Design experts from some of the industry's top furniture and equipment companies take on SALON TODAY readers' most pressing questions.

 Designers’ Challenge
Clockwise from top right: Leon Alexander, Theresa Ciarlone, Michelle Koster and Lauren Summers.

Each salon renovation and new build-out presents its own unique challenges, yet the solutions present educational opportunities for anyone facing a redesign project now or in the future.

For that reason, SALON TODAY recently invited readers to share their most pressing design questions, and we took those questions straight to some of the industry's top design experts. Our thanks to Michelle Koster, senior designer and regional sales manager for Takara Belmont; Lauren Summers, designer for Etopa, Theresa Ciarlone, Belvedere Design Consultant; and Leon Alexander, Ph.D., president of Eurisko; for their willingness to serve on this panel and take on any issue our readers threw at them.

"We are struggling to find a calming color scheme that suits both men and women, yet won't take away from the hair we are trying to color. Any suggestions?"
Summers: "I've found that a good compromise for a calming color scheme that appeals to both men and women is various shades of blues and greens that have cool undertones.  Blue and green are considered to be calming colors and if they are less saturated (meaning they lean a little more toward the gray side), they will be less likely to affect the look of a client's hair color.  I like to use them for accent walls and then have a lighter, neutral color on the main walls. This allows for some visual interest, as opposed to an all-neutral space, and creates a focal point.

"Also, don't feel you are limited to just paint. Try combining painted walls with ones that are stone, brick or even mosaic tiles. These are calming, natural elements that are appealing to both sexes."

"What's the best way to identify an architect or designer who shares your vision?"
Alexander: "The best way for a salon owner to truly know the compatibility of a designer is to not present your own vision to them first, as you will never know if they are agreeing with your vision just to obtain the business. By using reverse psychology, you let the designer present their vision for your business  first. That way, you can compare the designer's vision to your own.
"A great designer will not agree with your vision if they consider it's not in the best interest of the business, for example, if the vision lacks a consumer experience strategy or it is not maximizing the potential of the business. Once you have seen the previous work and testimonials of the designer, listen to their advice. A great designer will design the location as if they own the business, implementing the best proven service and retail practices from outside the beauty industry."

"Like many salon owners, we are leasing our space. How much should we be willing to invest in property we do not own? Is there a ratio?"
Ciarlone: "The money you want to put into a property you do not own depends on the longevity and value of the lease. If you have a 10-year lease and your rent is below market value, it does pay to make sure you've maximized your design and money-making potential. If you are concerned, invest more of your budget in items you can remove or take with you, such as equipment, versus the items that are permanent or built in. It is important to have a beautiful salon interior that maximizes revenue and be as successful as possible and not worry that you do not own the property."

"One of our challenges is making our new addition look as if it is part of the original building.  How can we keep the same appearance and feel?"
Designers’ ChallengeSummers: "To create a cohesive transition from your original space to the new addition, consider three main components: finishes, fixtures and flow.  View the spaces as a whole rather than the ‘new' versus the ‘old.' Choose finishes that complement the existing floors, walls and ceiling. You can choose an entirely new color scheme for both spaces or bring the color palette of the original into the addition. Since you are increasingin square footage, obviously new fixtures will be needed. If you are expanding your styling area, purchase the same stations that you currently have or buy all new ones for a uniformed look.
If this is out of your budget, then maybe find a station that has a nice contrast to the existing and then you purchase all new chairs to still have some uniformity.  Finally, have a professional review the two spaces and create a layout that integrates the two areas, creating a natural flow rather than a clear-cut threshold from old to new."

"What trends are you seeing for materials and finishes in salon design?"
Koster: "Laminates are still being used for the case goods, but there tends to be more of an investment in using different materials to finish off the furniture. Customers are using lighting as an accent, and we are seeing the use of stainless steel, tiles or some type of hard surface to enhance the case goods and make them appear more luxurious than the typical standard laminate.
"High-polish laminates also are starting to come back into styling. These laminates have not been used since the late '80s and early '90s. With different types of papers, the high-polish look becomes rich and extremely inviting to the eye."

"What are some tips for designing a styling area that feels open, but still offers a feeling of intimacy for each individual client?"

"A great designer will design the location as if they own the business."

-Leon Alexander, Ph.D.

Alexander: "Combining an open service area with personal intimacy should involve creating a service space layout with circulation that accommodates both the feeling of intimacy with maximizing the space. The introduction of warm tones in walls or flooring, natural wood tones for the styling stations and non-direct lighting to flatter the customer, subliminally achieves an environment that is psychologically relaxing and creates an individual experience."

"How do you design for optimal profitability in the salon-not only behind the chair, but also focusing on the retail space?"
Summers: "I view retail and salon as being completely separate revenue generators. In a retail space, I avoid cramming in as much as possible, leaving room for guests to circulate easily without feeling claustrophobic. Open shelving that is easily accessible is the best way to display product because it allows for guests to touch, smell and even sample. I recommend the shelving coordinate in order to not distract from the product. I always limit the amount of seating and avoid the living room-type setups in order to encourage guests to browse the retail.

