Along with husband Keith Bui, salon owner Pauline Mai opened Polished Lounge seven years ago in the up-and-coming SoMa district of San Francisco after leaving a job in consulting.
Polished Lounge is decorated with an extensive collection of antique furniture and artwork. Its yellow wallpaper, warm lighting, and oversized chairs make the salon especially relaxing for clients.
Salons are anything but new to Pauline Mai, whose mother worked in the nail industry for many years. But when she quit her job as a consultant and opened one of her own, it was still a risk. She and her co-owner/husband Keith Bui wanted to break the stereotype of affordable treatments equaling impersonal service, so they started by hiring a staff of welcoming personalities. “We know every single customer’s name. We’re the ‘Cheers’ of nail salons,” she says. They also urge their staff to take their time and give each client personal attention. The mani/pedi space — one big room in the center of the salon — is filled with oversized lounge chairs to sink into, each one separated by a curtain.
Polished Lounge is filled with layers upon layers of design. The walls are painted in two-toned yellow stripes, and strung about them are paintings, streamers, and lamps. Mai and Bui are also antique furniture collectors and have integrated some of their prized possessions into the bohemian-chic decor. But from year to year, Polished Lounge never stays quite the same. “I want the decor to be an evolving hodgepodge,” says Mai. “I add new things constantly and customers love it.” The couple recently opened a tea room next door called DarTealing Lounge, which nail clients will soon be able to order from while receiving services.
The salon’s core philosophy is to have clients establish a grooming routine. And Mai and her nail techs are well-versed in nail health. “Clients can come here to escape for an hour, but they won’t just get fluff,” says Mai. “They’ll understand how to best take care of their nails.” Mai and Bui have always believed in natural nails and even experimented with vegan polishes before they became a common option in salons. Additionally, Polished doesn’t offer acrylic nails, but recently added gels and gel-polish to its menu.
> Polished Lounge uses an antique wine storage cabinet to display its polishes.
> Because of Polished Lounge’s unique decor, people have tried to quote prices on some of the items, thinking the salon also functions as an antique furniture store.
> Polished Lounge is a phone-free zone, per its clients’ request. To accommodate, Mai hung up dainty framed signs as a reminder.
> Rather than setting up shop in an established location, Mai and Bui chose SoMa (South of Market Street) because the rent was affordable and they liked the landlord. SoMa has been growing in popularity and trendiness since then, quite to their surprise.
My cousin Dana Edelman (left) and I (center) pose with Polished Lounge co-owner Pauline Mai.
Bon Bon Pedicure: $55
Lavender Therapy Pedicure: $50
Go Express Mani/Pedi: $33
Paraffin hands/feet: $10/$15
Nail design: $3 per finger/toe
Polish: Zoya, OPI, Essie, Soulstice, SpaRitual
Mani/Pedi Products: Essie Spa products, Gena, and in-house blends