Willow Urban Retreat

Willow Urban Retreat, a wellness centre and wholefood cafe located in Melbourne’s inner suburb of Armadale, is immediately distinct due to its minimalist and serene design. Along with a cafe, the retreat consists of a mediation studio, a day spa and a detox facility, located within two double-storey heritage buildings on High Street. The centre, with its zen sensibilities and “holistic approach to health and wellbeing,” sought the help of local studio MEME Design. They set out to create a space with rhythmic symmetry and a harmonious atmosphere. A space where visitors could find solace and sanctuary from the hubbub of city life, without having to cross Melbourne’s borders.

Willow Urban Retreat
[Image: Sharyn Cairns]
Willow Urban Retreat
[Image: Sharyn Cairns]
Architects have maximised the retreat’s space and volume, giving visitors a natural sense of freedom. They have opened up the two formerly narrow heritage buildings with the insertion of a central courtyard. Also, an oversized arch to the shopfront and further arches slicing through the dividing wall to connect the café and spa, encourage circulation. Space, combined with light and earthy materials, underpin the multipurpose nature of the space, and create a relaxing, free-flowing environment.

Willow Urban Retreat
[Image: Sharyn Cairns]
Willow Urban Retreat
[Image: Sharyn Cairns]
The brainchild of architect Melanie Beynon and interior designer Megan Hounslow, the project melds together Eastern and Western influences. Architects integrate the Western elements of the heritage buildings with Eastern palettes and sensibilities. For example, the retreat’s arches seem to reflect buildings of the Victorian era. Soft, seamless curves intersect and meet between wall, floor and ceiling. Meanwhile, the retreat’s tapestry of materials is diverse, including natural stone and jade green onyx. Finishes emphasise the calming effect of the building’s soft angles, minimal and understated. However, they are simultaneously durable, able to withstand high usage and the interchangeable programs at the retreat.

MEME describes this amalgamation as a way “to transcend one from the chaos of city stressors.”

Willow Urban Retreat
[Image: Sharyn Cairns]
Willow Urban Retreat reflects a meticulous consideration of quality light and air. MEME design aimed to evoke a connection to nature through the balanced alchemy of water, earth, metal and wood. Accordingly, vertical skylights along the walls allow natural light to spill in from every corner. Rooms are acoustically treated, minimising noise, while sprung floors are designed to ease movement. Additionally, the buildings contained purified air systems, promoting clean air and living. Every minute detail is addressed and ethically sourced, reflecting the value the retreat places on health and positive energies.

“Our process was to explore how space, light and material can actively contribute to human health,” says Megan Hounslow.

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