Part school, church, spa, inn and monastery, Big Sur's famed Esalen Institute was set up in the 1960s, built by hand by the people who lived, worked and studied there. Since its inception over 50 years ago, those in search of spiritual healing have been making the pilgrimage to this Pacific coastline spot where they can benefit from Esalen’s rich programme of lectures, workshops and healing arts.
Set against a backdrop of ocean panorama and rugged cliffs, Esalen’s courses teach everything from painting to gestalt therapy (introduced to Esalen in 1964 by Fritz Perls), while its twenty-seven acres house a bookshop, farm, art centre, kitchen, cafe, outdoor massage deck and of course the legendary cliff-side ‘clothing optional’ hot springs.
Now, the first part of a much-needed three-year renovation project has been unveiled, that includes refreshed accommodation options designed by Carissa Duncan of Carmel-based interiors firm Salt+Bones. ‘There is a real handmade, artisan quality to the structure, and it was very important to maintain that quality and feel in our new design for the space,’ says Duncan. ‘We focused on an earth toned color palette and an array of textures to engage the senses.’
As well as updating ten standard rooms in the Maslow & Watts buildings with modern comforts, Duncan was also tasked with breathing new life back into the spectacular semi-circular Fritz House. Built into the cliff edge overlooking the baths, the Fritz House was constructed in the 1960s from locally harvested old growth redwood and beautiful hand hewn stone, all of which needed to be sanded and refinished. In the bedrooms, redwood salvaged from the property has been used to build out headboards with integrated LED lights to provide a warm candlelight-like glow on the walls in the evenings.
‘Souls seek out Esalen to learn and to grow; the idea being not that they leave "complete" or "fixed", but more importantly that they have transformed in their ability to appreciate and embrace their imperfection, see the beauty in it, and continue to learn and grow,’ explains Duncan. ‘The spaces that we refurbished and restored are a physical reflection of this philosophy.’