One of the most striking qualities when arriving at Shou Sugi Ban House is its seamless connection to the environment. In and around the property, natural elements in combination with minimal design embody a Japanese influence. The use of cedar and reclaimed wood, the purposeful landscaping and winding walking paths, and gentle water fountains made from existing rocks on site, allow you to deeply immerse yourself with the healing properties of the natural world — despite being only a stone’s throw off Montauk Highway.
Neighboring The Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill — in a space that once housed a Balianese furniture store — this wellness hotel has developed into one of the most distinctive places to stay on the East End.
Shou Sugi Ban House was bought in 2015 by co-founders Amy Cherry-Abitbol and Kathleen Kapnick. After a successful law career at firms in both the United States and Japan, Cherry-Abitbol attended a program at Harvard Business School in 2014 for women seeking to change careers. This experience inspired her to combine her interests in health, wellness and design and create Shou Sugi Ban House. She teamed up with her longtime friend Kapnick, a plant medicine and beauty enthusiast.
“The idea from the inception of the project was to create an environment and programming which would bring people back to a simple appreciation for their natural surroundings,” said Cherry-Abitbol. “I wanted to create a place that allows for quiet contemplation and introspection while simultaneously fostering human connection.”
Over the course of four years, an all woman executive/creative team transformed the property into what it is today: A luxurious but laid-back wellness retreat offering a spa, healing arts, movement classes and culinary experience. Your stay might focus on fitness and movement, meditation and yoga, a nutrition consultation and juicing workshop, sound and energy healing, tea tasting and beach walks, or local excursions. Or it might include a sampling of each of these.
“We believe that a stay at Shou Sugi Ban House can be a transformative journey for some and a healing, relaxing experience for others,” Cherry-Abitbol explained. “We hope our guests find that when they are here, they are able to be more present and experience a more intuitive and harmonious connection with nature and their surroundings.”
The transformation of the space began with a land clearing in order to honor the native grounds and a crystal burying along the perimeter of the property. Some time into construction, Cherry-Abitbol discovered the main barn caught in flames — the result of an electrical fire. Distraught and in a standstill, she looked to spiritual guides to help her through the damage.
A shaman came to visit the property and they discussed the healing properties of fire and its ability to transform. This led to the name of the property, derived from a Japanese technique of charring wood in order to preserve, waterproof and render it more resilient. Once the facility opened, monks from a local monastery, The Long Island Buddhist Meditation Center, came to the property to perform a proper blessing.
In the beginning, the idea was to offer retreats of three, five, or seven day stays. This year, due to COVID-19, the programmed retreats have been put on the back burner and the property is now welcoming guests for individual overnight and day visits.
In advance of arrival, the guest services team coordinates closely with guests to learn what their intentions are and customize an itinerary. The Custom Stay is an overnight retreat, including daily breakfast and a daily morning movement class. This format allows guests to relax as much or as little as you wish. If you are interested, you can add a la carte treatments, activities, meals and workshops to your itinerary, or choose to simply rest and read a book from the facility’s library in the indoor or outdoor lounge areas.
If you’re popping in for a break but not staying overnight, you choose a Custom Day Ritual: These could include a massage and body wrap followed by lunch; a shamanic session with a healer and a yoga class and tea tasting; a one-on-one nutritional consultation and a tennis lesson; or a facial and a massage followed by a sound bath with the resident “sound healer.”
During this pandemic year, the healing arts have become more popular and many people visit to experience a private sound bath or shaman ritual. The facility matches each client with a shaman who has the training and approach to suit their situation. Depending upon what the client is looking to address — habits that no longer serve them, creative blocks, loss, transition, transformation — they might be offered a mix of ceremonies, energy clearings, crystal grids and blessings. Just last weekend, Cherry-Abitbol said, a family had a shaman led healing session in the newly built Geodesic Dome.
With a goal of sustainability, Shou Sugi Ban House takes advantage of the abundance of resources the East End has to offer: only local flora lines the property and food is sourced from their own garden or Long Island farmers. Water, so integral to eastern Long Island, is paramount. Each studio room comes with its own soaking tub (with daily 6pm delivery of bathing tincture) and the majority of spa treatments are centered around water-extensive hydrotherapy facilities, plunge pools, and watsu therapy (a form of aquatic bodywork used for deep relaxation). All the water — for drinking and bathing — is filtered.
As your body walks down pebbled paths, through wabi sabi inspired landscaping, in and out of light clad barns, with the song of quartz bowls and the dark timbre of the gong filling the air, you have no choice but to sink into a relaxed state. At Shou Sugi Ban house, you are nestled between 27 and the train tracks, protected in a unique healing container, part of a place Long Island has never seen before.