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Room for movement

Regardless of what planning stage you are at (daydreaming, writing out rent cheques or already in the aisles of Ikea furnishing your space), designing your treatment room can be daunting. When you begin taking all the critical elements into consideration, the hands-on massage would seem like the easiest part.

January 12, 2016  By Jules Torti

In addition to massage therapy Regardless of what planning stage you are at

Maybe you’ve had a space for a few years – a makeshift clinic in the basement of your house. Maybe you share a room with a team of massage therapists. Or, better yet, you have free reign over a bricks and mortar storefront with your name on an elegant looking signage. Though “Knots Landing” or “The Back Alley” might seem clever after a few cocktails with colleagues, the first obstacle is choosing a business name that’s memorable, obvious and searchable online. Anything fancy, with a German “O” and umlaut, can quickly translate into lost clientele.

If you are in the preliminary stages of deciding where to begin your career and are considering a home-based business, make sure you are aware of all the sights, sounds and smells that evolve over the course of your intended work day. Are there barking dogs next door? Do you have a curious cat who might suddenly leap up on the table (I’m speaking from experience here)? If you do have pets you’ll have to inform clients with potential allergies. Can you time your laundry cycles to avoid the whirr and buzzer sounding off during treatments? Is there nearby road or house construction? Do you wish to promote yourself as a scent-free clinic? Do you have fresh cut flowers on display that might cause an allergic reaction? Any nut-based oils? Is there a bathroom that is accessible without clients traipsing through your house? What if your husband or wife wants to make butter chicken or fry up tilapia in the kitchen? Do you have stairs that might be an issue for an injured client? Do you have available parking?

Now, walk through your house and the intended treatment space and observe. Walk through as a first-time client would to ensure the space is suitable, welcoming and not a potential Dino-welcoming-Fred-Flintstone-home-from-work scene. Everything becomes amplified when you are on a massage table – in a positive and not-so-affirmative way.

Think temperature. Do you need a portable heater or fan for the space? Are there blinds on the window to ensure a client’s privacy and comfort level? Do you have secure hooks in the wall that aren’t going to pull out the drywall when someone uses them to steady themselves (also speaking from experience).


In ongoing efforts to protect the public and ensure quality of care, the College of Massage Therapists of Ontario (CMTO) also has its checklist that needs to be addressed. On the CMTO website, search: “conducting a clinical massage therapy practice.” Because RMTs work in both traditional and nontraditional settings, measures have been established to promote client-centred treatment spaces where the client feels comfortable and in control. “The physical setting should be consistent with the public’s expectations for an encounter with a health-care professional. There should be adequate space for: reception, waiting area, individual treatment, storage and washroom facilities. The office must be clean, well maintained, well lit, and arranged to allow sufficient privacy for clients and staff. Clients should be offered choices regarding the use, if proposed, of aromatherapy products, oils or lotions and/or background audio sound.”

Peer assessors will be actively looking for visible fire extinguishers, your certificate (if it’s your primary workplace), filing cabinets that can be locked and necessary items like tissue, sanitizer, records of equipment maintenance, finger cots and face masks.

Once you’ve fulfilled the CMTO obligations, the design fun begins.

Mind your space
At home or in a rented space it’s essential to determine the overall “feel” you want to achieve. Do you want to be viewed as a zen zone sanctuary, clinical, industrial, French Parisian glamour? Easy research can involve road trips to visit hotel spas, your colleagues’ workplaces, gyms, Pinterest, Instagram, Houzz or looking at retreats online.

While you might not have the prime real estate location of the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino, B.C., where the Ancient Cedars Spa is “sheltered by the forest fringe, adjacent to the wave dashed-rocks looking out to the open Pacific,” you can certainly attempt to recreate it. Downtown Toronto might present a challenge, but, focus on the sensory appeal and palette of your room. While the Ancient Cedars Spa offers “aromatic journeys” to guests, you can too. Offer your own custom essential oil blends and experiment with different carriers like avocado or sesame seed.

