The Calm After the Storm

by RONA MANN / photos by Stephanie Sittnick


They terrify.  They exhilarate.  They take away power and control.  They evoke a wide range of emotions running the gamut from paralyzing fear to complete wide-eyed awe.  They almost always breed change.  We fear them, yet we gaze in wonder upon the form that Mother Nature’s wrath can take.  And when the storm is over, there is always a sense of relief…and a sense of calm.  That calm centers us once again, reaffirming our innate ability to renew and go on.

Branford residents, Doreen and Paul Costanzo, had a dream.  They were going to buy the very popular shoreline day spa, By the Sea, and they had invested a great deal of time and effort working toward that goal.  Each had a serendipitous history with By the Sea having both worked there for a time, having met there, having strong and positive relationships with the rest of the staff.  Their dream was finally realized on October 28, 2012 when they legally closed on the property.  The storm came the very next day.

On October 29, 2012 Hurricane Sandy slammed into the coast of Connecticut.  “It came in like a whirlwind,” Doreen remembers.  “Our first four days in business we were closed.”  But like hearty New Englanders, Paul and Doreen were not deterred by wind and water; in retrospect it empowered them.

Fueled by the efforts of painters and construction workers who worked all night long, allowing the spa to stay open to clientele during the days that followed, the new By the Sea Day Spa was as pampered as the clients they served. Fresh coats of paint were applied, brightening some rooms, softening others. New wallpaper was hung.  Old accessories and accoutrements were removed; shells, seahorses, and mermaids in soft pastels now complement many of the 13 treatment rooms.  The lighting was redone on the first floor, thus opening up and illuminating the waiting areas and gift shop.  All in all an ambitious effort for this building that dates back to 1825 and for the new owners who wanted to put their mark on the house without losing its charm.  That’s why they very wisely kept the original wood floors which are completely restored and magnificent. “We kept the  history and charm of the house, but gave it a kind of seaside beach cottage vibe,” Doreen says proudly.  She constantly refers to By the Sea Day Spa as “the house” because as she explains, “it’s a place where people feel they are coming home when they come here.”

Under Doreen’s direction and complemented by the tireless efforts of her contractor, painters, and workers, the day spa was as beautified, buffed, and polished as its clientele in less than two months following the storm.  Now there was a newly restored sense of calm; and although the day spa had been open for business throughout the work process, it was time to throw open the doors and let people know that By the Sea Day Spa was open for business under new ownership, but with the same professional services, caring, and satisfaction its clientele had always come to enjoy.

What had been four floors was now compressed to just two.  “That way older clients don’t have to walk up four flights of stairs for a service,” Doreen says wisely.  The first floor features a large reception and gift shop area that offers more than just organic spa products and soy candles.  “I’m finding people are coming here just to buy a hostess gift,” Doreen adds.  Adjacent to this area is what technically one might call a “waiting room,” but you’ve never seen a waiting room like this!  With a working fireplace, comfortable furniture, tea, coffee, bottled water, and savory snacks throughout, one might wish to stay here a whole lot longer, but the day spa holds firm to the tenent of punctuality.  Your time is YOUR time.  They respect that completely and ask their clients to do the same.

The word “pamper” seems hollow here.  This staff does more than merely pamper; they treat each client as though they were the most important person in the world, whether they are there for a one hour service or the whole day.  “We want to make this experience a vacation by the sea for everyone,” Doreen says with a firm sense of purpose.  And that vacation can take whatever form their clients desire.

By the Sea boasts seven massage rooms, including two Couples Rooms, so a couple can relax together in a beautiful  private space with soft music playing while they receive their massages.  “And that couple does not have to be husband and wife or boyfriend and girlfriend,” Doreen points out.  “They could be sisters or maybe a mother and daughter bonding while being massaged.”  There are also four beautifully appointed and comfortable rooms for facials and a special space downstairs for waxing.  Upstairs those who love the special pampering that only a manicure and/or pedicure can bring will find themselves in a well lit space featuring three nail tables and five pedicure stations.

“We have one couple who comes to By the Sea every month.  They each have a manicure and a pedicure, and they bring their own wine and wine glasses along.  Sometimes they have fruit and cheese, and they just sit and relax and talk to each other.  It’s their date night, and we love it.   That’s what we’re about.”

Paul, a former massage therapist in his own right, proudly mentions that By the Sea is the largest day spa in New Haven county.  With 13 treatment rooms and a staff of more than 35 dedicated professionals, many of whom have been  here since 1998, the day spa is more than a destination…it is a venerable part of what relaxation and rejuvenation are all about on the Connecticut shoreline.

“If you can see it, smell it, or touch it, I do it,” Doreen says proudly, alluding to her penchant for design and decoration.  “If it’s numbers, facts, figures, Paul does it.  He’s so talented in that area.  He does everything I can’t.” It makes for a good partnership, not to mention a good marriage of both personalities and talents.

Storms take different forms.  We often think a storm is associated with violence…that of a hurricane, tornado, or raging blizzard.  But storms can be internal as well.  They can be the result of the pressures, strains, and stresses of everyday living.  And just like the weather-related ones, these storms can take their toll on people, bringing with it poor health, sleeplessness, and tension.  That’s why Paul and Doreen Costanzo wanted to purchase By the Sea.  It’s why they put sweat equity into this beloved 1825 structure.  It’s why the colors for the rooms were carefully chosen, why the music blends to enrich  the experience, why the professional staff is carefully managed; and most of all, it’s why they call it not “the business,” nor “the spa,” but “home.”

At the end of every storm, whether meteorological or personal, comes the desire to go home to the security of your own space, your own sense of calm.  Come home to By the Sea Day Spa…find your peace.

By the Sea Day Spa is at 107 Montowese Street, just off the green in Branford.

(860) 483-3333

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