Salon Design

Turning the Tables (From Tired to Terrific)

Today’s table makers offer every extra under the sun -- but nail techs still have some ideas on how to make their workstations even better. 

My dream manicure workstation is where I can sit down, work hard, and never have to clean. I want the greatest light, plenty of elbow room, and no big mess to clean up. Next to that, I want one that will do nails for you too,” laughs Dee Holland, owner of Nails After Dark in Cedar Grove, N.J.

Until a few years ago, roomy tables with good lighting, lots of space, and ventilation were few and far between. Technicians who wanted more than the basic rollabout knew that finding a table with the features they wanted was about as likely as finding one that would do the work too.

But fortunately all that has changed. Nail technicians can now find just the right table from one of the many table manufacturers. And if they can’t find one ready-made, there are any number of custom builders who specialize in building these “dream workstations.”

“We look at the furniture in the showroom,” says Walter Siegordner, president of Salon Interiors, a salon design firm in Hackensack, N.J “If a customer doesn’t like what she sees, we find out what she does and doesn’t like so we can isolate exactly what she’s looking for.”

Technicians who have learned the hard way advise table shoppers to stop, look, and compare features. Companies will respond to customer requests and some will even modify their standard models. All are constantly introducing new designs based on input from customers.

“Perfect means different things to different people. There is no one ‘perfect’ table for every salon,” says Stuart Smith, vice president of sales for Belvedere, a salon design firm in Belvidere, III.

“What is ideal for one person will depend on the types of nail products used, the brand of product, and whether the table vented. We also need to know the type of storage needed, the size of the work surface, the height needed, lighting requirements, and what the salon retails,” he says.


Eye appeal, quality, and price are technicians and salon owners’main concerns when shopping for workstations. Price, though an important consideration, falls last on most people’s list.

Says Dottie Reiner of Kayline Enterprises, a salon furniture manufacturer in Long Beach, Calif., ‘’Budget considerations have to come after fulfilling other needs. You’ll be unhappy if you let the budget rule because you have to work at the table every day. It’s not an investment you make every week.’’

The technicians we spoke to put a large work area, abundant storage space with partitions, ventilation, display space, low-maintenance surfaces, built-in electrical outlets, and quality lighting high on their lists of desirable workstation attributes. And they want them to look a little out of the ordinary---whether an unusual shape, texture, or color.

‘’I want something that looks a little different from the norm so my business stands out in the client’s mind and to show that we’re an updated, professional salon,’’ says Sharon Parker, owner of Nail Detail in Tampa, Fla.

A good-looking station will certainly help your professional image, but having plenty of organized storage space will help you do your job better. Deep cupboards with widely spaced shelves may not be the answer if you have a lot of small items. And keep in mind that the deeper the cupboard, the farther back you have to dig for supplies.

Manufacturers recommend looking for tables with drawers, preferably partitioned to separate small items and to keep product bottles upright. If you can’t find a table you like with partitioned drawers, you can make your own partitions by using thin pieces of wood.

Cupboards should have adjustable shelves. Some cupboards can accommodate drawers, an ideal combination. And if you find that the table you want lacks sufficient storage space, you can get free-standing cabinets or rollabouts.

You should stay away from caster wheels that don’t lock. Tables with high-gloss surfaces, small work areas, impractical ventilation, and sharp table edges.

A table with caster wheels (a wheel that swivels as well as rolls, like you see on grocery carts) can be rolled around the salon, sometimes an important feature. But many technicians complain that the smallest movement can send the table flying. Wheel locks, or even small blocks, can solve this problem, but consider doing without wheels if you don’t really need a rollabout table.

Always look for a station with ample workspace. Manufacturers have responded to this need by increasing the length of their stations. Says Holland, ‘’When we first started with manicures, they made these tiny tables, which were fine because we didn’t use many products. But when nail care got bigger and we started doing more the tables didn’t get any larger.’’ You can now buy tables in many lengths---from 32 inches to 60 inches wide. Just don’t go crazy; the table needs to fit in the salon without wasting precious floor space.

