses out there, and we recognise that we need help to make that happen.

What are you working on now?
We’ve got a few projects on at the moment. As well as the new Bathhouse we’re working on some more urban farming projects, some sculptures and research into a new type of care home, which would be based around young and old people living together.

How do you relax?
I play football, eat good food, hang out with friends. I like being by the sea.

What is your philosophy?
I think it’s important to be really open to opportunities. Keep your eyes open, because you never know who is going to walk through the door.


Barking bathhouse
The Barking Bathhouse opened in July 2012.

It featured:
- Three treatment rooms
- A terrace
- A bar and café
- An indoor/outdoor garden for relaxation (within the building, but with an open roof)
- A gravel beach area for relaxing in
- A wood-fired sauna
- An ice room with ice tiles

The spa closed in October 2012, but the team have continued to offer treatments at the Barking Learning Centre over the winter. The spa offers a range of affordable body and beauty treatments, including Thai Yoga massage, hot stone massage, reflexology and deep tissue massage for £25 for 30 minutes or £35 for 60 minutes. Manicures cost £15 and a Neal’s Yard purifying facial costs £35.


Originally published in Leisure Management 2013 issue 2

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