Pluses: Design-It-Yourself

It’s all about you. No one knows you — your likes and dislikes, your personality, and the environment you want to work in — as well as you do. The finished design will truly be a reflection of your personality.

Money, money, money. All the money that would have gone toward design fees will be spent instead on furnishings, paint, and other supplies. Plus, you can scour thrift shops and outlets yourself for great deals on decor.

Complete control. It’s hard to transfer the thoughts in your head to a designer. Design it yourself and you’ll never have to let the project out of your hands.

A great story. You’ll have earned major bragging rights. Share your design mishaps and successes with clients and other salon owners. And, walk in every day and remind yourself, “I created this.”

Pluses: Hiring a Pro

Education and experience. You’ll be working with someone who spends virtually all day, every day, designing interiors. Professional designers have the education, training, license and expertise in the design industry — and may specialize in salon design. They’ll also have a portfolio of their completed designs, which will give you a virtual tour of other salons and give you faith in your chosen designer’s abilities.

Play by the rules. Designers are educated and trained in space planning, material and finish selections, lighting, construction documents, ergonomics of furniture and equipment design, flooring, electrical, plumbing, ceiling and lighting plans, codes, and other important specifics in designing an interior.

Another set of eyes. You’ll get a professional’s point of view on your ideas. They’ll know in advance if your layout will work or if your ideas are unrealistic.

Stay trendy. Professional designers also keep up with trends in new materials and design.

Minuses: Design-It-Yourself

Rules and regulations. You probably don’t know much about complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the number of fire exits required, and other building codes. This can cause problems when you try to get your certificate of occupancy, so you can officially open your salon.

Too much stuff. A salon design project is a lot to take on. All the questions that arise will have to be answered by you. If you hire any contractors or painters to help out, you’ll be the one to tell them what to do.

Spacing obstacles. You’ll be using trial and error to figure out where and how many manicure and pedicure stations you can fit inside your salon. The finished layout may be less space-efficient than a professional’s layout would have been.

Oops. You’re going to make mistakes, whether it’s using materials that won’t work, taking longer than is necessary to open, or having to constantly re-arrange your furnishings until the spacing works.

Minuses: Hiring a Pro

Price of a professional. You’ll most likely have to pay a design fee for a professional design firm or be required to purchase your equipment from them.

Miscommunication. The designer you hire might not get your idea. They could create a cookie-cutter salon that looks like every other salon on the block.

Middleman. You’ll be going through an intermediary to create your vision, which may be more time-consuming and frustrating.

Misunderstanding. If go with a design firm that doesn’t specialize in salons/spas, you might find they don’t completely understand your needs.

Questions From the Pros
Once you hire a professional designer, be prepared to answer these questions:

  • Have you already signed the lease?
  • What’s the square footage of the space?
  • What’s your budget?
  • Are you also working with an architect?
  • How many stations (manicure and pedicure) do you want to fit?
  • What kind of clientele do you want to attract?
  • What kind of theme do you want?
  • What is your intent for the overall look and feel?
  • What are your favorite colors? What colors do you hate?
  • What equipment do you love? What equipment do you hate?
  • What’s your time frame to open?
  • Is this a remodel or a new salon?
  • Questions For Do-It Yourselfers
    Once you’ve decided to design your salon yourself, here are some questions that will inevitably come up:

  • How will the finished design be received by my clients?
  • Where will I place everything (pedicure thrones, manicure stations, and the like)? And, will I be able to move it around later if I don’t like it?
  • In addition to the big-picture design, what are the little touches (like artwork) that I’ll need to make my salon have a great environment?
  • Will the lighting be OK as it is, or, how do I need to upgrade it?
  • What will I do with the flooring?
  • How will the plumbing be set up for the pedicure units?
  • Will the HVAC (heating-ventilation-air conditioning) system be OK as it is? (It may have been fine for the space’s previous use, but will the AC be strong enough when your salon is filled with techs and clients?)
  • What are the pertinent facts in my city’s building codes?


