Amber Prida is known around town for her soothing day spa on MacDill Avenue. You can't miss Spa Jardin because it's nestled in two historic, tin-roofed Florida houses connected by a spacious wooden front porch.
Sleek patio furniture, bright orange cushions and a thriving front garden draw customers who come for beauty treatments as well as Prida's unique decorating style.
With its chic blend of contemporary and antique furniture, fatigued stenciled-wood floors, Balinese inspired gardens, soothing fountains, good music and blissful scents — her own aromatic blend of fresh herbs, incense and candles — the place has inspired more than one client to wish aloud they could "live" there.
Prida has also entered another arena: hosting art openings for local or regional artists.
She conceived the idea a few years ago and recently teamed up with Kathy Gibson, a respected South Tampa art consultant, for a show of established regional artists.
Gibson, the curator, said she deliberately chose art that was "more organic" for the event: "I chose a few contemporary pieces, some softer abstracts and a few crazy folk art pieces."
At a recent opening, spa patrons, serious collectors and local gallery owners mingled over wine and hors d'oeuvres and browsed the collection of art that was hung in every corner of the spa: from the facial and massage rooms to the front and back porches.
All of the art was for sale and within minutes of the show's opening, three works had already sold.
Gibson said she liked the idea of collaborating with another small business owner, as did Katie Gagnon, owner of Blue Moon Trading Co. a few doors down, who kept her hip furniture shop open late.
"We're really trying to create that small-town, community feel," Gagnon said. "We all help each other."
Most of the artwork will stay up six weeks, but a few pieces were on display for the night.
A bright painting of blue haired women dancing against a yellow backdrop was hung outside the spa's front door. ("I put it there for its color, design and happiness," Gibson said.)
A whimsical work depicting bright orange fish (also a one-night loan) was displayed in the outdoor pedicure garden coordinating with the sunny Ikea-print cushions and the spa's new koi pond.
"I think she's got a winning combination," raved Anne Nelson, who attended the event. "You feel transformed, like you're out of town. The environment really enhances the art. It's such a fabulous backdrop."
Her friend Kaisa Marshall agreed: "Amber could have had a career in design."
The idea was to transform the spa into a homelike comfort zone, says Prida, who founded Spa Jardin in 1999 and its successful cousin, Melt Out, earlier this year.
"I always try to create a little haven of escape for people, especially in a time when we're all so mentally taxed," says Prida, 38.
She learned the spa business in the Provence region of France, where she also picked up her decorating ideas.
Prida said she plans to host more art shows in the future. A serious collector herself, her South Tampa home contains a lovingly selected collection of paintings, prints and pottery from local artists.
"I always love the work of the artist I'm featuring so much that I always buy one piece. We have a house full of art. My husband always jokes about me buying more art," she says with a laugh. "This time with such a big show of five artists I don't know what I'm going to do."
Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.