Shou Sugi Ban House
Fredrika Stjarne for Shou Sugi Ban House

Shortly before Covid-19 sequestered us to the confines of our homes, I paid a visit to Shou Sugi Ban House. In the six months that the intimate Water Mill, New York spa and wellness center had then been open (it officially began welcoming guests in the spring of 2019), it had become a self-care destination for both those near and far—and I soon understood why. 

Though only a stone’s throw from the thoroughfare of Route 27, Shou Sugi Ban House, situated next to the Parrish Art Museum on the one-time grounds of a sculpture park (a remnant of which can be found in the entrance’s gigantic Buddha), feels like a world unto itself. An oasis even. “It really had this magical feel,” the visionary co-founder and CEO Amy Cherry-Abitbol—a former Mergers and Acquisitions attorney who had decided to change careers after enrolling in New Path, a week-long Harvard Business School program, in 2014—recalls of the moment that she first encountered the three-acre plot. (Apparently, others thought so too; the property had received some 45 inquiries before Cherry-Abitbol, a Southampton resident with longstanding roots in the community, was finally able to secure the permits.)  

“So many retreats start with a hike in the mountains, and I thought it’d be so great to be able to actually begin your day with a beach walk,” she says, noting that the location’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, coupled with its lush farm-like land, was the ideal setting for a sanctum that took a 360-degree approach to improving one’s well-being. Years ago, Cherry-Abitbol had become fascinated with the idea of longevity—and, more specifically, the science behind holistically lengthening our lifespans—upon discovering the Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn’s research in the field. “It really validated this wholesome mind-body-spirit approach,” she adds.     

 

After three-and-a-half years of navigating the town’s land use regulations, the Hamptons-based architect Debbie Kropf set to work on erecting a structure that takes its cues—not to mention name, which refers to a traditional technique of charring wood to render it a deep-charcoal black—from Japan, where Cherry-Abitbol lived for five years in the 90s while practicing law. Now, the property houses two barns, a tea lounge, a fitness pavilion, and a windowed meditation hall. (A geodesic dome, home to Shou Sugi Ban House’s reiki, hypnotherapy, and energy-balancing services, is a newer, COVID-friendly addition.) The 13 clean-lined, cedar guest studios, meanwhile, come equipped with the likes of organic Sasawashi slippers and sustainable bamboo toothbrushes, which can also be found in the spa’s boutique. It’s stocked with locally-made ceramics and recycled cardboard notebooks made by expert craftsmen in Tokyo, and many consider it the East End’s best-kept shopping secret. 

Of course, the grounds themselves—surrounded by 250 deciduous and evergreen trees, as well as 20,000 grasses of five different varieties—are just as inviting, thanks to former model-turned-landscaper Lily Kwong, who dreamt up a cherry orchard, pebbled courtyard, winding pathways, and a biodynamic garden, from which many of the herbs that work their way into the nature-forward culinary and spa menus are plucked.  

Speaking of the spa, this summer, classic treatments—such as a purifying green clay-and-sesame body wrap, and a collagen-boosting facial, which relies on Japanese nanocapsule technology—are joined by a handful of new programs specifically designed to cater to the strange times in which we now find ourselves.  

Take, for instance, Healing Through Water. Offered from Memorial Day until Labor Day, the almost entirely outdoor experience will combine beach meditation, aquatic fitness, private access to the resort’s hydrotherapy facilities—an infrared sauna, dry sauna, experience shower, ice fountain, and contrasting pools—and guided breathwork that helps prepare and heat the body for an icy saltwater plunge, which has recently become one of Shou Sugi Ban House’s most requested offerings. “We’ve always been centered around the healing powers of water,” explains Cherry-Abitbol, noting that they also incorporated geothermal wells and a structured water filtration system across the entire property.

Another recent addition to the lineup is a Digital Detox workshop, which features intention setting, morning yoga, nature walks, and intuitive painting sessions, led by a fourth-generation shaman. It is designed to address the Zoom fatigue and technology burnout many of us are experiencing after 14 months tethered to our screens. “Almost everyone’s been affected by how much [the time we spend online] interferes with our mood, sleep patterns, and overall well-being,” notes Cherry-Abitbol, before adding that, for better or worse, it is one program that is here to stay. “I don’t think it’s going to go away anytime soon,” she admits with a knowing laugh.

Though the pandemic significantly slowed the arrival of international guests, Cherry-Abitbol says that it has, in fact, brought about one welcome change: droves of locals, coming from Montauk and Manhattan alike, have begun to flock to the wellness sanctuary for some much-needed solitude, be it for just a few hours or a whole week.

 

It doesn’t come as a surprise to me. After all, in the early days of quarantine, when I was suddenly spending more time with my then-significant other than ever before, I found myself fantasizing about Shou Sugi Ban House, remembering in crisp detail my indulgent overnight escape, how I satiated myself with chef Mads Refslund’s sustainably-foraged Scandinavian fare and unwound in my spacious en-suite bathroom’s Hinoki tub, after an evening spent lying back as tuning forks and gongs and crystal bowls sounded around me, which is why when I received my second vaccine, nearly a year-and-a-half since I’d last entrusted my body to the hands of someone else, one of the first things I did was book myself a follow-up visit. It turns out, I am not alone. For having been open only two years, “We have a tremendous number of repeat guests,” Cherry-Abitbol says proudly.  

 As for what it is that ultimately sets Shou Sugi Ban House apart from the sea of other carefully considered spas even more than its therapeutic treatments and soothing wabi sabi-inspired design? Simply put, “There’s a connection and the feeling of us caring,” Cherry-Abitbol tells me. “We really are a healing place, and that’s something that people need particularly now. But, really, something that people need always.” 

 

 

thoughts?