In the salon, it is about the whole experience.  I aim to configure the stations as efficiently as possible without overcrowding to provide a comfortable atmosphere for guests and a pleasant work environment for employees. Space permitting, I create secluded, private shampoo areas with dim lighting and soft music.  A growing trend I have noticed is the ability to convert the styling area into an open space with the use of portable stations and mirrors that can be wheeled to the side when not in use.  This flexibility allows for different revenue producing activities."

"We're in an older historic building with low ceilings and tons of natural light on the styling floor. But it's creating a glare and dark spots we didn't expect-any tips on how this can be resolved?"
Designers’ ChallengeCiarlone: "Adding window treatments such as solar shades will cut out the glare. Lighting will also play a big role in cutting out glare and dark spots. We recommend using color corrective lighting or full spectrum lighting, which has a kelvin temperature closest to daylight. These bulbs can be either florescent or incandescent fixtures. Cutting back on shiny materials will also cut back on glare."

"My biggest concern along the way is how to remodel a salon with the least amount of downtime on production?"
Alexander: "A remodel of a salon or an area within a salon is not something that is done every day. It is also connected with an objective to improve the existing space. What is available quickly is not necessarily the correct solution. Begin with the end in mind and allow an extended time for the completion of the project. In the long run, it pays to have what is right and not what is quick."

"Our biggest challenge is finding a style that flows through the salon with our floors, fixtures, color choices and overall feel, as well as suits clients' tastes. What's the best process for deciding that?"
Designers’ ChallengeKoster: "As a designer, I usually tell my clients that a picture is worth a thousand words. I always suggest they look through magazines-any type of magazine that shows pictures of buildings, décor and color choices. People typically gravitate toward similar styles, but sometimes have trouble explaining what they like.

"If they bring pictures into a meeting with me, I can usually channel them to a style, embellish on the color choices, and assist them with function, form and design. As the meeting progresses, there is usually an answer for final design within a short period of time. The customer is satisfied, and the designers have time to go to the drawing board for furniture presentation."

"For our current flooring we chose a beautiful recycled rubber because it has a cushion under it for stylist comfort and we didn't want to use mats under the chairs.  But now we're finding it difficult to maintain.  Do you have any suggestions for alternative flooring that is very stain resistant, easy to maintain and preferably recycled?"
"To create a cohesive transition from an original space to a new addition, consider three main components: finishes, fixtures and flow."

-Lauren Summers

Summers: "A product I have come across is recycled rubber flooring by Eco Surfaces. It is available in a wide variety of product lines, such as EcoMax, that are designed for high durability and cushioned resilience. Daily maintenance consists of sweeping/vacuuming and the occasional mopping with the recommended cleaner.  These products are not only environmentally friendly but meet the needs of high foot traffic in a busy salon.  For more information and to view color options, visit"

"What kind of treatment rooms are most popular in a spa? How do you create a space that can be universal to allow for many services and can give you the most profit?"
Ciarlone: "The most popular treatment rooms in a spa are the massage, facial and wax rooms. You can create a multipurpose room by purchasing an all-in-one treatment bed, such as the Lydia Sarfati Multipurpose facial bed by Belvedere. This bed can be used for massages, facials and waxing so it maximizes your space and your booking flexibility by allowing the room to be booked for different kinds of services. In addition, the bed allows for three services, a great option for clients on the go who only have an hour to spare but want multiple services."

"How do I make my salon build-out represent my brand?"
Designers’ ChallengeAlexander: "The salon built-out should represent the consumers' experience needs. This transcends your brand. You brand is your cultural accessory and personal philosophy.  You incorporate that into your values and express that in your marketing. The build-out design should exemplify a buying environment in the retail area and an experiential environment in the service area. The salon owner's goal is to bridge the gap between the brand image and the brand identity. An effective build-out will fuse both the psychological and experiential aspects."

"We want to design a green salon, but are having a difficult time finding available resources to help with this process. Where can we turn?"
Koster: "There are a whole host of companies that are following the green design trend. I would not look only in the salon industry, but go outside to view all the available resources. Today's architects, interior designers and manufacturers are so fixated on being part of the green design world that a number of websites have emerged.
"For example,, which stands for the National Kitchen and Bath Association, features stone manufacturers and faucet manufacturers, and they list companies that are green focused. A new company to the salon industry is Eco-Lite Products (, manufacturer of the Minardi Color Perfect Lighting. This is one of the first companies in the salon industry to go green for lighting and created illumination perfect for color processing. The lights burn extremely cool and use less energy that other lighting options. Take it from an ex-salon owner-I wish these lights were available in the 1990s."

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