Every technician we spoke to wants a larger work surface because they hate cluttered table tops. And others want their workspaces to be able to do double duty. Paula Gilmore, co-owner of Tips Nail Salon in Foster City, Calif., says her nail stations also serves as retail displays. Her customized stations are built-in pods of four, each focusing attention on a retail area in the center of the pod. All stations support point-of-purchase displays to tempt clients to buy products.

Other state-of-the-art features include rounded table edges and armpads for technicians. Those sharp edges can cut into a technician’s arms after several hours. As well, they concentrate the arm’s weight on one spot, potentially causing pain and fatigue. Rounded edges and/or pads on your side of the table won’t eliminate the pressure completely, but they can help spread it over a larger area and alleviate the cutting sensation.


There’s nothing worse than developing a sore back and a pounding headache before you’ve even digested your lunch. Hunching over the table, stretching for client’s hands, and leaning back into a rickety chair can ruin your day before the third client. But what can you do?

Poor posture may be the culprit for many nail technicians, but many physical problems can be overcome by working at the right table. Manufacturers recommend a table no deeper than 18 inches. Whatever space you lose in width, you should make up for in length. At a narrow table you don’t have to lean over as far to grasp a client’s hands.

Working at a table that’s too high or too low can compound posture problems. Short technicians complain that the standard 31-inch high tables force them to raise their arms higher than is comfortable, and tall technicians find themselves leaning over even farther.

If you need a taller or shorter table, call manufacturers and ask what they carry Rob Harnage, owner of Tech-Table Industries in Sierra Vista, Ariz., is introducing a new line of manicure workstations that are 27 inches to 29 inches tall. For the perfect fit, your best option is to contact a company that custom builds tables to your specifications. If you want a standard table that is taller than ready-made models, it should not cost much more than a regular model. However, if you add lots of custom features, you could pay thousands for that dream table. Smith says Belvedere will either design a table or modify a ready-made model to fit your needs.

The chair you use can also contribute to posture problems. Manicure chairs should have a height adjustment lever for the seat as well as angle and height adjustment for the back. Your feet should be flat on the floor and the back support should be centered on your back’s lower lumbar for maximum comfort.

‘’I suggest an air stool with a gas cylinder underneath it,’’ says Allan Eichman of Kaemark, a manufacturer in Lewisville, Texas. ‘’When you sit down it responds like a shock absorber and it comes up to appoint where it sets the chair automatically. The back of the stool should also be adjustable because everyone’s build varies and the support has to be in a given area.

‘’You should also consider a stool with a five-prong base, especially if you’re heavy, because this gives you much more support and distributes your weight over one more caster. When you lean over, the chair won’t go shooting out from under you,’’ says Eichman.


Many technicians complain that vents built right into the table’s work surface end up being covered with a towel for practical and sanitary purposes, negating any positive effect from the vent. Some tables have the vent either closer to the technician or slanted up, out of the work area.

Technicians want vented tables to remove dust, odors, and fumes from the salon environment. They don’t really care about the mechanics of the system, they just want it to work and create a safe environment.

But some technicians have unrealistic expectations, protest manufacturers. ‘’You must have a salon ventilation system as well as the vented table,’’ explains Carl Blank, owner of Continental Wood workers, a manufacturer in South El Monte, Calif. ‘’Vented tables just help remove dust and fumes. There’s not a table out there that can do the complete job.’’

Says Wayne Berman, owner of Salon Express, a manufacturer in Hollywood, Fla., ‘’It’s unrealistic to expect vented tables to remove all dust and fumes from the salon. Vents are intended to remove dust and fillings from your immediate area.

‘’Some systems do reduce odor problems, and that’s a definite bonus for you. Remember, powder is heavier than air and will drop, being pulled into the vent. Fumes are lighter than air and will rise, often never going anywhere near the vent.’’

That’s not to say vented tables are worthless. Although there have been no specific studies on the effects of breathing product dust all day, you can assume that it’s best to avoid inhaling as much as possible. Vented tables play an important part in this. However, they work best in conjunction with a salon exhaust system.

For vented tables to work optimally, they need regular maintenance. Filters should be cleaned or replaced as recommended by the manufacturer. For technicians who work seven to 10 hours a day, filter maintenance should be done once a week at least. Dust filters are often made of foam and can be rinsed once a week, air-dried, and reused. Floss filters should be replaced once a week. If the table gets heavy use or the dust or floss filter seems exceptionally dirty, clean or replace it twice a week. Charcoal filters should be replaced as recommended, usually once every week.

