To bring the desert luxury spa resort experience back to earth, just add water and shift the standard paradigm of its location a bit out of left field. This is exactly what film industry veteran Maria Lease had in mind when she looked to Coachella Valley as the prime location for her day spa resort, Azure Palm Hot Springs Resort & Day Spa Oasis.
And rather than look to the obvious—the eternally bright and trendy downtown Palm Springs California or the oh-so-posh Palm Desert—she had her sights set on Desert Hot Springs, just a half hour drive away from the two tourist draws.
While the surroundings of Desert Hot Springs are a bit more low-key, it makes perfect sense for a spa resort when you consider that a relatively distraction-free space is the best place for self-care, with nature front and center.
“I knew it was the perfect place to create this day spa and resort escape, while giving back to the community,” Lease says. “The vast size of the property allows for so much creativity to create pockets of respite. The biggest challenge was how long it took to create so much across such a vast canvas.”
“Before the Azure Palm, I developed The Spring Resort & Spa in Desert Hot Springs and operated it for 15 years,” Lease continues. “I loved it, but knew Desert Hot Springs had so much potential that I wanted to create a place that could have a positive impact on the city and its citizens, while helping make it a destination. I could see the original building out of my office door.”
“Even though the spa resort under the previous owner seemed purely functional, the more I stared at it, drove around it and walked around, I could see perfect beauty waiting to be uncovered,” she says.
Opening Azure Palm Hot Springs Resort during the pandemic lockdown in late 2020 presented its own share of challenges. However, the need for an other-worldly getaway, even a day spa experience or weekend jaunt from L.A., enabled it to quickly find its audience. Even with the fully appointed spa, resort suites and restaurant, Lease wasn’t finished carving out her unique niche in the Coachella Valley.
“The creation of the ‘Oasis’ aspect of the property is what is most exciting—where guests can explore beyond the pool deck and spend the day with their feet on the Earth, meandering through a desert landscape, soaking in mineral water tubs alongside desert foliage, lounging in hammocks or sitting on a tree stump along a path, enjoying lunch from the café,” explains Lease.
“Our focus for the next year, meanwhile, is building on this food and beverage service for the Oasis and pool areas as well. We’d love to host corporate clients in the future, with the seating and meeting spaces we have, but we’ll do that thoughtfully to maintain the peaceful environment and only do it when we can do it with quality,” she says.
“The creation of the ‘Oasis’ aspect of the property is what is most exciting—where guests can explore beyond the pool deck and spend the day with their feet on the Earth, meandering through a desert landscape, soaking in mineral water tubs alongside desert foliage, lounging in hammocks or sitting on a tree stump along a path, enjoying lunch from the café.”
Lease points to nature itself as the “guiding star” for the spa resort’s décor and landscaping. She teamed up with Dominique Cady on decor, who also made a name for herself in the film industry as art director and costumes designer. Since Cady has worked with African textiles for a few years, many of her designs involved the perfect natural color palette and simple forms.
Even as shopping during the pandemic for conversation-starting statement furniture that fit Desert Hot Springs’ character was “impossibly difficult,” Lease insists that being forced to search in more offbeat places ensured the distinctive look of the property would come together.
“We are not Palm Springs,” Lease says emphatically. “Even though there are some magnificent mid-century structures here, Desert Hot Springs does not have the same history.”
“It’s all about the Earth, and you get a sense of it just standing still, looking out across the valley floor toward Mount San Jacinto. The clouds, the wind, the mountain pass, the stars, the water swirling around you. You can watch the weather here. The air, the sun, the clouds surround. It envelopes you,” she continues.
“We are not designing so much as uncovering and framing the natural beauty. In the Oasis, we are merely shaping the natural landscape and blending with it, not transforming it.”
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Sofieya Zsadara, a Los Angeles-based interior architectural designer who specializes in modern architectural renovation and preservation, also contributed her design expertise to the Azure Palm spa resort.
“To the chagrin of our contractors, we spent many hours carefully selecting the right colors and hues for each space,” Lease recalls. “We’d look at photos together, and they were helpful in providing us perspective on what textiles, photos, paint colors, furniture, tree stumps and so on would work best.”
“In the building phases, I spent way too much time sharing specific details with everyone and how it needed to be. I believe what makes the difference in the end is not just in the grand design, but in every minor detail,” she says.
Lease also hopes guests will quickly tune into her perspective of what makes a spa resort truly luxurious. She believes that design that works in harmony with nature, naturally sourced products used in the spa menu and simple, attractive dishes crafted with locally farmed ingredients add up to the ultimate luxury experience.
“Luxury in nature is revealed by clearing away what isn’t needed, versus adding more,” Lease explains. “What could be more luxurious than sitting in a steamy mineral pool, and feeling a gentle breeze on your face on a starlit night under the gaze of snow capped Mount San Jacinto?
Desert Hot Springs’ namesake is the foundation for every Azure Palm Hot Springs treatment and service, from the hot water pools to the custom facials, scrubs, lymphatic and other indulgences on the spa resort menu. Lease explains that the viscous, silky textured water is rich with silica, which softens and moisturizes the skin and enhances the treatments.
While numerous main and trace minerals are absorbed through the skin during a dip into the hotel’s jacuzzi and pool, relaxing muscles and mind, it also doesn’t hurt that the kitchen staff is working its hardest to create healthy but delicious offerings that provide extra nourishment as well as surprise and delight. Chocolate cake made with beets and salads with fresh produce? Yes, please!
“I’m happy to say that what I call our ‘healthy and delicious’ food has been well received by both guests and residents,” says Alysa Valdez, Azure Palm’s café manager. “What we are able to do here is special because no other boutique spa resort in the city has its own café on site.”
“Because Desert Hot Springs is not known as a foodie town, it was important to us to bring a healthy, delicious café to the city, not only for guests, but for locals. Compared to other spas that have a restaurant on site, I’d say Azure Palm Café is different from many, in that we’re not trying to just feed people who stay here.”
“We see the café as an extension of the wellness experience,” she says.
While guests love the mineral water, in-room spa tubs, Himalayan Salt room, healthy-yet-flavorful food and the therapeutic spa services, Lease observes that some people can’t put their finger on what single amenity was most beneficial for them. But they know they leave feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.
“As my background is in motion pictures, creating a vision is at the backbone of story-telling and movie making, and this extends to my spa resort projects,” Lease says. “As we have gotten so far away from the simple beauty of nature, my goal is to simply let nature be our guiding star, so people can be in its silent beauty, immersed and able to relax within it.”
“All of Azure Palm’s furniture, textiles, photos, colors and accent pieces are intended to be simple and draw attention to the beauty nature has given us,” she says.