Salon Design

Small Challenges, Big Design Ideas

Nail technicians work in all types of spaces, from the home- based, one-table salon to the upscale day spa, and everything in between. No matter what type of salon you own or work in, there is always room for design improvement.

“My salon just doesn’t have enough space.” “My clients are practically on top of other clients.” “I want to offer my clients a wider variety of services.” “If only my salon had more of a spa-like feel to it.”

If you have ever found yourself saying any of these things, you are not alone. Nails-only salons (and multi-service salons as well) often have a small square footage combined with a high volume of traffic. Salon owners and nail technicians across the country work in all types of spaces, from the home- based, one-table salon to the upscale day spa, and everything in between. No matter what type of salon you own or work in, there is always room for design improvement. And sometimes all you need is a little guidance.


Taking four common design challenges, we talked to experts in the salon furnishings and design field to get their ideas on some basic solutions.

Walter Siegordner is president of Salon Interiors (S. Hackensack, N.J.), which he founded in 1978. The company designs and manufactures stock and custom salon furnishings and fixtures, from one piece to a complete roll-out

Caren Thornburgh, president of Certified Spa International (Ipswich, Mass.), has over 20 years of experience in the spa industry including design, marketing, management education, and training. Her company offers everything from preliminary design to program development.

Jonathan Pugh and Cherel Losin, interior designers at Salon & Spa Design Studio, a division of The Nailco Group (Farmington Hills, Mich,), bnng different backgrounds to the mix. Pugh’s background in commercial and residential design lends a different perspective to salon design, while Losin is a licensed nail technician and former salon owner herself Their company offers complete salon and spa design and remodelling, including custom furniture and accessories.

Rick Golden, president of TenSalon Development Co Inc. (Lanham, Md)), spent over 20 years as a salon owner; and the past 10 years specializing in comprehensive salon and day spa design, development, and door.

Eric Ryant, executive vice president of Salon Depot (Pompano Beach, Fla.), has a degree in marketing and has been a licensed general contractor since 1988. The company’s six locations offer design and space planning, as well as furniture design and installation.

Space Planning 101

The first common design challenge is making the most out of a small space. Many salon owners are faced with this challenge. With a few minor changes, cluttered salons can be reorganized to create a more comfortable environment for clients and staff members alike. Let’s see how our experts advise approaching the challenge shown on page 82.

Golden: The challenge is for you to be able to get the optimum amount of nail technicians comfortably into your designated salon work area without feeling too cramped or making the stations so tightly positioned that they become “unworkable.” There are several key elements to keep in mind here. Nail bars are permanently fixed and not on wheels, allowing for a more exact use of tighter space. Nail stations that can move often become askew, taking up more overall space. If you do choose to use individual nail stations, use smaller, more work-efficient furnishings. A 39- inch table is usually ideal. The small 30- inch tables don’t allow enough space for the nail technician, while the large 48- inch to 60-inch tables waste unnecessary space in a small nail salon.

Second, consider vertical space planning for retail, storage, and merchandising areas in order to keep more open space within the salon, and to allow for more individual workspace. Vertical displays eliminate table clutter, extend your available work areas, and keep central floor areas cleaner and clutter-free. You can also use vertical retail and storage areas to visually separate each table area, adding a limited degree of privacy.

Also keep in mind that if you effectively use mirrors, light colours, lights, and decorative walls, you can create the illusion of more space.

And don’t forget that small areas need proper ventilation systems. Poor ventilation is a health hazard, especially in small salons and small work areas.

Pugh: I have just recently started designing salons and spas, but the problems dealing with small areas and high traffic patterns are the same in both applications. When people are confronted with a small space, they tend to think that everything has to be shoved into a corner or up against a wall, or, as we see in the given example, put in a straight line. If we put the nail table on a slight angle, matching the table nearest the window, the space would look cleaner and it would make more sense to the eye. It would also help to achieve a feeling of privacy for each of the customers.

Losin: In this business, space is money. In a small space that offers limited services, wasted space is lost revenue. In dealing with limited floor space, such as this, the salon owner should look at every piece of equipment and furniture and ask herself, “How is this increasing my profits?” A more efficient use of this space would be to reduce the length of each nail table. The individual polish racks are also wasting valuable space. An improved design might be to arrange the tables diagonally on an angle off the mirrored wall. One option would be to replace the mirror with a ledge approximately 46 inches above the floor to display retail and for placement of air purifiers. Nail polish that is used on clients could be wall mounted just below the ledge at about 40 inches.

