Building a nail salon from the ground up takes more than just painting four walls and moving in the work tables. You must plan where each piece of furniture will go and how much room it will need. Each state has its own rules on how much square footage is needed per nail technician. In Texas, for instance, a minimum of 150 square feet is required for the first nail technician, and 100 square feet for each additional station. There are building codes in every state concerning ventilation, wiring, and overall construction; they are too numerous to cover fully in this article. Your contractor and landlord are familiar with codes and should be making sure they are being satisfied. (However, you are ultimately responsible if anything isn’t up-to-code.).

Your immediate job is to determine what Steven Schweer, a designer with Salon Interiors in Hackensack, N.J., calls “flow.” Flow is how people will walk in, out, and around your salon. Much depends on the number of nail stations in the salon and what type of services are offered. For example, is there room for awaiting area? If not, where will clients sit if they are early for an appointment, or for drying their nails? Lynne Pereux solved this by creating a 10- by 10-foot sitting area within a 15-by 15-foot room. The owner of The Nail Fetish Salon in Nashua, N.H., says the area is small, but cozy. “I grouped the furniture around a fireplace,” she says. “There’s a coffee area, a place to remove polish, and a drying area, all in one room.” The more services that are offered, the more space and separation you need. Tanning beds, facials, pedicures, body-wrapping, and other personal services usually require areas that are set apart from the nail area.

A larger facility doesn’t always mean an easier fit, warns Sehweer. “You not only have to consider total area, but also shape,” he says. “How long and how wide is the room? It makes a big difference in the kinds of tables that will fit.” He recently designed a salon with four stations coming off a center hub; the design used 20%- less space than standalone tables. Jamarowicz, on the other hand, worked around an awkward octagonal room by placing the nail stations against the walls next to windows, keeping the central area open. Think about practical things wheal designing your space, such as table width and room for clients and nail technicians to get in and out of their chairs. Think also about the intangibles, such as balance (are the nail stations crammed into one corner?) and psychological space (is one table too near a door or in the pathway of client traffic?). Sometimes a small room appears larger simply by placing the tables at an angle; the walkways are wider at the angle, and so the entire walkway seems more open.

Proportion is key in a small space, says Peni Wilson, a designer with Interspec, a commercial design firm in Del Mar. Calif. Overstuffed chairs and huge floral arrangements look good in a grand hotel lobby — they look ungainly in a one-room nail salon. For comfort without cumbersome, why not use smaller chairs with padded seat covers? Fresh flowers in small vases scattered throughout the salon add charm without taking away the “eye” space.

“You want a room when the client’s eye isn’t stopped by anything,” Wilson explains. “Using tile in the entryway with carpet everywhere else, or using high-contrast colors, breaks up space and makes the room appear smaller.”

A Place For Everything

Building furniture and fixtures into the room is a great way to conserve space. That’s how Brenda Sweat solved a few of her space problems in her home-based salon. Sweat’s salon. Nails by Brenda in San Jose, Calif., is in a spare bedroom measuring 120 square feet. Sweat invested in a custom-made desk that fits flush against the wall for maximum work surface. The table has an extra “comer” so a second client can dry her nails or remove polish. She also converted an ordinary closet into a recessed shelf unit that displays wedding items (Sweat sells bridal accessories such as garters and photo albums); there’s a shelf for coffee service, and oven a miniature television. To display her polish, Sweat asked her husband to make a small recessed shelf in the wall, within easy reach of her work area. “My desk is large, but I keep very little on it,” says Sweat. “I don’t want people to walk in and see a bunch of clutter.”

Clutter is sometimes the biggest enemy to good use of space in a nail salon. Companies like Kayline Enterprises (makers of nail tables and other salon furniture) are busy marketing smaller tables that still offer drawers and even cabinets. “Our smaller table had only one center drawer, and customers were complaining they had to keep their supplies in a shoebox,” says Dottie Reiner, president of the Long Beach. Calif.-based company. “We got the message and now have cabinets on all of our models.” Designers will often try to consolidate storage space among nail technicians. In Schweer’s circular nail station model, for example, cabinets located in the middle of the unit are shared by all.

Vanessa Coleman, owner of Rapha Nails in Durham, N.C.. solved her storage problem both ingeniously and beautifully. Her home-based salon is a serene haven of glass and white — not at all the environment where big jugs of acetone and activator should be visible. “It was a challenge,” says Coleman. “I didn’t want to have to go to another room every time I needed something.” She took an ordinary rolling cart with shelves, put a round piece of glass on top, and surrounded it with a white ruffled skirt. The cart is next to her table, and she simply pulls back the skill to get what she needs. The hidden storage area lets Coleman put only a few small containers on her tabletop, giving her less clutter and more room to work.

