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wrap around seating with a red ambience

Zen Unalike

Ornate doors divide a Toronto street and Othership’s interior, where the spa experience unconventionally blends with the social and a changed mental state is on the menu.

By Maryam Siddiqi
Photos by Graydon Herriot
Courtesy of Othership

Othership is just one block away from Toronto’s King West party scene, but even in that short distance, there’s a noticeable vibe shift. It’s quieter, calmer and more relaxed—an ideal location for a wellness experience that’s intended to be social, shared with friends both old and new.

The unique sensibility of this one-of-a-kind place in the city—a communal sauna and ice-bath house—is felt before you take a step inside. Its signage, a yellow light box affixed to the overhang, calls like a beacon, and the door handles, a tactile version of Othership’s logo, were inspired by a spinning top (and resemble an alien vessel).

“[We evoke a] sense of playfulness, of fun, of curiosity and of not really knowing where you’re going to end up,” says Harrison Taylor, one of Othership’s five founders.

While guests can partake in a “free flow” session, moving between the sauna and cold baths at their discretion, Othership’s mission comes alive with its guided classes. Guides like Taylor lead visitors through breathing, movement and meditation exercises while they’re enveloped in the heat of the sauna and then provide encouragement as they slip into bathtubs filled with icy water.

“The hot and the cold bring us into our bodies, bring us into a present state of awareness of ourselves and each other.”

empty change room darkly lit with many tiles

Non-gendered change stalls are available for those venturing into one of Othership’s four ice baths or the dunk showers.

two men and a woman hanging out in the spa, enjoying themselves

Between cold dunks and hot sprees in the sauna, “Shipheads” can mingle over a beverage or around the communal fireplace in what’s been designed to be a shared, social experience.

The connection between hot and cold was fundamental to the design of the floor plan as well as the material selection for the 3,000-square-foot space, says Ali McQuaid, creative director of design firm Futurestudio. “There’s a fluid motion that we kind of force on you as you go through the space between the hot and the cold,” she explains.

For Othership’s clients, “Shipheads” as they’re called, there is surprise and delight at every turn. The space is a manifestation of what happens to bodies and minds journeying through hot, cold and then back again—within an hour’s visit.

Cedar is used in the sauna but also on the walls, a choice McQuaid says was inspired by the heat, while brick, used on the walls of the plunge area and to house a fireplace in the tea room, was inspired by the cold.

McQuaid had to find textiles that could withstand humidity and being trod on with wet feet. Multi-level seating and flooring in the tea room are covered in textiles used on boats. “Instead of looking at spas for inspiration, we looked at other water-based design inspirations,” she explains.

Light was integral to setting the mood and creating an environment where everyone can feel safe. Pendants and flush mounts deliver soft, dim lighting. Small candles placed in nooks create a glow. There’s an orb-like James Turrell–inspired light in the tea room that can be either energizing or calming, depending on how you adjust the colour value, says McQuaid.

The goal, says Taylor, was to create a space that is conducive to and safe for transitions: the physical transition of going from a downtown city street to a sauna, from fully clothed to being in a swimsuit in front of strangers, from hot to cold.

“We need to make people feel good in their skin—they’re half-naked. So how can we make them look good, feel good and not feel vulnerable?” he says. “You have a state shift within this space, and when you leave, you’re a different person.”

lonely towel hanging in a very fancy sauna

Othership’s 50-person sauna is made of western red cedar (inspired by the heat) with bricks (inspired by the cold) incorporated into the design.

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