The Hottest New Home Amenity? ‘It’s Brutal.’
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The Hottest New Home Amenity? ‘It’s Brutal.’

Homeowners are spending tens of thousands of dollars to outfit their properties with cold plunges

By JESSICA FLINT
Fri, Jun 2, 2023 8:34amGrey Clock 8 min

Most mornings after Stephen Garten wakes up at his home in Austin, Texas, he goes into his backyard and starts pacing, preparing himself for what’s next. “It’s brutal,” says Garten, 37, the founder and CEO of social impact company Charity Charge. “It’s a real challenge every day.”

He’s talking about lowering himself into a 66-inch-long and 24-inch-wide stainless steel tub clad in customised zebrawood and submerging himself up to his neck in water that he sets at 39 degrees Fahrenheit, with water circulating at 1,400 gallons a minute. “It’s like being in a river,” he says of the flow rate produced by this particular vessel, a Blue Cube cold plunge.

It’s an experience that Garten typically tolerates for less than two minutes at a time, once or twice a day. And it comes at a price of $19,000. Blue Cube, based in Redmond, Ore., makes cold plunge units that cost between around $18,000 and $29,000.

“Cold plunging has made a profound difference in my life,” Garten says. He says it has brought him health benefits including stress management.

Previously the domain of athletes, bathing in cold water or ice has become a mainstream wellness trend across the U.S. The practice goes by many terms, like cold plunging, ice bathing and cold-immersion therapy. Water temperature below 59 degrees Fahrenheit is generally considered cold immersion. People who swear by it say they have experienced wide-ranging health benefits, like reduced anxiety, alleviated joint and muscle pain and boosted energy and focus.

But while many people are experimenting with do-it-yourself methods—like taking cold showers or filling kiddie pools, horse troughs and unplugged chest freezers with cold water or ice—some enthusiasts have levelled-up their at-home cold plunging setups with sophisticated receptacles priced at tens of thousands of dollars and up.

Developers, meanwhile, are adding cold plunges to amenity-rich luxury complexes like 53 West 53 in New York and Cipriani Residences Miami, betting that cold immersion is here to stay.

“Ice bathing seems like a trend, but people have been doing this for thousands of years,” says Jonathan Coon, co-founder of Austin Capital Partners, which is the developer of Four Seasons Private Residences Lake Austin, 20 minutes from downtown Austin, slated to open in 2026.

Stephen Garten and Katie Snyder’s Austin home. PHOTO: AMY MIKLER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
The couple in their house’s kitchen and main living room. PHOTO: AMY MIKLER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
They turned a downstairs room into a spare bedroom and family room. PHOTO: AMY MIKLER FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

In addition to 188 residential units starting at $4.1 million, the Lake Austin property on 145 acres will have 76,000 square feet of indoor wellness and sports facilities, including a 12,000-square-foot orangery, 82-foot swimming pool, sauna, steam room and, of course, cold and hot thermal baths.

Amenities covering 100,000 square feet is a key reason that Onyx W.D. Johnson and Cristian Santangelo bought a $2.2 million two-bedroom, 1,123-square-foot apartment in New York’s One Manhattan Square, an 80-story building located on the Lower East Side. Facilities include a spa with a tranquility garden, 75-foot saltwater swimming pool, hot tub, sauna, steam room and hammam with a cold plunge set between 55 and 58 degrees Fahrenheit. The couple moved into the apartment in May 2021.

Johnson and Santangelo quivered at the idea of cold plunging until they started seeing other people dipping and discussing the health benefits. “We decided to give it a try,” Johnson says.

Cristian Santangelo and Onyx W.D. Johnson cold plunge in their building’s wellness area. PHOTO: RAYON RICHARDS FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Now cold plunging is part of their wellness regimen. Johnson, 50, who runs a management consulting firm, uses the hot pool, steam room and sauna, and then cold plunges for 45 seconds to a minute. He says this routine speeds up his training recovery time, helps him think clearer and improves his alertness and mood. Santangelo, 45, who is a management consultant, says the ritual helps him calm down and fight anxiety and stress.

Diamond Spas & Pools, based in Frederick, Colo., is a custom manufacturer of luxury pools, spas and soaking tubs for homeowners globally. The company added cold plunges to its portfolio in 2015 and saw one or two orders annually until 2019, when it experienced a sales surge. “Our cold plunge projects have increased 10 times since then,” says Mitch Martinek, the company’s design manager.