Schedule a massage and pay attention to all the elements of the experience that you love – or don’t.  Try different styles of massage in all environments (spa, hotel, retreats, home, clinic) and it will help you to hone in on the secrets for exceeding client expectation.

When I lived in Abbotsford, B.C., I booked recalibrating massages every Friday with MT Doug Sutherland. He introduced me to Thieves Oil, a unique blend of cloves, rosemary and eucalyptus. Fifteenth century French grave robbers armed themselves with this blend believing it would ward off disease, especially the plague. I will remember him most for his killer sacroiliac joint work, but also for the Thieves oil.

Whenever I booked with Rodney Osigna, in his cozy Cabbagetown home in Toronto, I knew I could always expect a great soundtrack – most often Natalie Merchant. When I go to the Sentio Clinic at the Bread Factory in West Galt, again, it’s the music: Sirius XM Coffee House Sessions. I instantly appreciated owner Shannon Earnshaw’s style at Sentio, from the in-room electric fireplaces to the little blackboards on the clinic doors where the next client’s name is written. I liked that Brad Payne had a burbling fish tank in his Yonge street space. Martha Howatt set herself apart in Hess Village by having her dog at her clinic. I loved that pre-massage interaction – it confirmed the power of animals in instilling calm.

 Are you compiling your own mental list of things you’ve loved and loathed? I like places that have good, recent magazines on the table. I like being offered ginger tea or a Clif bar after a treatment. Or a hot citrus-scented towel (it’s just as rewarding as being handed one near the end of a long haul flight). Poll your friends—what stands out for them?

I can tell you all the things that haven’t worked in my practice in the last 16 years. For instance, it’s not wise to share space with someone who is instructing dragon breathing techniques to yoga students in the room beside you. Working in a space with partitions instead of walls wasn’t in my comfort zone. If you find work at a gym, keep in mind your entire day will be a soundtrack of dropped barbells, weight stacks, beeping stair masters and whirring treadmills.

Are you in a lower level office close to a subway tunnel? Those subway trains run all day long, every three to five minutes. You can issue ear plugs to your clients, but, what about you?

If you rent a space in a hair salon, be prepared for the powerful smell of perm solution on a daily basis, and hair dryers, running constantly. Is your treatment room beside a public use toilet? Stairwell? Are you across from a tanning bed in a salon? Prepare for hot, coconut-scented wafts every 15 to 20 minutes.

If you’re investing in flooring and thinking laminate – investigate your best and most expensive cleaning product option because you will have oily footprints trailing around your room. If a landlord is concerned about candle use, purchase battery-operated votives. Invest in your ambience.

Whether you choose to hang vintage anatomical drawings, black and white photos of sand dunes or isolated beachscapes, make the space “you.” Look for linens with texture. Choose chairs that are purposeful and practical, but unique.

Words from the wise
Designer Debbie Travis advises, “Wood is a natural element that maintains the simplicity and rustic allure of the setting. Natural materials and uncomplicated style lines soothe and refresh.”

Looking for colour ideas? In a recent House to Home article, Travis explained, “Blue is a soothing shade, signifying clear skies and cleansing water and produces a spa-like feel when coupled with white.”

In her Los Angeles Times piece, “Decorate your space to help you grow,” author Anne Sage said, “Design is absolutely another avenue for self-realization. The intentional and mindful creation of beauty around us, for our own space and for those we love, looks different for all of us.” Sage is the author of  the book, Sage Living: Decorate for the Life You Want.

Recreate the best of all your favourite serene spaces in your practice and share your images and ideas with Massage Therapy Canada readers by sending an e-mail to the editor.

There’s always room for movement in a massage clinic.

Jules torti, RMT, has been in practice since 1999 and a freelance writer since age six. In between massage engagements, she travels to Africa to be with chimpanzees and writes about her zany travels for Matador Network.

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