Thornburgh: It is always a challenge to provide a pleasant ambiance and still have enough space to fit in the operation necessities. The first step is to have a direct focus on what type of services you are offering and design around the function. For example, you want to keep your nail stations clear of clutter and unnecessary items. One thing you may want to do is have a central polish station where your clients pick their polish and bring it to the nail technician. This reduces space requirements at the nail stations themselves and allows for more of a pleasant atmosphere. In terms of your retail area, I recommend keeping it close to the front desk or check-in area. Remember retail can be 50%-75% of your total revenue, so don’t skimp on this space or hide it in a corner.

Having enough storage space is a common problem that is usually overlooked in the initial design phase, and this is the one case where moreis better. What tends to happen is that more and more items are stored out in the open or at the actual workstation and the staff becomes immune to the appearance of all the clutter. I suggest going through your salon weekly or monthly with fresh eyes and look at what your guests are seeing. Another good idea is to hire a professional shopper to critique your salon.

Personal Space Planning

The second common design challenge deals with the issue of personal space. This challenge is illustrated by clusters of nail tables that are too close together, as well as the rows of nail tables seen in salons everywhere (see picture above). Clients don’t want to feel like they are sitting on top of one another, and nail technicians need enough room to be safe and comfortable. Putting up dividers is one example of how you can enhance the privacy for your clients.

Ryant: Personal space can be very critical in a salon. Many shops look cluttered because nail tables have too many products lying on top or underneath the table. When there is poor design or you have outgrown your salon, nail tables tend to get clumped together. If this is happening in your salon, there are some options. First, build lockers in the back room for storage and personal items. If nail tables are aligned on the wall, design a cabinet to fit on the wall for extra storage.

Losin: Personal space for both the client and the nail professional is definitely a challenge, especially when non-functional space is lost revenue. Ideally, the combined space for the nail technician to work in, and the client to comfortably sit in, is eight square feet. Realistically, most nail salons cannot afford to allot this much floor space to each nail tech. Salon owners should consider setting up their nail techs using unique angles. By simply placing tables on an angle or some other geometric configuration, it breaks up the monotony of the “assembly line” salon look

Pugh: In this example, there is yet another common misconception that designers deal with every day. Many people believe that if they want to make a room look less cluttered they should leave the room open, paint the walls white, and line the furniture up against the wall. One way to address this challenge is that there needs to be some sort of separation between each of the nail tables. When you walk in a room like this, the eye sees a jumble of tables and an array of chairs. By putting in a decorative glass partition between each of the stations, or even something as simple as a panel of coordinating fabric from the ceiling, the room would look more organized and most likely take on a more high-end look and feel. This would also create a private environment for clients.

Siegordner: To create more privacy, you can hang something from the ceiling, such as a piece of etched glass, to separate the different stations. Another option includes building a taller, vertical polish rack that would shield clients from other clients. And don’t forget that if you don’t have much to spend, tall plants also work well to provide a barrier.

A Touch of Serenity

The third design challenge (see picture above) addresses the idea of creating a “spa-like” atmosphere. We asked the experts to provide us with ways to enhance ambiance, as well as give advice to salon owners who want to add spa services to their menu.

Siegordner: You have to start by going back to facts and figures. By determining what each area in your salon is generating, you will be able to determine whether adding spa services will be worth your while. How much money are you going to generate from a good, multi-purpose room? It will most likely take up the same area as two manicure stations. So you need to look at what the combined revenue is on those two tables. If you add a new “spa” service in that area, will you be able to make up the money that was lost when you got rid of the nail tables? You also need to ask yourself if you can find a person to perform the services that you are thinking about adding, as well as whether you can afford the equipment that needs to go in this area. Once you determine if you can get as much business in that room as you currently are getting doing nails, you need to plan on marketing that new service and that also costs money.

And you have to remember that the idea behind a spa is to create a serene atmosphere. You should build a wall that would keep everyday salon noise out of this room. You could also create white noise by using a different sound system in the spa rooms than you use in the salon.

Losin: To create a spa-like atmosphere, the salon owner really needs to look at his or her salon through the eyes of the client. Even though the salon owner’s objective is to create more revenue, while adding the convenience of more services for the customer, she has to be careful not to compromise the personal space issue or overall ambiance. The spa service being offered should never appear to be an afterthought, like a pedicure unit in a tiny closet, or a facial room that lacks plumbing or complete solitude. A well-designed spa space plan should gently flow from one service area to the next. I’ve seen many salons/spas that are cluttered up and have a “maze- like” layout. From the moment a customer enters your spa, what determines if she returns is as much about how it makes her feel before the service as after.

