Crafting a Unique Nature Experience
The Retreat at Blue Lagoon Iceland
How do you extend a brand to a new luxurious experience that your guest will remember for the rest of their lives? We joined forces with Basalt Architects to create a unique spa destination for the Blue Lagoon Iceland.
Since its foundation in 1996, Blue Lagoon has become one of the most popular, iconic travel destinations in the world. Named one of the wonders of the world by National Geographic, the company wanted to create a more intimate, exclusive way to experience the lagoon’s unique waters. They trusted their long-time partners, us and the Icelandic Basalt Architects with the challenge of creating a nature destination.
Built directly into an 800-year-old lava flow in the heart of the Reykjanes UNESCO Global Geopark, the Retreat encompasses a subterranean spa, geothermal lagoon, a restaurant that reimagines Iceland’s culinary traditions, and a 62-suite luxury hotel encircled by the Blue Lagoon’s mineral-rich waters.
Working in close, multidisciplinary collaboration throughout the project, we designed the experience, the interiors with the collaboration of Basalt Architects. We also took care of the overall design strategy, style direction, branding, graphic design and signage and product design, partnering with B&B Italia, Axor, iGuzzini, EFLA and Liska. The result is a destination where the seamless interplay of lava, moss, and water is woven into every facet of the guest journey.
'The World's Most Exciting New Design Hotel'
Strategic design and service design for a user-centered foundation
Starting with a user-centered design strategy with customer journeys and stakeholder mapping, we defined the experience we wanted to create for our future guests. We wanted to craft a home away from home in the Icelandic nature, a place where people could retreat from their saturated everyday lives and feel connected to nature. It offers a soothing, calming and luxurious overall experience for the guests, warmth as a contradiction to the surrounding landscapes and a reassuring atmosphere, a sense of being cocooned.
Our user-centered approach helped us stay consistent throughout the entire 3-year-long process, from the experience all the way to colors, materials, services and graphics and furniture.
Experience design that harmonizes nature and the manmade
Surrounded by water in the same way that a moat surrounds a castle, the suites at the Retreat are both within the lava and above the lava, straddling the divide between water, earth, moss, and sky.
The suites, ranging in size from 40 sqm to 200 sqm, are essentially one-sided. The spa experience is extended into each room with freestanding baths and showers with a view. Each suite’s floor-to-ceiling window creates an extraordinary perspective on the surrounding lagoon and the volcanic horizon—a landscape that transforms with the ever-changing angle and intensity of Iceland’s natural light.
Moss Restaurant features stunning vistas of the centuries-old, moss-covered lava fields and mount Þorbjörn as a backdrop. The atmosphere is warm, with the design incorporating a chef’s table hewn from lava quarried onsite, a large-scale luminaire with 106 individually controllable OLED panels, and special editions of previously unavailable furniture by 20th century Icelandic designers. The restaurant also features a wine cellar built deep underground, with lava walls colored red by the natural process of oxidation that occurred 800 years ago when lava flowed molten across the Reykjanes Peninsula.
The Retreat Spa
Covering more than 4000 square meters and descending three meters into the volcanic earth, the Retreat Spa opens new dimensions of tranquility and transformation, giving guests the ability to commune with the natural wonders of geothermal seawater in an exclusive, sublime environment.
As guests move deeper into the earth, natural light fades while the temperature gradually rises. Transiting through underground realms of inspiring design, enchanting geology, and radiant wellness, the spa journey culminates with the Blue Lagoon Ritual—an exhilarating cycle of wellbeing where guests experience geothermal seawater’s trinity of nourishing elements in three interconnected spaces.
Interior design and CMF for harmony, contrast, and wellbeing
Inspired by the landscape, the interiors feature tone-to-tone colors, simple shapes, and extreme attention to detail, creating an atmosphere of refined luxury. Warm walnut woods are juxtaposed with various concrete, rock, and lava surfaces to establish an authentic, inviting atmosphere. The subtle profusion of raw, tactile, and natural materials, orchestrated in a simple, linear style, produces a realm of deep comfort.
The color palette governing all chromatic design decisions was meticulously chosen for the manner that it highlights and echoes the volcanic vista, conjuring harmony with the water, land, weather, and light: the whiteness of salt, silica, and snow; the blacks, grays, and oxidized reds of lava; the blues of geothermal seawater; and the browns and greens of the moss and other fauna.
Here and there, the interiors feature twists, unexpected details that enliven the space, provoking wonder and establishing a connection to contemporary movements. The resulting style is timeless and sophisticated—a previously unseen incarnation of Icelandic luxury rooted in the celebrated tradition of Scandinavian design yet infused with Italian quality craftsmanship and attention to detail.
Custom furniture and product design for a uniquely luxurious experience
When furnishing the Retreat, we partnered closely with the global contractor, B&B Italia. The resulting furnishings include both B&B Italia design classics and contract elements, as well as custom designed additional pieces. This meant editing existing designs or plans, or redesigning them completely, improving and adjusting them to fit with the overall Retreat interiors. Sometimes we designed around already existing pieces, adding accessories or adjustments to make the items work better in the Retreat context.
Material in focus: Lava
The Retreat is built directly into the 800-year-old lava flow at Svartsengi. Accordingly, lava stone has been integrated into various design elements, such as custom faucets by AXOR by Hans Grohe, our lava rock diamond table feature a lava stone in a metal setting as a table top 'gem', and the chef’s table that is made from a giant piece of custom-cut lava rock that was queried onsite during the construction process.
Local touches and attention to detail
The utmost attention was paid to even the smallest details—from the carefully curated books in the library to the selected items in the boutique—all to enhance the ambiance and guest experience.
Honoring the heritage of Icelandic design, we also created special editions of furniture that had not been available for decades, thereby exhuming and reinvigorating hidden treasures in the history of Scandinavian design. The project was orchestrated by Blue Lagoon in collaboration with the Icelandic Museum of Design and Applied Arts.
We also collaborated with the museum to exhibit Icelandic ceramics in the lobby of the Retreat. Finally, we commissioned artist Ragna Róbertsdóttir to created all of the art at the Retreat.
Creative direction for a luxurious translation of the brand
We started at the strategic level, extending the established brand to The Retreat. Next, we created the visual language for The Retreat, a more sophisticated, luxurious translation of the parent brand, and then we homed in on the details on everything from The Retreat’s signage and the panels structured from lava, to the menus and stationary.
The Retreat at Blue Lagoon opened its doors in April 2018 to raving reviews from the guests. It’s since been nominated to the Surface Design Awards and covered in outlets such as Architectural Digest, Vogue, Travel & Leisure, Conde Nast Traveller and Town & Country.
- Architecture design: Basalt Architects
- Experience design: Design Group Italia
- Interior design: Basalt Architects and Design Group Italia
- Product design: Design Group Italia
- Lighting design: Liska
- Engineering: EFLA
- Construction Inspection: VSS, Verkfræðistofa Suðurnesja
- General contractor: Jáverk
- Suppliers: B&B Italia, iGuzzini, AXOR by Hans Grohe