Some technicians work longer hours or do heavy acrylic work. Just because the manufacturer recommends cleaning or replacement once a week does not mean that the schedule is adequate. Visually check dust filters every two or three days. If they are dirty clean and air dry. At the same time, you should replace the charcoal filter.


From the top of the line to the stripped-down economy version, manufactures say manicure tables are built to last. All claim a lifespan of 10 years to 20 years with proper care and maintenance. The two most common tables on the market are plastic tables with a laminated wood work surface and laminated wood tables.

Wood tables are sturdy pieces of salon furniture that can withstand much abuse. You can probably even sit on one without hurting it. A good solid wood table could serve through your entire career, or at least 10 to 20 years.

Plastic tables tend to be more delicate (don’t try sitting on them), but they can also last 10 to 20 years. The key difference between wood and plastic tables is the amount of abuse they can withstand. While laminated wood tables are solid pieces of furniture, plastic tables are constructed from a molded plastic base with a laminated wood surface. Because the base is plastic, the tables are lighter and more delicate. They are more likely to shift when bumped and, while they easily support product and the weight of your arms, they cannot support an individual’s weight.

Plastic tables are economical, starting at $99, and come in a variety of colors to suit your salon decor.

‘’Our tables don’t pretend to be furniture. We want them to be aesthetically pleasing’ economical, and efficient for the technician,’’ says Reiner Kayline’s plastic tables have steel reinforcements in the plastic base.

Laminated tables have a laminated wooden core. The core material is either compressed wood or plywood. Plywood is less common because it’s more expensive, and compressed wood is stronger. A laminate, such as Formica, is adhered to the wood care. Laminates are very popular because they are impervious to acetone acrylics, nail glue, and other chemicals used in the salon. Just wipe up all spills with acetone and the table is left clean. Laminates are also easily sanitized.

There are few differences in durability between the different brands of laminates but the colors and textures will make your head spin. Some companies present as many as 350 colors but 120 colors seems to be the standard. There are also textured surfaces available, as well as high-gloss finishes.

Using an unusual surface texture can make your table unique. ‘’We suggest that people have a matte finish on the tabletop instead of gloss or texture. Gloss gives you glare back from the light and glue, powder, and other products stick to textured tops,’’ says Berman. If you want a glossy or textured finish, he suggests using texture or gloss everywhere except the actual work surface.


Of course, how well you care for your table will determine how long it will last. Obviously, you should clean your table daily and clean up spills as they occur. If a drop of glue misses the nail and lands on the tabletop, wipe it off with a piece of cotton and wipe the spot with acetone before your next client. Whenever you use acetone, follow behind it with a damp cloth to prevent damaging the surface.

If chemicals such as acetone get in the edges they can get under the laminate and eventually cause it to separate from the tabletop.

To clean up polish spills and other marks, use non-acetone polish remover. For general, everyday sanitizing use an approved sanitizer to wipe down the whole table. Buffing the surface with furniture polish can give laminated tables a protective coating.

The work surface on plastic tables is a laminated wood top that can be cared for in the same manner as all laminated wood tables. The plastic base, however, can be damaged by an acetone or acrylic spill. Line plastic drawers with shelf liner, and be especially careful that bottles are upright and tightly sealed.

The plastic can be cleaned with a damp cloth and glass cleaner (don’t use abrasive cleansers as they will dull the plastic’s natural shine). If you spill polish on the plastic, wipe off immediately with non-acetone remover and then wipe again with a damp cloth.

Siegordner recommends covering all worktops with a piece of glass. ‘’Cover the surface with a piece of glass so you can maintain the beauty of your table. Nail glue sticks to laminates and causes problems, especially if the surface is textured. Nail technicians try and take it off with a razor and end up scratching the laminate. When glass gets scratched you can buy a new piece for five bucks.’’

Before you shop, talk to other salon owners and technicians. Ask others what they like and don’t like about their current workstations. And trust yourself. Most technicians have used several different tables in their experience write down your likes and dislikes about each table. Put the vital features at the top of your list and carry this with you while shopping.

