After the recession struck in 2008, the salon and spa owners who were brave enough, and financially stable enough, to launch a new salon or undertake a major renovation in the following years tended to proceed cautiously—making conservative design choices and taking few risks. These salon architects continued to create gorgeous spaces, but as a group, they tended to design for the status quo and often the end results looked quite similar.

But with the entries into the SALONS OF THE YEAR 2013, the SALON TODAY team is officially declaring the design drought over. This year, entries were markedly up—nearly 40 percent over the past five years— and immediately our team noticed that these owners were making bold, creative, and even humorous choices that took direction more from the owners’ individual personalities than they do from global economic pressure.

Today’s owners are continuing to reshape the client experience. Most applicants had a version of the color bar or color table where clients can interact with one another or pull out their iPad, while their colorist mixes their formula. Others chose to integrate their own version of the blowdry bar into their design, capitalizing on that fashion trend. And, many more factored men into their equation, carving out a separate ‘man cave’ for male-specific services.

Check out all of the images the SALONS OF THE YEAR honorees submitted by visiting each of the honoree's stories below.

GRAND-PRIZE WINNER: Posh Hair Studio, Kew Gardens, New York

FIRST-RUNNER UP: Anthony Cristiano, Chicago, Illinois

SECOND-RUNNER UP: Matthew Morris Salon and Skin Care, Denver, Colorado

THIRD-RUNNER UP: Hair Peace Salon and Spa featuring The Lounge Barbership and Shave Parlor, Owosso, Michigan

SALONS OF DISTINCTION:

20 Volume Salon and Spa, Gilbert, Arizona

Aquae Sulis Salon and Spa, Saint George, Utah

Art+Science Wicker Park, Chicago, Illinois

Artistic Image, Westport Connecticut

Bijin Salon and Spa, Prairie Village, Kansas

Blu Water Day Spa and Salon, Kensington, Maryland

Cortello Salon, Jacksonville Beach, Florida

Exsalonce Salon and Day Spa, Chicago, Illinois

Industry 80 Salon @ Depot Square, Tuckahoe, New York

Jon Alan Salon, Nashville, Tennessee

L.A.R.C. Salon, Dallas, Texas

Lanphier Day Spa and Salon, Darien, Connecticut

Panache Salon and Spa, Erie, Pennsylvania

Pin Curls, Chicago, Illinois

Root, Minnapolis Minnesota

The Refresh Bar & Spa, Rancho Cucamonga, California