When Karen Zerbo, owner of Karen Joseph Salon in Redbank, New Jersey, decided to open a salon, she knew she needed an interior designer who understood salons. Her research led her to Michele Pelafas, a Chicago-based interior design firm that specializes in salon and spa design and custom beauty furniture.
From concept to completion, here is Karen’s journey to opening the doors of her brand new salon.
PROJECT KICK OFF: On January 17, 2019, Karen and her partner, Mark Cucarese flew to Michele Pelafas design studio and showroom for a “discovery” meeting, bringing with them homework from Michele, a six-page “Foundation Questionnaire.”
“We asked her about the goals and ideas for the salon, about her ideal client, her competition, what she thought would make her space unique, demographics and more,” Michele says. “She also provided us with a Pinterest board so we were able to see examples of her vision.”
One of her examples was a restaurant in the Hamptons that Michele flew out to visit in person. It ended up serving as a key foundation for the initial conceptual design. “Mark and I were looking for a designer who would share our vision of a unique, warm and inviting salon,” Karen says. “We looked at many salons, but wanted to create something completely different, which is why our inspiration came from outside the industry in restaurants and hotels.”
Karen adds, “When you walk into Michele’s design studio and showroom, she has stunning chairs and stations on display, and then you walk into the back factory, and are blown away by what’s happening there in the millwork and upholstery departments.”
During the day, they also found time to talk numbers. Karen shared that her budget was $500k for a 2,700-square-foot space (they came within 10 percent of it), and that included custom furnishings. Michele then analyzed it to make sure they could achieve Karen's goals.
“If a client doesn’t have a budget, we formulate one based on what they want, going over construction costs, and budgeting for furniture and equipment.”
While they were there, Karen and Mark also looked at the materials, furniture, flooring and lighting samples in the studio. Karen says, “Michele was well prepared with ideas that aligned with our vision. She has an incredible way of knowing how to blend various textures in a space.
JANUARY 2019: After their initial meeting, Michele Pelafas and her team went to work on creating a floor plan design and analyzing the space for flow and functionality. They also created a vision board to show the overall look and feel of the interior.
“We collaborated with her architect through the entire design process,” Michele says. “He had also created a preliminary floor plan, so we evaluated it and made recommendations.”
Karen says the collaboration between Michele and her architect, Michael Mahns, was instrumental. “Michele was able to give invaluable insight and direction on the layout of the space,” she says. “Combining her incredible design talents with a master architect was something very special to watch.”
FEBRUARY 2019: Michele and her team shifted from conceptual planning to design development, turning the ideas into a realty. During this time, they created 3D renderings of the space with five to six different views of what it would look like—an invaluable tool in the process.
“These renderings literally brought me to tears,” Karen says. “The 3D images provided us with the ability to visualize the space from every perspective, which we could never get from a standard floor plan.”
MARCH 2019: After Karen approved the renderings, design development continued, with Michele and her team diving into the construction details of the space including the shampoo bar, color mixing area, styling stations, fireplace and other key elements.
The salon is located in a renovated 100+ year-old building with original exposed brick walls—beautiful, but not without its problems.
“We created all the construction drawings as they related to lighting, electrical, plumbing, framing plans, etc.,” Michele says. “In this case, we had to collaborate to trouble shoot how we were going to run power along a brick wall and keep it concealed.” Michele also made recommendations for the fixtures and color of lightbulbs so the lighting would be perfect for the salon environment.
APRIL 2019: At the end of April, Karen flew back to Chicago one last time to fine tune details and wrap everything up while the architect proceeded with engineering drawings needed for the permit process. Soon after, Karen’s project hit a snag—the previous tenant would not vacate the space, delaying construction.
“Unforeseen things can happen,” Michele says. “And when you get a stall like this, it’s best to take it in stride—usually it’s in the permitting process. “The typical timeline for design is approximately two to three months,” she adds, “This does not include the permit process which can take one to two months before construction can even begin.
MAY 2019: While frustrating, Karen says the delay ended up allowing for time to perfect the details. “Michele helped us take advantage of this time by adding every imaginable little touch to the design and furnishing of the space,” she says. “With an endless amount of resources at her disposal, she made recommendations across a wide spectrum of products and suppliers, and was able to create a complete picture of her design vision.”
CONSTRUCTION BEGINS JUNE 2019: Construction began in mid-June with constant communication between Michele, her product development and engineering team, the general contractor and the architect.
Typical build-out time is approximately 10 to 14 weeks, depending upon the scope of the project, inspections and field conditions. At the end of September, Michele went for a site visit to see the space before the custom furniture her firm designed shipped. “Michele and her team designed and manufactured our custom stations, mirrors, two separate shampoo bars, and the most spectacular color bar, which is one of several showcase elements of the space,” Karen says.
“She also hand-selected accent pieces, made key recommendations and coordinated the orders for some unique pieces, like a river stone table for the lounge area, custom-made drapery, a water fountain and a custom, laser-cut screen for privacy near the shampoo sinks in the studio.”
OPEN FOR BUSINESS: On November 13, all the hard work put into this beautiful space paid off when it opened for business. “The vision of Karen Joseph Salon has manifested itself thanks to Michele and her team’s creative and technical knowledge,” says Mark. “Their ability to use their talents to collaborate and to provide guidance on critical decisions has led to the implementation of some incredibly innovative design ideas. The results are absolutely stunning and beyond our expectation