    Case Study 1: Going Pro
    Takara Belmont’s Leslie McGwire talks about creating the homey and inviting Cal-A-Vie in Vista, Calif.

    When discussing design aspects of Cal-a-Vie, Leslie McGwire, region manager in Takara Belmont’s Laguna Hills, Calif., office, uses the words “residential, homey, relaxing, comfortable…but classy.” Hand-painted cabinetry, natural-wood flooring, and original masonry helped maintain the personality of the original building in which the spa is situated. “Owner John Haven was meticulous. He wanted everything perfect, which, to me, is always a sign that a person is really passionate about their salon or spa,” McGwire says.

    Haven wanted plenty of distance between each pedicure throne. “Personal space is important and plays a huge role in a client’s satisfaction. We had a room available, so we took advantage of it,” McGwire says.

    The VIP room was designed for clients seeking a more personal experience. Storage is plentiful to avoid unnecessary traffic to and from the room. Custom-painted cabinetry and unique hardware, plentiful crown molding, and a central chandelier all add up to create a classy experience.

    Chairs and custom vanities were chosen to blend beautifully with the warm tones and hand-rubbed Venetian style wall treatments that can be seen from room to room.

    Case Study 2: Doing It Yourself
    Michelle Phoenix talks about her experience designing Wet Paint Nail Spa in Cambridge, Mass.

    My aunt, who’s an interior designer, offered to help me design Wet Paint, but I really wasn’t able to make my vision clear to her. She kept coming up with all sorts of design motifs I didn’t want. Finally, I just decided I’d do it myself.

    I’m really energetic, so I thought I’d design it with my favorite colors. A trip to Mexico really inspired me. In Mexico, they put any color they want anywhere, and it looks so wonderful. I thought, “I can do that.” The space is one long room, and the first three-quarters have bright, sunshine-yellow walls. The back quarter is spring green. The molding at the base of the walls is royal blue. The window and door frames are fuchsia. I furnished the salon with residential pieces, like squishy, comfy living room chairs that clients sit on for pedicures.

    The finishwork was what really stumped me. Once all the major design elements were complete, I panicked because I realized there was so much more to do. I called my mom in for help. She helped me pick out the artwork, the decorative items for the tables, and all the other little details that finished the space.

    It took me a good month and a half to design Wet Paint. I wound up spending one-third of my overall budget on the design. Would I do it again? Absolutely.

    Going with the Pros
    If you’ve decided to hire a design professional to create your salon, here’s a list of design firms who specialize in salon and spa design to get you started. For a complete list, check out

    Belvedere USA Corp.
    (800) 435-5491
    Price Range: design service fee is taken as a deposit toward your equipment purchase; if you purchase your equipment from Belvedere, there’s no additional design fee. Otherwise, $1,000 floor plan; $2,000 working drawings; and $2,000 color and material selections.

    The Nailco Group
    (800) 362-6245
    Price Range: $250 - $1,000 (depending on square footage); plus, the cost for all furniture and salon equipment

    Salon Designers International
    (800) 887-2566
    Price Range: A $1,500 potentially refundable deposit; if you buy your furniture from the company, the $1,500 will go toward the furniture; otherwise, it covers your design fee.

    Takara Belmont
    (800) 526-3847
    Price Range: $1/sq. ft. for a basic floor plan

    Check to see what design services your local distributor offers.

    DIY? Where to Buy
    Straight from the mouths of salon owners who have successfully designed their own spaces, this list gives you a few ideas of where you can start shopping.

    Container Store

    Economy Hardware

    Home Depot



    Rooms To Go


    Tuesday Morning


    Antique Stores
    Go to to find antique stores in your city.

    Ask your family and friends if you can raid their houses for extra furnishings they no longer use.

    Used-Furniture Shops & Thrift Shops
    Go to to find local used-furniture stores and thrift shops. You’ll want to steam clean purchases before using them.

    Neighboring Salons
    Sure their stuff probably won’t be for sale, but you should visit as many other salons as you can for inspiration.

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