The New Year is a potent reminder of society's obsession with self-improvement. Surrounding the non-stop enrichment pursuit of our bodies, minds, relationships, and careers? An ecosystem preoccupied with the new and improved. Everytime we turn on a device, we get reminded there's an update or an upgrade available. Products from tobacco to toilet paper promise new flavor, improved absorption, and dare we say new and improved flavor absorption? Change is a welcome part of life, yes, but we do sometimes find ourselves scratching our heads at improvement efforts that never really seemed necessary.
Every now and again, though, there are improvements that accomplish an unusual and elusive duality. Improvements where nothing has changed, yet everything has. Enter Two Bunch Palms, a sustainable wellness destination sitting atop one of the country's purest aquifers in California's Desert Hot Springs. Already a profoundly healing and aesthetically soothing destination—revamped a handful of years back on a site that has hosted bathers for many decades—the new Two Bunch boasts more pools, stylish therapy rooms that feel as rightfully placed as the mountains in surround, and expanded lounge areas to escape the day to day grind and that endless pressure to improve.
At the center of the Two Bunch expansion is wellness entrepreneur, Erica Chang. Alongside her family, who purchased the historic property in 2016, Chang has not only spearheaded the expansion, but sprinkled a millenial-minded je ne sais quoi across its culinary program, low-key cool guest experience, art direction that faced numerous challenges, and uber-contemporary therapy offerings (your humble narrator was left in something of a detoxified mind-melt courtesy a TMJ-tackling CBD massage, for instance).
Chang recognizes, of course, that in the course of this unequivocal period, the world has flipped something of a crazy 180. But she also recognizes that wellness has climbed and climbed atop our personal priorities, and Two Bunch is here to aid in the pursuit. That it's healing powers channel from ancient geothermal activity thousands of feet below the earth's surface? Well, it can't hurt.
Enjoy here a conversation with Chang as the world embraces 2022—come what may!
Amongst the numerous health benefits of soaking in the unique waters at Two Bunch, which one do you feel most resonates with you?
The water at Two Bunch is unique primarily due to its lithium content. There are some interesting studies out there about how lithium can help to decrease stress and regulate your mood on a cognitive level, and it’s commonly known that lithium can be used to treat mood disorders such as bipolar disorder. It’s pretty neat to think that you’re soaking in a pool of water that may quite literally be therapeutic for your brain.
What is something you've learned about yourself in the process of bringing the new Two Bunch to life that you didn't know previously?
With Two Bunch specifically, we had a lot of guests who had been coming to the property for years, if not decades. And we had to be mindful of that from the start. We wanted to reimagine what a "wellness resort” could be by introducing new concepts and designing new areas, all while paying homage to the “old” Two Bunch.
Some of the regulars at Two Bunch were thrilled with the changes and others were not. We realized quickly that you can’t please everyone and it’s not necessarily a good thing to compromise when you’re trying to create something. On the upside, we did end up attracting a lot of new guests who were happy to experience our version of a contemporary wellness escape.
What sort of challenges did you face with landscaping the property? Either recently or during the last remodel?
Tamarisk trees. At some point a long time ago, an owner planted hundreds of tamarisk trees throughout the property. Tamarisk trees are great because they provide a lot of shade and are an excellent barrier for wind. But other than that, they are absolutely horrible for the native environment. Tamarisk is an invasive species that leeches water and deposits salt into the soil, killing anything else that grows in its vicinity. A lot of our landscaping efforts have actually been focused on removing tamarisk, remediating the soil and planting native plants. We’ve probably removed about 60 enormous tamarisk trees from the property.
Have you observed an increased curiosity in wellness and eco retreats since the commence of the pandemic? How so?
Yes. At the start, we definitely saw a spike in business due to the restrictions around air travel. But as the year continued, we welcomed a lot of new guests. 2020 was obviously a grueling year and I think the idea of a wellness escape, in the midst of a lot of nature, two hours from LA probably sounded really appealing to a lot of people.
Over the last two years, our demographic has shifted so that a majority of our guests are under the age of 40 and our largest demographic are millennials. I like to think there is a significant overlap in the world of wellness and the world of sustainability. And having grown up in that generation, I believe more and more millennials are informing their travel experiences with those tenets in mind.
Where have you sought inspiration for the design and aesthetic choices at the resort?
Two Bunch posed a tricky design problem from the start. Because it had passed through so many hands, there was a blend of 1940s stone cottages, pseudo mid-century buildings, palapa huts, and an inexplicably Moroccan-themed compound amongst many more odds and ends.
We either had to demolish everything to create a uniform aesthetic (not a real option), or lean into the eccentric nature of the property. During the renovations, we focused on retrofitting and editing exterior details to make them more contemporary. The interiors have a slightly vintage edge but are largely paired back due to the fact that there is so much going on with the property already. Studio MAI, our interior designers, did an amazing job tying the whole aesthetic together.
How about the new spa treatments?
The new spa treatment rooms were meant to feel contemporary and to allude to the concrete pools and concrete details we dotted around the property in previous renovations. As the landscape has grown more and more lush throughout the years, the buildings have started to disappear into the background, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think the property really instills a sense of discovery, which is nice.
What are you most looking forward to at Two Bunch?
2021 marked our last year of renovations and construction. We’ve been working on the project in phases over the last five years and I am very excited to finally have a “normal” year exclusively focusing on the operations and potential of the property.