Setting The Mood

A small place that is clean and well-designed is the foundation on which to build a salon with great charm and personality. Small can also mean cozy and homey, an atmosphere many nail clients appreciate. Sweat and Coleman both emphasize the advantages of a home-based salon, with soft touches like a wall covered entirely in shirred floral fabric, gossamer-light white curtains over a huge picture window looking out into the trees, and the quiet and privacy of a room closed off from the rest of the house. They go out of their way to provide an environment where clients feel relaxed and rejuvenated.

But salons located in commercial locations can also benefit from the homey touch. Use light, soft colors on the walls, and don’t forget to hang interesting artwork that goes with your decor. (Maybe one of your clients is an aspiring artist and would be willing to trade some of her artwork for nail services!) Stenciling, pretty window treatments, plants, and decorative minors make good accent pieces for the walls, framed mirrors not only look pretty but they also make a room appear larger.

At Salon 43 East in Audubon, N.J., co-owners Patrice Colamesta and Nadine Osborne opted for a neo-classical, contemporary look. They used monochromatic colors in shades of beige, peach, and brown for a neutral, calm effect. Nail tables are custom-made with white tops and marbled bases. For just the right touch of visual appeal, the room has lots of hanging plants and an old-fashioned window with an extended ledge to hold ivy and geranium plants. “Using neutral for the bigger elements lets you change more,” saws Colamesta. “It’s the little things that count — re-upholstering a chair, hanging a now plant, or just changing the tables around.”

Good lighting is another element that can do wonders for the look of your salon. Too little light, and a small salon will look drab and dreary; too much, and it will feel like a medical clinic. Spotlights are good for highlighting products, but they can also create too much heat if they are too close to you or your client. Track lighting adds drama to different areas of the room, but it isn’t portable in case of a furniture switch. In general, says Wilson, look for lighting that is as close to natural sunlight as possible. Place spotlights in positions that are flattering, yet far enough away for comfort. A nail salon, just like a theatrical production, should use lighting for its dramatic potential as well as for its practical use.

Retailing In A Nutshell

The products you sell are as much a part of the salon decor as wall hangings ... or at least they should be. Creative merchandising not only makes nail, hair, or cosmetic products sell faster, it also enhances the salon’s look.

Unfortunately says Schweer many salon owners pay little attention to their retail displays. They use inferior display cases or put the merchandise where it’s not readily visible to the client. Space limitations can be overcome by using the walls; invest in shelves and wall-mounted cabinets. Built-in shelves are even better, if your budget allows. But creative retail displays come in all shapes, sizes, and budgets. For proof, look through consumer magazines like Victoria or other trade journals. You’ll see shelves made from old Coke beetle crates, hanging baskets filled with potpourri bags, or old, discarded whatnot shelves restored to their former beauty. Unusual displays catch the client’s eye, even if they only cost a few dollars to put together. Lot your imagination run wild, not your budget.

Pereux capitalizes on her Victorian decor for a perfect retail environment. End tables and coffee tables hold samples of skin care products, potpourri, and other craft items; an antique plant stand doubles as an aromatherapy center. All her products are visible to the clients drying their nails; not surprisingly, retail sales are brisk.

The object is to look at everything in your salon as a piece of the whole look, whether it’s nail polish on the retail rack or storage jars on each nail table. Limited space make’s your job of creating an atmosphere of case and luxury a little harder. But so many nail salon owners have done wonders with paint, fabric, furniture arrangement, and a few strategic shelves; their examples will undoubtedly light the creative spark in you.

Spruce Up Your Space

  • Do use every available inch of space. Lynne Pereux, for example, turned an unused hall into a reception/cashier area.
  • The nail area in a full-service salon should never be an afterthought. Plan space wisely so that your nail services are highly visible and attractive, not shoved into a dark corner.
  • Do keep your work area meticulously clean, with as little clutter as possible on the tabletop. Consider using small, decorative jars and containers for your basics, such as cotton swabs, acetone, and lotion.
  • Look for high ceilings when shopping for a space — they make the room appear larger. Or try adding a border to the walls just below the ceiling to give the effect of height. Most paint stores have pretty stencils that make this addition quick and easy.
  • It’s okay to start small (and inexpensively) with your decor, and then upgrade as your salon gets more established. Set up a manageable budget and stick to it. Amy Jamarowicz shopped at Value City and K mart for her fabrics and accessories; some of the antiques in the salon are on loan from her grandmother.
  • Don’t overdo it. Victorian decor is very popular but can overwhelm a small space with frills and knickknacks. Strive for a balance between decorative and functional.
  • Consider adding a unique touch to your salon that clients will comment on and remember. For Jamarowicz, the showstopper is the entrance door, which is painted purple. “We really shook up the town, but it actually drew in some new clients!” she says. Brenda Sweat has a unique collection of vintage nail products, such as Cutex polish bottles and framed advertisements from the early 20th century.
  • Work with your landlord, showing her your plans for improvement. Many landlords are willing to underwrite part or all of the costs in exchange for the upgrades on their property.
  • Many furniture manufacturers offer free consultation when you purchase their products. Their services range from a computerized floor plan based on your salon specifications to one-on-one consultation with a staff interior designer.

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