When Milano Salon needed a fresher look, owner Diane Leven and her designer created an interior that would make money as well as relax clients.

The makeover took six weeks and cost $90,000. But for Diane Leven, owner of Milano, a 1,750 square-foot salon in Closter, N.J. the transformation was worth every penny.

Last winter, Leven, a six-year industry veteran, decided her salon formerly named Total Elegance needed a facelift. “I wanted to become a full-service salon,” says Leven. “Consideration of your clients’ comfort and well-being was foremost in our approach to designing the new salon. We also changed the name to Milano because we felt Total Elegance was too feminine and we wanted to appeal to men.”

Beyond her clientele, there was another very important group Leven was hoping to please – her staff. “When we designed the new area, I was conscious of the operators and what’s comfortable for them.”

Milano’s manager, Garry Sabatani, says both clients and the salon’s 13 employees, including six nail technicians, have responded enthusiastically. “The new interior creates a very relaxing atmosphere. Clients don’t get a rushed feeling. They can come have their service, then sit in a comfortable chair in an area that’s visually pleasing. It’s like walking into somebody’s living room, tastefully done.”

Leven’s husband, Ron, and interior designer Edward Martin helped her conceive the initial plans. But before any blueprints were finalized, she turned to a trusted advisor, Water Siegordner of Salon Interiors (Hackensack, N.J.).


Sounding more like an investment analyst than the engineer from Rutgers University that he is, Siegordner, founder and president of Salon Interiors, used buzzwords such as “business fundamentals,” “return on dollars,” and “the cost of space” while going over plans.

While other planners may initially walk through the front door with bolts of fabric and rolls of wallpaper tucked beneath their arms, Siegordner begins with this axiom: “When you’re paying $25 to $30 per square foot for retail space, you’ve got to make every square foot produce income for you.” Discussions on décor, color schemes, and wall and floor coverings take on a whole new perspective.

Siegordner’s primary concern and focus are how he can make a salon more profitable. “Most people come to me with a wish list 42 pages long for an area 20 feet by 10 feet. I’ll ask them if they really need two pedicure units. Did they do that many pedicures last year? Maybe they should for an extra manicure table that would bring in additional dollars.”

Another concern is overall cost. “There’s no sense putting a $200,000 salon together in an area that’s basically blue collar, because it’s going to be a long time before you can get your money back if you can only charge $8 for a manicure,” he says.


According to Siegordner, a salon space designer should have a thorough understanding of the cosmetology industry, including the unique needs and work habits of nail technicians.

“Often people go to an architect, interior decorator, or designer to outfit their space. These people are wonderful for creating a look and an atmosphere. Their biggest downfall, however, is not understanding the services that are rendered in the space. Is there enough spacing between the manicure tables and the hairstyling stations? How big should the pedicure rooms be? Many architects and designers really don’t empathize with the industry because they’ve done maybe one salon in their lifetime.”

Leven couldn’t agree more. “I feel the designer and architect should have a personal experience in designing the salon. They should know the habits of the clientele patronizing the salon. We’re thinking of expanding in the near future because there’s another place right next to us and they may move out. To prepare for that, all our electrical, HVAC, and plumbing systems were designed to accommodate expansion.”


Based on his own philosophy that a salon visit is more of a psychological experience than a physical one, Siegordner suggested some color-correction work on the walls to produce a more harmonious feeling.

“The previous salon was pink and French blue. We eliminated the French blue to make the salon monochrome rather than contrasting. This created softness. That was one of the key factors. You want to walk into a salon that lets the stress roll out from your fingertips. You don’t want to walk into a salon where you have stark black, stark white, tons of contrast, and tons of lights and mirror. You’re stressed out enough after spending two hours on the freeway.”

Milano was redone in soothing plum colors, and the ceiling is blacked out to reduce reflected light. Moldings and trim are enameled whites, eggplants, and varying shades of plum. The carpeting eggplant with subtle specks of red and green.

The pedicure area underwent a transformation that helped clients feel more comfortable. Before, the pedicure room was out in the open, says Siegordner. Now it’s actually a room you enter with a door that closes for privacy.

Lighting, something taken for granted in many salons, was also radically changed. The original salon had more fluorescent lights, which are harsher and tend to make a person look bluish or greenish, says Siegordner. Recessed incandescent lighting provides more warmth and character. Plus, you can do things like focus the light and make one area brighter or darker. The fluorescent lights just washed the whole area out with glare.


One section in Milano that certainly grab clients attention is its 250-square-foot retail display area. According to Siegornder, a salon’s retail area should be anything but subdued. Clients are immediately introduced to Milano’s retail offerings when they enter the salon. A fully lit area enables easy, unpressured access.

No longer can you build a showcase inside the reception desk or throw some stuff up on the shelves and hope it will sell itself, stress Siegordner. Retail has changed. We know that people want to touch, feel, play with, and read about the products they’re interested in. Products have to exposed in such a way that the client can walk up to it, touch it, turn it around, and decide if they like they’re going to inconvenience someone or are obligated to buy, they don’t like it.

Leven’s only disappointment about the redecoration was that her new salon didn’t include an office. But then she remembered Siegordner’s adage about utilizing every square foot of space to generate income. An office is great if you’ve got 2,000 square feet and you’re paying a $1 a foot, says Siegordner. Otherwise, taking your paperwork home isn’t that bad.


Ask to see prior work. Most professional designers keep slides or videotapes of previous projects. Almost immediately, you can develop a sense if your tastes are in line.

Select a designer who does work primarily in the salon industry. This person will understand the special needs of nail technicians and cosmetologists.

Shop around. How do you know you’re getting a fair price unless you check out the competition? Real professionals are not bothered by this – in fact, they encourage it.

Make sure you get along with and trust this person. You’ll probably be working very closely. If you can’t communicate well, look elsewhere.

Make sure the designer’s working licenses and permits are up to date.

Ask for references. Sure, you’ve seen finished work and it looked great, but was it done on time? On budget? Without any hassles? Previous clients will fill you in.


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