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At spa, it's like being home -- only better

NEWTON -- For more than 25 years Jane Aransky operated a successful skin-care business in Newton. Her clients included high-powered professionals who were always in a rush, but who craved a place to slow down, unwind, and be taken care of.

Aransky tried to oblige by making her salon as much of a refuge from the world as she could, offering her clients an hour or two of quiet music, soft sheets, and a relaxing facial that lengthened her list of loyalists. But it took a two-year sabbatical in Mallorca to confirm her belief about the key to creating a nurturing and soothing environment: Make it feel like a home.

Now, at the age of 61, Aransky is fulfilling a longtime dream by opening a new salon in, what else, a house, incorporating a lifetime of lessons about creating a restorative sanctuary that can be applied to anyone's home.

She's poured more than $250,000 into the renovation of a rundown 1825 clapboard house in Newton Upper Falls to create La Residencia, which takes its name from an elegant spa and hotel in Deia, a mountain village overlooking the Mediterranean in Spain.

Aransky transformed the airy house

into a cozy retreat with warm sage walls, a stone floor, overstuffed furnishings, and rich fabrics. Although the tools of her trade -- tweezers, a steamer, a magnifying lamp -- are in plain view, there is nothing sterile about the place. Everywhere you look there is a personal touch, such as one of Aransky's own art deco prints, or a collection of crystals, that makes La Residencia feel familiar and homey. "When you're in a beautiful place, you feel beautiful," says Aransky, who has a degree in counseling.

Aransky put her business on hold during her sojourn to Spain in 1988, but never stopped thinking of the salon of her dreams. In Deia she was taken with the unpretentiousness of the two 16th- and 17th-century stone-and-stucco houses that La Residencia occupied, and how it belied the luxury, charm, and attention to detail on the inside.

"When I saw La Residencia, I knew I could have my salon anywhere," she says, noting that an impressive neighborhood or ritzy zip code would be irrelevant if she could turn a real home into the salon she envisioned. "In Spain, every house looked the same on the outside, and you were always surprised by what was inside."

Back in the States, it took more than 10 years to find the house she had in mind, and when she did, she had a lot of work to do before it could house her business.

In 2001, Aransky and her husband, Peter, who works in commercial finance, paid $435,000 for a property consisting of two dilapidated houses. They live in the front house, and the salon is at the rear. Aransky says the hodgepodge of homes and businesses that create the village feel in this unpretentious area of Newton fit perfectly with her vision.

After a seemingly endless round of approval processes with the city so that she could use her historic home as a business, Aransky worked with an architect and builder to renovate the salon, and add a new kitchen and cathedral ceiling. Then she brought in Regina Reis of Regency Interiors in Wakefield to help express Aransky's personality in the salon.

All the while, Aransky and her staff of estheticians and massage therapists continued to run Jane Aransky's Skin Care Salon, which she had opened on Walnut Street in Newton after returning from Spain in 1990.

One of their first decisions was to scrap the original plan of dark-stained wood floors and radiators in favor of radiant heat. "With clients walking around in bathrobes and slippers, you need heat coming up from the floor," Reis says.

Reis and Aransky met weekly, hitting antique stores, salvage shops, antique stores, and Home Goods. They also raided Aransky's home for furniture and art that would convey warmth and familiarity and would also make Aransky feel at home. A vanity, prints, and some personal photographs of Aransky's were incorporated into the decor.

Aransky believes that the sensual aspects of the salon are just as important as the decorative ones. Cellphones aren't allowed in La Residencia and the salon's own phone sounds like birds chirping and not a shrill ring. Instrumental music plays softly in the background. Magazines no more mentally taxing than "Marie Clare" and "People" are on the coffee table for a reason. "I don't have Time magazine. I want people to be relaxed," Aransky says. There are hard candies and nuts ("Didn't your grandmother always have things like hard candies and nuts?") and clients are offered sparkling water, lemonade, and tea. Lavender, rosemary, and sage oils that are used in massage linger in the air.

The 1,600-square-foot, two-story house, which Aransky suspects was once a barn, was open and spacious, but it lacked warmth and focus. "It looked like a Swiss ski chalet," says Reis. Reis and Aransky found a fireplace at Restoration Resources in the South End that gave the main floor a focal point and contributed to the feelings of warmth and hominess. Aransky embellished it with an iron gate and has displayed her collection of crystals and candles by the hearth. Another find was the Palladian window on the stair landing that was salvaged from a Boston brownstone. They embellished it with window treatments, then hung it like a picture over a much smaller window that lets light through. They found a wrought-iron railing that adds to the "Old World" feeling of the salon.

Aransky thinks the nostalgia aroused by these architectural details help create the peacefulness she was so eager to achieve in La Residencia. "Antiques, and things that just look antique, bring on a feeling of groundedness," she says.

Each of the four treatment rooms has a personality, with soft lights and lush fabrics. The first-floor treatment room is quiet, with dark, heavy fabrics on the window and treatment bed. There's an art deco vanity and mirror and a Max Parrish print on the wall. Reis spray-painted a large mahogany chest belonging to Aransky, cut a hole in the top, and had a tempered glass sink set on top. Upstairs, the treatment rooms are more elegant and lighter, with fringed velour bedcovers and sconces. Aransky's office is also upstairs and features a delicate writing table, overstuffed chairs, antique lamps, and a copper sink.

Now that her skin-care salon is completed, Aransky is looking to spend more time on her other passion, counseling. Since earning her degree from Cambridge College in 1992, she has offered both group and one-on-one counseling at various times. She says her passion for skin care and interest in psychology go hand-in-hand.

"I've been doing this long enough to know that beauty is only skin deep," she says. "My most beautiful clients are really passionate about life and happy on the inside."

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