WeWork for the mindful set
A new spa for finding your chi, or your next business idea
By Becca Tucker
We’ve been hiding, said Kim Gabelmann. No PR blitz accompanied the grand opening of Gabelmann’s magnum opus, Conscious Habitat, a month earlier. She simply opened her doors and put up a website. She was sort of surprised when people started trickling in, asking, “Is this the infrared place?”
Infrared saunas, Gabelmann has to explain to me because I have no idea, are all over the place in Manhattan, where people book half-hour “sweat sessions” like they used to order a latte. The room doesn’t get as hot as a regular sauna, but you’re leaning against the sensors and they penetrate three and a half times deeper, which is how you sweat out your toxins.
I take off my shoes and follow Gabelmann through a curtain into the surprisingly spacious blue-green main room — the “habitat room” — with cushioned alcoves where you can nap and a giant nest chair where you can also nap. That must be my id talking, but who can blame it? From the soft chanting music to the Himalayan salt lamps, this place is lovingly designed for finding your chi, realigning your chakras and yes, closing the curtains and taking a nap. The mascot is a sloth.
“That quiet time is when you can design what you want your life to look like,” said Gabelmann. “The main goal was always to create a place to slow down. When I first had the concept it was for stressed out rat race New Yorkers” to come do multi-day retreats — like the ones that had kept Gabelmann sane the years she spent bouncing back and forth between New York and L.A. as a high octane salesperson.
Gabelmann perches on a couch with her Chihuahua, Clark, next to a burbling fountain, and I plop onto the nest chair. She points out the reclaimed wood beams. This is the meditation and workshop room, the lounge for folks who’ve bought day passes to the spa, and the party spot. It’s already been reserved for an office holiday party, a baby shower and Gabelmann’s own “birthday mingle.” She and a few friends have also been known to end up back in the eucalyptus steam room after a night on the town.
She and an employee talk about the good day they’re having, how they’re feeling “abundance,” they’ve had some “aha moments.” I laugh. Gabelmann translates. Now they’re ready, she said, to “shout it out to the world: This is what we have!”
Locals know Gabelmann as the owner of Conscious Fork, the vegan restaurant on Warwick’s Railroad Ave. That was how Gabelmann had gotten used to seeing herself too, until the two storefronts adjacent to the Fork opened up.
“I kept going, who’s gonna move in there, who’s gonna move in there?” she said. Then it hit her: it was finally time for Conscious Habitat. The Habitat was actually the original idea, but it had morphed into Conscious Fork after Gabelmann, a vegetarian, moved to Warwick in 2011 and “couldn’t find anything to eat.”
“And honestly, it was too vast an idea,” she said of that overnight retreat concept. “I wasn’t up here yet, I didn’t know anyone yet.”
As the restaurant became more independent, Gabelmann started looking for her next thing. She opened a pop-up store on the corner of Railroad Ave. in the winter of 2014 — now the location of Fannie’s, a restaurant in which she’s a partner. She vended at music festivals. She opened a second Conscious Fork location in Maplewood, N.J., but that proved to be a distraction and she declined to renew the lease. She started working on a lifestyle book (which is still on the back burner).
The Habitat idea started stirring again last winter. “I vision-boarded this whole thing in my house,” she said. It would be a day version of her original overnight retreat concept. Now that she’d brought juicing and vegan food to Warwick, she was ready to zoom out and help frenetic, million-mile-an-hour people “get their wheel balanced.”
Achieving life balance, she explains, is even more essential than eating well. “Your primary food is your relationship, your career, spirituality, and physical activity, and your secondary food is actually what you put in your mouth in terms of nutrition,” said Gabelmann, who’s a certified holistic health counselor. “So if you eat meticulously every day but yet you hate what you do for a living or you’re in a horrible relationship or something, you’re going to be totally out of balance.”
With the money from selling her house in March, she started paying rent on the 2,500 square feet of new space in July. Now she had her crew in place to turn the concept into reality. Joe Eubanks, who built the inside of Conscious Fork, is her carpenter. Joe Irace, her significant other, happens to be a gifted architect. Kim’s mom, Claire Gabelmann, did most of the interior painting and sewed the alcove cushions.
Local art is on the walls and in the gift shop, alongside sloth socks and mindfulness cards for kids. Friends who’ve come by to see the new place have enjoyed giving Gabelmann a hard time: it’s like Disney World, the tour’s over and you’re back in the gift shop!
The soft opening was on election day. “It happened pretty quick,” said Gabelmann, “and the reason is it’s always been here. I do feel like I birthed this. It’s been waiting to come out.” People have been finding the place, booking infrared saunas and massages, especially the CBD massages — which use cannabidiol oil. Gabelmann has plans to source her own oil from a farmer who grows hemp locally.
As usual, Gabelmann has no shortage of ideas. Entrepreneurs can, for instance, book her as a consultant to help them design the life and the business they want. “I want this to be a community hub, almost like a WeWork for wellness people, where they can come and if they don’t have a space they can do their stuff here in all different ways.” Programming is ramping up. Coming up is a kids’ yoga class, a reiki evening for opening chakras and a one-day Ayurvedic retreat.
What is Ayurveda exactly? Another way to look at your wellness by eating for the seasons, explains Gabelmann. For instance, “I have a lot of fire. I should be having more cooling foods, yet,” she shrugs, “I’m drawn to putting hot sauce on everything.”
Gabelmann shows me to the “lymphatic lounge,” designed to move your lymphatic system, or “unclog the drains.” Conscious Habitat is half about detox and half about slowing down. This room belongs in the former category. It’s got a mini trampoline and a pair of contraptions that gently rock your legs back and forth while you lie on your back. Twenty minutes of that, said Gabelmann, is the equivalent of walking three-and-a-half miles in terms of what it does for moving your lymphatic system and oxygenating your blood. “Because we are a slow sloth den, this is the level of exercise that goes on in here,” she laughs.
Gabelmann is a businessperson. She’s confident that she’ll turn Habitat into a profitable enterprise – she sees it becoming a regional destination, perhaps part of a “wellness trail” akin to the wine trail. But that’s not her driving force.
“I’m literally just giving me to everybody,” she said. “To me, that is what sustainability is, when you can figure out how you want to spend your time, what you would be doing even if you weren’t doing it for a job, and you’re helping others with your services.”
She’s renting an apartment right upstairs and has no interest in owning another house. Her life is as simple as it’s ever been. “Now I have a home base, I have an office, I just have a center to operate from,” she said. “Railroad Avenue. You’re always going to know where to find me. This block.”