Asthetíque Creates an Elevated Experience for iO Beauty Gallery in Moscow
In the fall of 2019, interior construction was about to begin on iO Beauty Gallery, an upscale salon and spa in one of Moscow’s wealthiest residential neighborhoods, when its founder had a change of heart. She ditched the existing scheme—drawn up by a local firm, it was crammed with the kind of glitzy gold fixtures and ostentatious furnishings that have long populated Russian luxury design stereotypes—and instead hired Asthetíque, a New York studio she’d just discovered on Instagram. “When the client saw our work, she knew we would understand that the space didn’t need a lot of rich, gold things, but something simple, elegant, and modern,” firm founder and partner Alina Pimkina reports. “Times have changed. Now the people in Moscow who have money travel the world. They aren’t scared of minimalism.”
Pimkina, who was born in Russia, and her American co-founder and partner Julien Albertini agreed to take over the project, trading all the bling for a more of-the-moment design that fit their own definition of luxury: investing in materiality and functionality in order to create an elevated experience for customers. In the case of iO, that meant sparing no expense to ensure that the spa would be as calming and soothing as possible—a true place of escape from Moscow’s notoriously harrowing pace. “We wanted to create a magical space that would feel like a haven for busy women,” Albertini says. “When you go inside, you enter a different world,” Pimkina adds.
The 3,500-square-foot spa occupies two floors in a new Neoclassical-style building, its stone-and-brick facade awash with columns, porticoes, and large mullioned windows. One of Asthetíque’s first ideas for turning the raw space into a relaxing, cocoonlike environment was to introduce curvaceous elements that channel the female form. This strategy is most evident in the wavy walls behind the reception desk and surrounding the second-floor waiting area. Built from drywall and plaster, these undulating architectural features, which took more than a month to construct, achieve the twin goals of adding visual softness and helping with spatial flow. Reception’s rippling backdrop finds echo in the curves of the oak front desk, a custom Asthetíque design, like much of the project’s furniture, while the billowing envelope of the upstairs waiting area is matched by the sensuous, upholstered curves of the center banquette. “You feel like the spaces are hugging you, because everything is so soft and smooth,” Pimkina says.
That feeling is consistent throughout iO’s other spaces, which include waiting, hairstyling, and makeup areas on the largely open ground floor; and private rooms for manicures, pedicures, facials, and other treatments on the more-enclosed second level. The designers unify them all by coating almost all flooring, walls, and ceilings with micro cement, a durable resin-and-cement composite finish that resembles raw concrete. But by tinting the material with muted green, blush, and beige pigments, they have created matte surfaces that look almost like velvet. Each room is monochrome from top to bottom, and all the overhead track lighting systems are recessed into the ceiling to lessen the amount of extraneous visual information. Secondary materials—boucle upholstery fabrics, oak window shutters, tambour-style oak paneling, textile hangings—have all been chosen for their warmth and tactility.
Pimkina and Albertini also took inspiration from nature to enhance the feeling that iO is a respite from big-city life. They commissioned French artist Stéphanie Marin to create a translucent textile installation—an airy assemblage that mimics a cluster of puffy cumulus clouds—to hang above the upstairs waiting-area banquette. For the same space downstairs, they set a velvet-upholstered sofa in front of a grove of olive trees—“a Mediterranean touch,” Pimkina notes. A group of frosted-glass pendant fixtures overhead evokes rain while the cast-concrete coffee table in front has an indented bowl filled with sand and Brazilian quartz crystals. “While waiting, customers get a feeling of healing power,” Albertini explains.
Those details underscore the fact that, unlike the spa’s original scheme, Asthetíque’s cannot be characterized as specifically Russian. It’s a more contemporary, universally appealing response to the global phenomenon of high-achieving women seeking life balance by turning to wellness and self-care. But at the same time, the designers have taken pains to infuse iO’s interior with its own instantly recognizable visual identity, most conspicuously by embossing, debossing, or painting the
micro-cement walls with a galaxy of Henri Matisse–like motifs—leaves, female nudes, stars, planets—and studding the upstairs floor with inlaid brass “iO” logos. “The original concept was over-the-top and more-is-more, but it wasn’t calming or particularly unique,” Albertini says. “Now, there are unusual shapes, one-of-a-kind lighting, and hieroglyphic-style art. It’s minimal, but memorable.”
Ilya Mozgunov; Anna Lutaeva; Denis Kleimenov; Igor Khrupin: Asthetíque.
Product Sources: Studio Ardo: Custom Tile Mural (Treatment Room), Wall Tile (Powder Room 2). Sfera Decora: Custom Pendant Fixture (Reception). Takara Belmont: Salon Chairs (Shampoo Station, Treatment Room). Omniton: Custom Terrazzo Vanity (Powder Room 1). Fima Carlo Frattini: Sink Fittings (Powder Rooms). Smarin: Custom Textile Installation (Upstairs WaitIng Area). Salini: Sink (Powder Room 2). Throughout: P.S People: Custom Furniture. Dream Light: Lighting. Outstaff Cement: Micro Cement.