Iconic among the spiritual-seeker set- who flock to the retreat for its renowned workshops- Esalen Institute’s accommodations remained unchanged since the swinging 60’s until this past autumn, when interior designer firm Salt + Bones updated select rustic and historic buildings using a light, respectful touch befitting of the stunning property’s significance. After years of transition, controversy- and a search for its own identity- Esalen is banking on its outward changes to provide a transformation that is more than just skin deep. The 54-year-old retreat center and intentional community- one of the oldest nonprofits in the country and the largest employers in Big Sur- is also close to completing its entire lodge, part of a $20.5 million renovation project, which includes the remodel of its bookstore, front office, staff housing and Huxley meeting room. It’s funded through both donor and borrowed funds along with money from the institute’s accrued reserves.
In its heyday, it was the pioneer in the self-help movement- a haven for artists and philosophical types open to yoga, massage, meditation and the search for self understanding. The project has been in the works for more than 10 years, all while the nonprofit has endured controversial staff changes and an effort to maintain its relevance long after the New Age culture has gone mainstream. Like the rest of the world, Esalen has struggled to adapt and establish a new identity in the Digital Age. While the 60’s was very much centered around the edges of psychology and personal growth as well as racial issues, the ‘70s and ‘80s focused on the mind-body connection. Now, there is a lot of emphasis placed on the complex demands put upon today’s leaders in philanthropy and business alike. There are no more isolated problems. It’s about seekers serving seekers and how the institute will function in its new physical skin that integrates and honors its iconic past while moving into the future. Due to landslides from the extreme weather in Big Sur this past winter, Esalen had to close for four months and will be reopening in June …perfect timing for a dip in those famous cliffside hot tubs. www.esalen.orgTags: Architecture, Big Sur, Design, Esalen Institute, Health and Wellness, Travel