Martinek attributes the uptick to several factors. Today’s homeowners want gym and spa amenities at home and on-demand, cold therapy health benefits are better known now, and there are lingering pandemic concerns over public wellness facilities.

Onyx W.D. Johnson and Cristian Santangelo’s two bedroom apartment in One Manhattan Square, in New York. PHOTO: RAYON RICHARDS FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
The couple’s bedroom. PHOTO: RAYON RICHARDS FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Cristian Santangelo, left, and Onyx W.D. Johnson at home. PHOTO: RAYON RICHARDS FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The company’s cold plunges, which chill water to between 40 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, are made from stainless steel or copper and can be camouflaged in tile, stone or wood. The pools can go indoors or outdoors, come in any size and can work with home automation systems. The average cold plunge costs about $45,000, with elaborate projects running closer to about $65,000.

One of the company’s more unique cold plunges had an acrylic bottom and was in a high-rise building. “It was on a deck with a fire pit below,” Martinek says. “The homeowner wanted to be able to look up through the cold plunge.”

John Thorbahn bought a four-bedroom, 5,500-square-foot single-family home in Hingham, Mass., south of Boston, in March 2020 for $1.6 million. He owns a cold plunge from Phoenix-based company Morozko Forge, founded in 2018. Morozko Forge’s entry-level unit costs $12,850; its upgraded version costs $19,900.

Morozko Forge’s ice baths make ice. While the stainless steel tub is filled with cold water, an ice slab starts building at the tank’s bottom. At about 1-inch thick, the ice detaches and floats to the water’s surface. The ice can be broken up with an implement like a rubber mallet if needed.

Thorbahn, 63, who is the managing director at consulting company NFP, ice bathes most days for two to three minutes at 33 to 34 degrees Fahrenheit. His wife, Jana Thorbahn, 59, ice bathes, too. “The older you get, the more you want to live longer,” says Thorbahn, whose home also has a gym, sauna, red light therapy room and hot tub. “You start investing in protocols to help you be healthy.”

While many cold plungers have developed their own ice bathing rituals, choosing everything from their preferred water temperatures to time limits, Dr. Susanna Søberg, a Danish Ph.D. metabolic scientist and founder of the Soeberg Institute, is one of the world’s experts on the health benefits of cold immersion, which she has been studying for nine years.

In 2021, Søberg published research on cold exposure and hot exposure, which is called “contrast therapy” if the cold and hot exposures are performed in succession. Studying Danish winter swimmers, Søberg identified that a short plunge in cold, moving water combined with sauna use shifts the body’s nervous system and creates physiological changes, like boosting metabolism, lowering inflammation and releasing neurotransmitters that improve cognitive performance and mental health. “You are activating your whole body system,” Søberg says.

In a field that hasn’t been widely studied by the medical community, Søberg has developed what she says is the only scientifically backed cold immersion protocol for reducing stress using contrast therapy and breathing: 11 total minutes of cold immersion combined with 57 total minutes of heat, across two to three days a week. The goal of her method is to expose the body to the smallest amount of healthy stress needed to reap health benefits. “Staying in cold water or heat longer may not be beneficial or necessary,” she says.

Søberg says cold immersion carries the rare risk of cold water shock that can cause confusion or fainting, but the risk increases if a person does hyperventilating breathwork before or during cold water immersion. She also says cold plunging might not be good for people with heart disease or high blood pressure. Søberg advocates for cold plunging with others, and practicing slow, nasal breathing in the water.

The backyard pool at Tobias and Christine Lawry’s 1963 Midcentury Modern house in Dana Point, Calif. PHOTO: NATASHA LEE FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Their master bedroom opens up into their backyard. PHOTO: NATASHA LEE FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
The Lawrys converted a bedroom into a wellness room that turns into an indoor-outdoor-fitness space. PHOTO: NATASHA LEE FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Contrast therapy is why Sausalito, Calif.-based company Yardzen says most of its cold plunge projects involve saunas. Yardzen is an online landscape and home-exterior design company that works with homeowners across the U.S. The company’s co-founder and CEO Allison Messner says wellness yards—encompassing everything from cold plunges to saunas to meditation spaces to forest bathing—is one of Yardzen’s top 2023 trends.