Salon owners have another responsibility: their technicians. ‘’Salon owners, talk to your nail technicians first and take them shopping with you. Find out what’s comfortable for them because they’re the ones working with it,’’ advises Trish Phelan, a nail technician at Panache Salon in Mount Laurel, N.J. ‘’Give them a price range and let them look and investigate what’s available with you.’’ While these technicians may not stay at your salon forever, the group’s opinion is a valid guide for shopping.

Once you’ve listed your needs and prioritized them (it’s doubtful you’ll find one table that has everything you want), talk to manufacturers. They are genuinely interested in making sure you find the right table, and all recommend looking at several different lines before making a decision.

While budget shouldn’t be your main concern, don’t go overboard and buy the deluxe model unless you’re sure that’s what you really need. You can spend as much as $14,000 for the ultimate workstation, but do you really need all the bells and whistles? Look for a table that offers all or most of your desired features without a lot of extras that aren’t important to you. Shopping for a workstation requires balancing features, quality, and eye appeal, and weighing them against the price.

Still looking for a table that does nails for you? Give them time.

Editor’s note: We asked nail technicians to describe their ‘’dream stations.’’ Their responses are throughout this article in the bubble captions.

I really like the stations that we custom-built---double pedestal stations with lots of drawer storage and locks so my technicians can lock up their desk when they leave for the day. If I changed anything, I would want it in oak. I like to be able to store everything so I don’t have to get up while I’m doing a client---Brenda Copper, Tips to Toes, Pasadena, Md.

The station would curve around me, with drawers that swing out rather than pull out so I can shut the door and they’ll all go back in place. I also want a Teflon-coated table surface so nothing sticks to it.

The ventilation system would be very versatile: I could turn it up at high speed and suck up dust, use a low speed with a charcoal filter so it filtered out toxic fumes without frosting my acrylic and causing it to cure too fast. And I’d need blowers and dampers to use it as a nail dryer as well.-Barry Katz, Spectra Nail Salon, Las Vegas, Nev.

Basically, I have a station that’s very well organized, even though there are never enough compartments. Could I have something big enough to handle all the implements and bottles without looking bulky? I would want comfortable arm pads on both sides.

Compressors and airbrushes tend to be loud so I have a compartment underneath for my compressor and a hole in the table for the airbrush to come through. My phone is right next to me for convenience. My table now accommodates three people. I can work on clients while other people stop and chat or just watch---Liz Fojon, Phenomanails of Fair lawn, Fair Lawn, N.J.

I would build a table that would suck away all the fumes and dust and include lots and lots of storage. I would really like some kind of surface that’s almost like a quartz material or granite so that nothing would stick to it, something really hard and smooth---Brenda Baker, Fingertips and Finery, Calabasas, Calif.

I think my most important thing is the chair. I want something good for the back that’s on wheels. You need a wide, soft cushioned bottom and half arms at the most---Trish Phelan, Panache, Mount Laurel, N.J.

I want as many products and tools out of the client’s sight as possible. Another important thing is plenty of room for retailing and point of purchase displays for the client. Good lighting is crucial. A vital light is closer to natural lighting and you can get a better match on the skin tone for polish colors. I would also have a built-in mini-computer terminal to input client information. That would get rid of client cards, and receipts would be waiting at the front desk when the client was finished---Paula Gilmore, Tips Nail Salon, Foster City, Calif.

I would like lights coming from the ceiling instead of the table. And I want a drawer that locks because I can’t stand leaving things out and having people borrow them---Doc Holland, Nails After Dark, Cedar Grove, N.J.

I could envision something totally modern, it would be a self-lit station. It would have a piece coming up about three feet from the center of the table that would light the exact space where I’m working. The light would have a recessed bulb and all you would have to do is flip a switch and it would know where I need light. It wouldn’t have a cumbersome arm.

And if I’m thinking 2001, I want something with a built-in polish rack that rotates colors automatically on a belt like you see at dry cleaners. And, of course, I want a ventilation system.

I want several drawers. One should be in front of me, hanging down almost in my lap to keep my tools in. And there would be cabinets on the side where I could store my private possessions.---Sharon Parker, Nail Detail, Tampa, Fla.

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