Golden: Design, decor, lighting, and other creative illusionary design elements will give any salon location a spa-like atmosphere with a luxurious ambiance. Low-key lighting can make clients relax. Decor and unique finishing touches add spa elegance. To turn a simple salon into an elegant spa, use beautifully designed, work-efficient equipment and furnishings. Add decorative touches such as wall paintings, flowers, and columns. And don’t forget to control sounds while providing relaxing spa-like music.

Thornburgh: “When you think of the actual word “spa” and where it came from, it is not hard to imagine recreating this image and ambiance on a smaller scale. One element of the origin of spa is water. I suggest you incorporate some form of water into your design. This could be a table-top waterfall or the sound of water on the sound system. Lighting is also a very important element in creating a spa-like atmosphere. Never use fluorescent lighting. If at all possible, it is ideal to use as much natural light as possible. I suggest using adjustable lighting to add to the atmosphere. Whatever your design challenges are in your particular space, always try to appeal to all of the senses when creating a spa-like atmosphere.

The following examples are a good way to get started. Sight — select adjustable lighting use colours and textured fabrics. Smell—provide proper ventilation and use aromatherapy diffusers for natural fragrance. Sound — incorporate water into your concept as well as pleasant, relaxing music. Taste — provide a complementary cup of tea or other beverage. Touch—this is a natural.


The issue of wiring is another obstacle that you, as the salon owner or nail technician, have to deal with. It is as much a safety issue as it is an aesthetic one. No one wants to look at a tangled mess of wires, and no one wants to trip over them either. But inevitably, nail salons have many cords—for lamps, drills, dryers, and fans — and the salon needs to be set up so that they don’t create a safety hazard. (See photo on page 88.)

Ryant: Location of electrical outlets in a salon is very critical. Many operations have wires running all over the floor because outlets are located in the wrong spot A way to solve this problem is to buy a nail table that is prewired so that just one cord runs from the table to the wall. Outlets are located on the table and the cords are aligned next to the nail tech.

Golden: If you are without a prewired table, you can purchase decorative wire chases that can be attached over the wires along the baseboards. It is important to get a professional electrician involved before you use too many extension cords. Have your electrician, builder, or construction team watch for electric restrictions, building codes, and fire hazards. It is wise to properly install more than enough electricity with individual circuit breakers for each table or every two tables. Avoid wiring that runs across any floor walkway; since, it’s a safety hazard.

Losin: A salon owner should never pinch pennies where electricity or wiring is concerned. In the long-run, it is better to use a licensed electrician when addressing these issues. It is good for the salon owner to be informed from the beginning about the building and fire codes specific to her state. In some cases, a power strip with a surge protector is a safe way to turn one outlet into several, and get the danger of many cords out of the main walkway. Sometimes an electrician can install what is referred to as a wire mold/power strip on the wall at chair height near the nail tables. Again, consult a licensed electrician to do this. He will also be able to tell you if your salon’s existing electrical circuitry is sufficient.

Let There Be Light

Jonathan Pugh, an interior designer at Salon & Spa Design Studio, a division of The Nailco Group (Farmington Hills, Mich.), adds a few notes on lighting, “In general, lighting is one of the most important issues that a salon owner can face. Unfortunately, lighting is often one of the last pieces of a project that is looked at People will spend thousands of dollars on a certain look but they will turn around and spec cheap fluorescent lighting throughout the whole space. Most people do not realize the level of sophistication that lighting in general has come to. There are fluorescent lights that are colour corrected to closely imitate the colour of natural sunlight track lighting has advanced leaps and bounds from just four years ago, and accent lighting can make or break a salon or spa’s total look and feel.

“It is worth the money to hire a designer to look at your lighting needs and help you create a well-lighted environment that suits your budget and the look you are trying to achieve. Along with sophistication comes complication, Lighting should be the responsibility of a trained designer who deals with lighting everyday They will know what is on the market and what will work best in your given environment. It is worth every penny in the long run.

“My favourite way of dealing with lighting is bringing it down from the ceiling. This way you can have a beautiful pendant light come down from the ceiling and look good while being functional The important thing to remember is that once the lighting is in place, unless it is on a track the nail tables cannot be moved, or else they will be out of the direct light source. This can be a drawback but it also forces the tables to stay where they were designed, keeping the room neat and organized.

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