“Peak luxury is having both a cold plunge and a sauna in your yard so you can experience cold and hot therapy,” Messner says.

Tobias Lawry, 51, and his wife, Christine Lawry, 50, live in a three-bedroom 1963 Midcentury Modern house in Dana Point, Calif. They purchased it in October 2018. Between July 2021 and October 2022, they worked with architect Chris Light, designer Frank Berry and builder Crawford Custom Homes to renovate their 3,000-square-foot house to honor its original period intention while modernising it. This included turning a bedroom into a wellness room, which opens into a backyard with a pool, sauna and Blue Cube cold plunge.

The Lawrys, who run an estate-management and concierge services company called LPM, keep their Blue Cube at 47 degrees Fahrenheit. They typically cold plunge in the evening and on weekend mornings.

Stephen Garten in Austin also has a tricked-out wellness yard: In addition to his Blue Cube, he has a barrel sauna from Almost Heaven Saunas, which are manufactured in West Virginia and start around $7,500. He also has a stock tank pool from Cowboy Pools, an Austin-based company that has pool packages starting around $2,000.

He was inspired to create a backyard oasis where he and his fiancée, Katie Snyder, can have friends over. “It’s wellness,” Garten says, “but it’s entertainment too.”



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Booming demand for wellness tourism shows no slowing, with travel related to health and well-being projected to have reached $1 trillion last year and to hit $1.3 trillion by 2025, according to the Global Wellness Institute, a nonprofit based in Miami.

Curated wellness travel programs are especially sought-after, specifically holistic treatments focused on longevity. Affluent travellers not only are making time to hit the gym while gallivanting across the globe, they’re also seeking destinations that specifically cater to their wellness goals, including treatments aimed at living longer.

“I believe Covid did put a spotlight on self-care and well-being,” says Penny Kriel, corporate director of spa and wellness at Salamander Collection, a group of luxury properties in places like Washington, D.C., and Charleston, South Carolina. But Kriel says today’s spas are more holistic, encouraging folks to understand the wellness concept and incorporate it into their lifestyle more frequently.

“With the evolution of treatment products and technology, spas have been able to enhance their offerings and appeal to more travellers,” Kriel says.

While some growth is connected to the variety of treatments available, results and the digital world are also contributing to the wellness boom.

“The efficacy and benefits of these treatments continue to drive bookings and interest, especially with the support of social media, influencers, and celebrity endorsements,” Kriel says.

While genetics, environmental factors, and lifestyle choices such as regular exercise, a diet free of processed foods, sufficient sleep, and human connection play essential roles in living well and longer, experts believe in holistic therapies to help manage stress, boost immunity, and ultimately influence length and quality of life.

Anti Ageing and Beyond

“For years, people have been coming to spas, booking treatments, and gaining advice on how to turn the clock back with anti ageing and corrective skin treatments,” Kriel says. However, today’s treatments are far more innovative.

On Marinella Beach in Porto Rotondo, on the Italian island of Sardinia, guests at the five-star Abi d’Oru Hotel & Spa can experience the resort’s one-of-a-kind “longevity treatment,” a unique antiaging facial using one of the island’s native grapes: Cannonau. The world’s first declared “Blue Zone”—one of five designated areas where people live longer than average, some into their 100s—Sardinia produces this robust red wine varietal, the most widely planted on the island.

Known as Garnacha in Spain and Grenache in France, Cannonau supposedly contains two to three times more antioxidants than other red-wine grapes. By incorporating Cannonau, Abi Spa says its unique 50-minute longevity session increases collagen production for firmer, younger-looking skin.

Maintaining a youthful appearance is just one facet of longevity treatments, which range from stress-reduction sessions like massage to nutritional support and sleep programs, Kriel says. Some retreats also offer medical services such as IV infusions and joint injections.

Keeping with the trend, Kriel is expanding Salamander Collection’s existing spa services, such as detox wraps and lymphatic drainage, to include dedicated “Wellness Rooms,” new vegan and vegetarian menu items, and well-being workshops. “Sleep, nutrition, and mindfulness will be a big focus for integration in 2024,” she says.

Data-Driven Wellness

Skyler Stillings, an exercise physiologist at Sensei Lanai, a Four Seasons Resort—an adults-only wellness centre in Lanai, Hawaii—says guests were drawn to the social aspect when the spa opened in November 2021.

