Let Down Your Hair
Rebecca Flint Marx -- Interior Design, 8/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
If Randy Brown has his way, high design will become as integral to Omaha as steak and prairie grass. Salon Gallerie, a recent project by Randy Brown Architects, brings him a step closer to that goal.
"Our client asked for a new type of hair salon," says Brown, who's known for his bold angles, tilted planes, and vibrant color. "Since hairdressers are often entrepreneurs who work for themselves and rent their spaces by the week, she thought that the traditional open salon didn't make sense. Instead, hers would be all about individual cubicles."
Given that unconventional mandate, Brown's developing design also followed an unusual trajectory. In the course of his research, he hit upon the idea of a painting guiding the plans—then painted one loosely based on Willem de Kooning's work. The piece, with its yellow focal point, "became a way to talk to our client," Brown says.
He viewed the salon's future home, 3,600 square feet of raw commercial space, as a clean palette. Rather than draw up plans back at the firm's office, he and his staff got to work right on-site, fabricating models of the huge yellow sculptural enclosure that the 17 independent hairdressers' studios would cluster in and around. "We came up with some amazing things that you couldn't have predicted in pencil on paper," he recalls—pointing out the way a sliver of light comes through underneath the enclosure's integral bench, which is part of reception.
If the overall concept was unorthodox, the materials were anything but. The yellow blob enclosure was made according to an old-fashioned plasterwork process. Brown nailed planks to studs, covered the combination with chicken wire, and sealed everything beneath two coats of plaster. Mundane steel rebar, found lying about the site, can be found woven into magazine racks, business-card holders, and sculptures that he loosely based on hair strands and grooming tools.
While Brown lavished attention on conceptual statements, he also addressed the stylists' utilitarian concerns. Lighting was chief among them. In each studio, ceiling spotlights, focused on the chair, mix with fluorescent detail lights along the top of mirrors.
Dimmers allow the stylists to personalize their lighting, and each studio is also individually wired for speakers. "The stylists wanted a sense of community, but we couldn't get them to agree on music," Brown says with a laugh. Acoustical ceiling tiles, made of aspen, prevent tastes from clashing.
Since finishing the two-month project, Brown has returned as both architect and happy customer. "You know the stylists like it when they say, 'Let me show you what I've done to my room,'" he relates. It's only appropriate, after all, that they get to make the final cut.