Amid the whirring of treadmills and clanking of weight machines in the health club at The Metropolitan at Pentagon Row is a quiet room whose creamy beige walls, soft lighting, and flickering candles invite a single resident at a time to relax and forget the day's workout–and work.

The room, tucked between the men's and women's locker rooms, is for massages, an amenity that is slowly emerging as a fixture in luxury apartment buildings in New York, California, and Washington, D.C., just across the Potomac River from The Metropolitan.

Indeed, notes Karen Kossow, assistant vice president of sales and marketing for KSI Management, which installed the room in the six-month-old Metropolitan and another at the nearby four-year-old Metropolitan at Pentagon City, the firm will include massages and other spa services at the eight other Washington-area high-rises it plans to build over the next dozen years.

"We definitely know it's a growing trend that will build up over the next three to five years," confirms Chris Thomas, owner of Washington, D.C.-based Dirty Boots Adventures, which is under contract to offer massages in five area apartment buildings. "Putting a spa service in a building is just priceless," he says, "in separating themselves from the norm."

High-end buildings like Fairfield Knolls North, a 291-unit complex whose over-55 residents pay up to $2,325 plus utilities for a two-bedroom townhouse in Port Jefferson Station, N.Y., offer dedicated space for on-site massages and manicures. The Atlas, a 48-story rental building on Manhattan's W. 38th Street, puts on an annual spa day that features manicures, pedicures, and yoga classes.

A dedicated massage room at the six-month-old Metropolitan at Pentagon Row near Washington, D.C., features earth tones, flickering candles, and soft music between the men's and women's locker rooms in the building's health club.
Eric Keiley A dedicated massage room at the six-month-old Metropolitan at Pentagon Row near Washington, D.C., features earth tones, flickering candles, and soft music between the men's and women's locker rooms in the building's health club.

"We work with high-end customers who are busy," says Kossow. "They want these services but don't have the time to do it outside of when they're home. If you can provide an atmosphere where they can get every service they need inside the home, it makes it a more desirable place to live."

It also makes it easier to retain residents, offers Heather Campbell, vice president for communications and marketing for Colorado-based Archstone-Smith. She says a handful of the firm's 260-plus communities have on-site massage rooms or have arrangements with spas that rent retail space in the building to give priority to residents requesting massages.

"We're always finding ways to provide additional services to residents to make them feel more at home," Campbell says.

Yet massages that are just a few steps from home are not the norm, even in luxury apartment buildings, and that's what makes them special, says Dale Phillips, president of Arizona-based Mark-Taylor Residential, which will begin converting space for salon services at some of its resort-like properties in 2006.

"The nice thing about it is [residents] are not expecting it, so they're appreciating it," says Phillips. "So many of the services of today were appreciated five years ago and expected today, so you're always looking for the service or amenity that will be appreciated."

Residents of some Mark-Taylor buildings rave about the firm's occasional spa days, when the firm converts a building's pool area into an outdoor salon that features massages, facials, manicures, pedicures, and cappuccino bars. "It's like a resort where you can lie down on a massage table or sit down poolside for a massage," Phillips explains.

But Mark-Taylor doesn't offer the services in every building. "Honestly, when you try to bring a salon service into an environment that's not salon quality, it doesn't work," he admits. "It needs to have the appropriate amount of room and the atmosphere needs to complement that of a resort or a salon."

"A lot of it comes down to atmosphere," agrees Jason Golec, a territory manager for Advantage Fitness Products, which arranges for salon services and tanning beds at high-end apartment buildings in California.

To create a suitable atmosphere for a great massage, Dirty Boots Adventures' Thomas says, the building should dedicate a room that will not be used for other purposes and paint it a neutral color (use a calming earth tone, and stay away from vibrant reds or depressing blacks). In addition, he says, the therapist should be able to soften the lights, ignite candles, play music, and plug in an electric warming blanket. Ideally, the room would have running water or nearby access to it.

"You don't just take a room and slap a massage table in it," Kossow says.

Apartment owners interested in offering spa services do need to pay attention to their property's profile. Some make the mistake of installing a massage room in a building whose residents won't appreciate it, says Golec, who notes the service so far has been reserved for luxury high-rises, where generally 10 percent to 15 percent of residents will use the facility.

Once a property has a massage or spa area, owners must find the providers. The properties Golec and Thomas contract with keep them on call and require them to give priority to their residents who ask for appointments. The resident then pays the therapist directly–the price of a massage ranges from around $40 for a seated head, neck, and shoulder rub to upwards of $130 for a 90-minute massage session. In some cases, Golec says, the property owner charges the contractor rent equal to between 10 percent and 40 percent of each massage, but most property owners simply supply the room and give the residents a phone number to call for appointments.

Regardless of the arrangement, though, spa services remain more of an amenity than a profit center. But apartment owners say residents recognize and appreciate the real thing. "I find the quality of the experience is so much better when you bring in professionals," Phillips says. "And the residents know it."

–Sharon O'Malley is a freelance writer in College Park, Md.