Willow Urban Retreat by Melanie Beynon and Megan Hounslow

  • When combining the notions of ‘sanctuary’ and ‘self-care’ — our first thought is an exotic escape abroad. But what if taking this extra time out for yourself didn’t involve leaving the city? That’s exactly the thinking behind the Willow Urban Retreat in Armadale, part of a movement towards the more accessible kind of relaxing rendezvous. Drawing on ancient beliefs and practices, Architect Melanie beynon and Interior Architect Megan Hounslow of Meme Design have created a wellbeing destination of simplicity, silence and solace. Welcome to the art of living well.

    DESIGN Meme Design | PHOTOGRAPHY Sharyn Cairns

    The Willow Urban Retreat was born out of a drive to nurture the mind, body and soul of the busy and time poor. Founder Sharon Bassat had a vision: to make wellbeing a priority, that didn’t require too much time or planning. Meme Design were called upon to bring this concept to life in a wholefoods cafe, movement and meditation studio, day spa and a detox facility. The design team describe the amalgamation as a way “to transcend one from the chaos of city stressors”, by advocating human wellness and connection. And just by looking at images of the interior, we’re overcome with calm.

    Meme Design thought long and hard about what this holistic experience looks like and how it can be created. Entering the retreat, the exterior facade combines two fully restored, double-storey heritage buildings. To address the darkness common to Victorian era buildings, skylights were introduced overhead. Archways and cylinder-like walkways encourage this flow, for a “spatial language of soft, seamless curves at meeting points between wall, floor and ceiling”; also nodding to building’s original features. While promoting smooth transitions between spaces, Meme Design was careful not to have the overlapping spaces interfere with the soothing of the senses. In technical terms, this meant advanced air purification systems, acoustic treatments and low toxicity building materials.

    Meme Design also dissected how the quality of air, temperature, noise and light affect our experience of space. For the design firm, the “alchemy of water, earth, metal and wood evoke a connection to nature” removing clutter from the mind, invoking a “heightened sense of space, repose and silence”. Meme Design purposely kept materials to a minimum, sticking to natural, ethically sourced materials, stone and woven fibres. To envelope the Wabi Sabi essence, the walls and floors are hand-rendered in a micro cement render by SurfaceEx. For a softer feeling between the toes, Halcyon Lake rugs rest on the concrete, alongside the raw and warming force of In the Sac linen. The reception and cafe pack a punch with the sumptuous Persian green onyx from Corsi Nicolai.

    If, like us, you’ve got your eye on the custom cement stools in the courtyard or the concrete cafe counter, these are the result of Meme’s endeavour to work with local makers. In this instance it was Sculptor Maddie Sharrock, who collaborated with Meme Design to lead the making of the hand poured, pigmented cement bar. Artful pendant lighting by Christopher Boots further hints at this bespoke sense of luxury.

    Willow Urban Retreat is the exemplar of how design can actively influence human health. Thanks to the stellar team at Meme Design, Melbourne has been blessed with an inner-city oasis, where you can centre yourself — any day of the week.

    ‘Our process explored how design can actively contribute to human health, performance and well-being by integrating advanced air purification systems, acoustic treatments and low toxicity building materials to encourage restoration, support and advocate human wellness for a truly wholistic experience.’

    — Meme Design

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