I’m sitting inside the womb, eyes closed, as an overly pleasant voice slowly guides me towards what should be some level of serenity. This is meditation class at Inscape, a new luxury space for reflection in New York City’s Flatiron District, a mental fitness studio or sorts. While I should be at peace and obliviousness of my surroundings, it’s hard not to take a peek every once in awhile.
According to the founder, the vibe at Inscape “is somewhere between 4th century monasteries, the mood in the temple at Burning Man, and the feeling you get when you look at the infinite horizon line.” This new 5,000-square-foot boutique meditation center, which has its own conspicuous gift shop at the entrance, represents a more luxe, mainstream approach to meditation, which has become a burgeoning trend in an era of increased digital distraction. Between apps, employer-sponsored mindfulness classes, and an embrace by the tech sector, meditation and mindfulness has become a billion-dollar industry.
How does Inscape reflect this approachable-yet-luxury take on an ancient practice? And what’s the best way to approach designing a space where most of the occupants will spend the bulk of their time inside with their eyes closed?
Inscape, which opened late last year, is the brainchild of CEO and founder Khajak Keledjian, who made a fortune building the fashion brand Intermix and selling it to Gap in 2013 for $130 million. Like many tales of 21st century spiritualism, Keledjian’s journey to meditation and Inscape included an epiphany at Burning Man.
He had begun practicing meditation about a decade ago, after being challenged by a friend to sit still for 15 minutes. He said it took him five months to find a place that was quiet enough to escape the always-on city. He felt that, “I wasn't controlling my brain, my brain was controlling me,” and slowly incorporated meditation into his daily routine.
But it wasn’t until he sold his company, got married, and then took a trip to the desert festival in 2013 that he had an epiphany. After a reflective moment inside the Burning Man temple made him wonder, “why aren’t there more places like this to have a similar experience?” he started contemplating the business side of bringing meditation to the masses.
The journey to Inscape was fully realized later that November, after the festival, when he traveled to Armenia to be with his sick father. The process of being among ancient monasteries, unplugged and without digital distractions, was instructive, showing him the power of a well-designed, reflective space.
“It’s immersive,” he said, “what you smell, feel and hear. For me, that was a ‘wow”’ feeling. Again, I was thinking, ‘how can I bring this feeling to New York?’”
When Keledjian returned to the states to begin formulating the idea of Inscape, he reached out to Dutch-America architect Winka Dubbeldam, founder of the firm Archi-Tectonics, for guidance. He was looking for suggestions, but her own personal embrace of meditation—she has practiced since her ‘20s—led her to take on the project and work collaboratively with him to complete the design. Keledjian says she was very sensitive to the interplay between aesthetics and meditation.
“Working with someone who authentically understands not only the design you’re imagining, but its essence, is invaluable,” he says.
The studio’s space, which opened in November, is subdivided into a pair of noise-resistant, surround-sound rooms, as well as quiet spaces, community areas and a retail section. Shades of white and subtle curves dominate. Keledjian wanted the space to reflect sensory touch points and and accessibility, making it simple and unobtrusive to navigate, and more importantly, approachable to those unfamiliar with the practice.
Meditation sessions take place in the Dome—a less cluttered, more “pure” space—and the Alcove—which features rotating art exhibitions—both created for immersive, sensory experiences. Sculpted into an ellipsoid (the “shape of the first cell”), the Dome exudes an infinite feeling, says Keledjian, thanks to the integration of a horizon line, via a low ring of lights in the spiraling bamboo ceiling that looks like a fashionable yurt. During class, as entrants take positions on specially designed seating, perhaps grabbing a blanket, facilitators help everyone prepare for the recorded journey.
The room is as enveloping as you’d want a soundproof space near the clamorous Manhattan streets to be, with a signature scent wafting throughout the room, colored light shining through the sail cloth ceiling, dimming down as the session progresses, and the steady, soothing (recorded) voice of a meditation guide wafting through the speaker system.
“The space thus holds the guests in a warm embrace that makes one feel relaxed and comfortable,” says Dubbeldam.
She envisioned the studios as immersive light and sound environments. The entire Inscape space, from the natural linen seating, floating ceiling lights, natural bamboo shelves, and curved walls, subtly envelops visitors (natural materials absorb humidity and filtered air and aromatherapy provide an additional sensory comfort). As the subtle sound of soft gongs throughout suggests, the studio aims to provide “a moment of respite in a busy city.”
Inscape doesn’t follow any particular lineage of meditation practices, but rather, looks to the common, available techniques to create what Keledjian describes as a platform; the studio features focus, mantra, visualization and mindfulness sessions, plus relaxation experiences for resting and resetting, while the accompanying app also adds sleep experiences and quick breathers to make meditation available throughout the day. It’s not about a “to-do,” he says, but rather something to look forward to, a journey to enjoy.
“Our goal right now to perfect what we’ve created,” he says. “Between Lew Frankfort, my business partner who built Coach, and I, we have a lot of knowledge between us.”
But, spoken like a true spiritual entrepreneur, Keledjian is also focused on the business horizon. “We’re mindful with expansion thoughts,” he adds.