The evolution of Cowshed, from Babington House and beyond

babington house
The evolution of CowshedCourtesy of Babington House

An old cowshed in rural Somerset might seem an unlikely place for a luxury spa, but 25 years ago it became an integral part of the now iconic Babington House, the first Soho House club to open outside of London.

Rewind to 1998: “I wanted to build a relaxed home-from-home space in the countryside for our members; something different to the traditional country house hotel experience,” Nick Jones – founder of Soho House & Co, a private members club group as renowned as it is sprawling – tells me. “I wanted guests to have a full English breakfast at four o’clock in the afternoon if they wanted it, and offer a menu where ingredients came from our own walled garden. Cowshed was a natural extension of all this – members wanted to relax when they got to Babington, so a spa made sense and we created Cowshed taking inspiration and ingredients from the grounds around the House.”

babington house
Courtesy of Babington House

A retreat within a retreat, the spa became a wellbeing extension of the clubs’ signature sociable hospitality for guests. Think, nails accompanied by a coffee and paper, or a facial followed by fizz with friends: here there was never any doubt that wellness and hedonism could happily coexist.

Today there are eight global Cowshed spas, in addition to the five in the UK (the others being a standalone in Primrose Hill, London, and those located within the capital's Shoreditch House, Oxfordshire's Soho Farmhouse and Cornwall's St Moritz Hotel). They’re such a hit, Jones feels, given they reflect the values of the Houses cohesively. “We designed Cowshed spas to be a warm, relaxing, comforting space – nothing that was overly-clinical or taking itself too seriously. If you want to have a glass of champagne while you have a treatment, then you can. Our team members and therapists play a hugely important part in this; they are extremely knowledgeable and friendly, able to quickly figure out what a guest wants from their spa experience, and of course giving them a fantastic treatment.”

The discernible Cowshed products are central to the spa’s success, too. When Cowshed was born at Babington, the bathroom and spa products on the market weren’t what Jones wanted to offer members, so they experimented with their own. “Our therapists would concoct masks and balms and a local perfumer helped us develop the range into what it is today,” he explains. “While Cowshed is now stocked in all of our Houses and Spas, we have always stayed true to our Babington roots and used nature’s finest ingredients to create a product that puts emphasis on how you feel.” A fragrant feat of a line-up, the good-vibe products centre on essential oils intended to deliver therapeutic benefits – ones that guests wanted to take home. “Demand soon spread beyond members and so the natural next step was to make Cowshed available to buy in our spas, on and with select retailers, making it accessible to more people. We are delighted that 25 years on there is still just as much love for Cowshed as there was when we started.”

cowshed evolution
Courtesy of Cowshed

Once cheekier, the brand (as is true of the spa) “has grown up with our members,” Jones admits. “When we launched Cowshed, our range had a playful twist, with names like Wild Cow, Knackered Cow, Moody Cow and so on – no matter how you were feeling, Cowshed would have something to help pep you up. But behind the playful names, we’ve always taken what we produce very seriously: a commitment to natural, uplifting ingredients, recyclable packaging and non-eco-toxic products.” A brand refresh in 2019, tweaking product identity, “gave us an opportunity to be more simplistic in how we talk about our eight moods using more modern names such as Sleep, Active and Relax”. All convey the benefits their ingredients provide, he explains.

When it comes to treatments, they aren’t prescriptive, Cat Wigmore, the company's head of health and wellness tells me. “Our treatments are truly unique to each guest,” the therapists determining what you need from your treatment and providing a bespoke service accordingly. “Relaxation is key, whether that’s through detoxification techniques and a herbal tea, or a pedicure and foot massage with a glass of cold champagne or a brownie – whatever way you can expect to leave feeling zen.”

It's the latter treatment that Wigmore herself would first opt for off-duty. “There is something about a Cowshed Pedicure which feels like pure luxury,” she shares, and having had a few myself over my time as a beauty journalist, I wholeheartedly concur. “I challenge anyone to walk into a Cowshed Spa, and not be wowed by our manicure and pedicure space,” she says noting how the super-sized armchairs are instantly synonymous with the brand, “and sitting in them feels like you’re sinking into a Cowshed cuddle”. Beyond this, with expert attention to detail, therapists “remove every trace of dry skin, transform tired feet and nourish your skin”.

Taking things full circle, to celebrate 25 years of Cowshed they have launched the Babington Botanical Facial, using Cowshed products and botanicals sourced directly from the walled garden at Babington House. “Building on our existing facials, this treatment includes a soothing mask while you indulge in complete relaxation with a scalp, hand or foot massage. The rosemary, sage and lavender used leave behind a protective barrier which fights against free radicals long after your treatment comes to an end.” Also marking the big birthday, a limited-edition Babington House Hamper groups together the most popular Cowshed products “which collectively help to bring the House and Spa experience home with you,” Wigmore says. Including eight 300ml products, the brand's cool coffee table book ‘Morning Noon Night’ and coveted cocooning House Robe, it takes the home-from-home ethos literally, allowing you to access some Babington county calm wherever you are.

babington house cowshed
Courtesy of Babington House

You Might Also Like