“We saw a huge need for human connection,” she recalls. But over the past few years, what’s paramount has shifted. “Longevity is trending much more right now.”

Human connection is a central draw for guests at Sensei Lanai, an adults-only and wellness-focused Four Seasons Resort in Hawaii.
Sensei Lanai, A Four Seasons Resort

Billionaire co-founder of tech company Oracle Larry Ellison and physician and scientist Dr. David Angus co-founded Sensei. After the death of a mutual close friend, the duo teamed up to create longevity-based wellness retreats to nurture preventative care and a healthy lifestyle. In addition to the Lanai location, the brand established Sensei Porcupine Creek in Greater Palm Springs, California, in November 2022.

Sensei has a data-driven approach. The team performs a series of assessments to obtain a clearer picture of a guest’s health, making wellness recommendations based on the findings. While Sensei analyses that data to curate a personalised plan, Stillings says it’s up to the guests which path they choose.

Sensei’s core three-day retreat is a “Guided Wellness Experience.” For spa treatments, each guest checks into their own “Spa Hale,” a private 1,000-square-foot bungalow furnished with an infrared sauna, a steam shower, a soaking tub, and plunge pools. The latest therapies include Sarga Bodywalking—a barefoot myofascial release massage, and “Four Hands in Harmony,” a massage with two therapists working in tandem. Sensei Guides provide take-home plans so guests can continue their wellness journeys after the spa.

Sensei Lanai, an adults-only and wellness-focused Four Seasons Resort in Hawaii.
Sensei Lanai, A Four Seasons Resort

Sanctuaries for Longevity

Headquartered in Switzerland with hotels and on-site spas across the globe, Aman Resorts features an integrative approach, combining traditional remedies with modern medicine’s advanced technologies. Tucked behind the doors of the storied Crown Building in Midtown Manhattan, Banya Spa House at Aman New York—the brand’s flagship spa in the Western Hemisphere—is a 25,000-square-foot, three-floor urban oasis.

Yuki Kiyono, global head of health and wellness development at Aman, says the centre provides access to holistic and cutting-edge treatments benefiting physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social well-being. Aman’s customisable “Immersion Programs” consist of a three- or five-day immersion. “The programs encompass treatments and experiences that touch every significant aspect to create a path for longevity, from meditation and mindfulness to nutrition and movement,” Kiyono explains.

Banya Spa House at Aman New York.
Robert Rieger

The spa’s “Tei-An Wellness Solution” features 90- to 150-minute sessions using massage, cryotherapy, and Vitamin IV infusions. Acupuncture is also on offer.

“With its rich history of Chinese Medicine, modern research, and the introduction of sophisticated electro-acupuncture medicine, acupuncture has been proven to assist with problems and increase performance,” Kiyono says.

Resetting the Mind and Body

Beyond longevity, “healthspan”—the number of years a person can live in good health free of chronic disease—is the cornerstone of Mountain Trek Health Reset Retreat’s program in British Columbia, Canada.

Kirk Shave, president and program director, and his team employ a holistic approach, using lifestyles in long-living Blue Zones as a point of reference.

“We improve our daily lifestyle habits, so we live vitally as long as we’re meant to live,” Shave says of the retreat. He built the program from an anthropological stance, referencing humans as farmers, hunters, and gatherers based on their eating and sleeping patterns. Food includes vegetable-centric meals sans alcohol, sugar, bread, or dairy.

Guests wake at dawn each day and have access to sunrise yoga, several hours of “flow” or slow hiking, spa treatments, forest bathing, calming crystal singing-bowl and sound therapy sessions, and classes on stress reduction—one of Mountain Trek’s primary goals. The program motivates people to spend much of their time in nature because it’s been proven to reduce cortisol, the stress hormone that can lead to inflammation and disease when elevated for extended periods.

While most guests aren’t aware of how immersive Mountain Trek’s program is when they arrive, they leave the resort revitalized after the structured, one-week program. Set in the Kootenays overlooking its eponymous river, the resort and adventure promise what Shave calls a “visceral experience of transformation.”

“They’re interested in coming to be in nature,” Shave says of the guests. “They hit a wall in their life and slipped backwards, so they know they need a reset.”

Banya Spa House at Aman New York provides access to holistic and cutting-edge treatments benefiting physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social well-being.
Robert Rieger

This article first appeared in the Winter 2024 issue of Mansion Global Experience Luxury.

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