Designer for Hire

Salon times two

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A new space in downtown Tucson is pushing the boundaries when it comes to design and function. It does double duty – as a salon in both senses of the word. By Gillian Drummond.

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Salon Salon is in the historic train depot in downtown Tucson in the space formerly occupied by Obsidian Gallery.  Photo by Erin McDaniel

The restaurants, bars, coffee shops and clubs are in place in the ever-burgeoning downtown Tucson. Now it’s time to add the next layer of business. So says Jessica Baylon, owner of the new Salon Salon on Toole Avenue.

“It seems like we’re doing a lot with entertainment but people need grocery stores and places to get their hair done,” she says. Salon Salon, which occupies the former Obsidian Gallery space in the historic train depot, lives up to its name: a hair and beauty salon that does double duty as an 18th century-style salon – that is, a gathering and meeting space for thinkers and artists.

Photo by Colleen Loomis

Jessica Baylon enjoying her new salon space. Photo by Colleen Loomis

“For me it was an amalgamation of all the things I love. I love learning and networking with people, introducing people to one another. And I love hairdressing,” says Jessica.

Already the space has hosted yoga classes and a talk by academic Meredith Hay on women, sex and estrogen. On June 3rd there will be an art lecture by husband and wife Fleurette and Marc Wallach.  Currently the events are free, although in the future there may be a cover charge. Jessica also plans to offer hairdressing education units here – classes for local hair stylists who can’t afford to travel to bigger cities for their training.

Photo by Erin McDaniel

Inside Salon Salon, where many of the fixtures were custom-made. Photo by Erin McDaniel

This is the eighth hair salon Jessica has opened in Tucson and the first she has owned outright. Formerly with Toni & Guy and latterly managing director and investor with Fringe Hair Studios, she was tipped off about the Historic Depot space by a client. Enter Kathy Hancox and Michael Kothke, the husband and wife architect team behind HK Associates. The couple had worked with Jessica on several salons in the past. But this was different.

As soon as they walked in, they felt the quiet of the building – despite the obvious noise of passing trains. It was historic and museum-like, says Michael. “It was just a calming and serene and well proportioned space.” Which was something he wanted to perpetuate. “Men are a little intimidated” by salons, he says. “There’s a lot of activity, there’s humming. I want to get in and get out. This is so calming, it doesn’t have that frenzy.”

Photo by Gillian Drummond

As well as commissioning furniture pieces, the architects designed 6-feet mirrors for the salon. Photo by Gillian Drummond

“Jessica didn’t want it to feel like a hair salon,” says Kathy. “We wanted to give her the function of a hair salon and yet have it be a cool place to hang out in.” Kathy and Michael’s aim was to use the fixtures and furniture as if they themselves were exhibits. “It became clear that the salon aspects needed to function more like art and objects,” says Michael.

Kathy and Michael took inspiration from American artist and architect Donald Judd, famous not only for his geometric and modular sculptures but for his theories on art exhibition. His studios and living quarters in Marfa, Texas are open to the public and demonstrate his support of permanent art exhibitions.

It helped that the building’s former occupant had been Obsidian Gallery, which closed last summer. It also helped that the 1907 building had been lovingly restored a little more than a decade ago by Tucson architecture firm Poster Frost Mirto.

Concrete floors were re-grouted, walls were re-painted and the exposed ceiling was painted black. But the basics of what they needed to set up their hair-salon-with-a-difference were there. Jessica and staff use the rooms that functioned as the Obsidian (and before that an office) to their advantage; rather than having one open space as is often found in a hair salon, there is a separate room for cutting and styling, another  for washing and another that functions as a nail and makeup room. The further back in the building you go the quieter it gets, says Jessica. And that’s deliberate. “I wanted it to be quieter, more restful, calming. A lot of the spaces I’ve had in the past they have been these big open spaces. I like the idea of having intimacy and one-on-one.”

Photo by Erin McDaniel

The owner and architects wanted to maintain the building’s calm, museum-like feel. Photo by Erin McDaniel

Photo by Erin McDaniel

Washing takes place in a separate room. Photo by Erin McDaniel

She adds: “Our lives are so busy. But services like [hairdressing] are not being taken over by our iPads yet. I want to create an atmosphere where people have a chance to take a moment and be where they’re at.”

That said, Salon Salon also caters to the customer whose moments of quiet are deliberately few. For those who like to stay in work mode or online, the main entry space features a high-top table/work station on wheels, which means it can be moved for an event. There is wi-fi and retractable cables with outlets that hang from the ceiling.

The work station. Photo by Colleen Loomis

The work station on wheels. Photo by Colleen Loomis

Also in the main space, Tucson jeweler Sofie Albertsen Gelb has her jewelry displayed in cases. Jessica says she plans to introduce more retail and feature additional local artists.

Jessica eschewed pre-fabricated furniture and fixtures that might be seen the world over. “I hate the idea for hairdressers that there’s one formula you can choose from,” she says. Instead, HK Associates turned to long-time collaborator and Tucson furniture maker Ben Schmitt, owner of Davinci Designs and one half of the new furniture and art gallery Wood and Pulp. Ben made most of the fixtures out of hardwood core plywood sourced in Mexico (it is sturdier, more damage-resistant and good for stronger structures). Among them is a floor-to-ceiling pair of plywood panels that holds hundreds of air plants. The ‘living wall’ was done in collaboration with Tucson florist Colleen LaFleur (also in the Historic Depot but about to move to a bigger space.)

Photo by Gillian Drummond

Sofie Albertsen Gelb’s jewelry is on display. Photo by Gillian Drummond

Air wall. Photo by Colleen Loomis

A wall of air plants provided by Atelier deLaFleur. Photo by Colleen Loomis

There’s a third “level of occupancy” to Salon Salon, says Michael. Thanks to the communal work station and hanging electrical outlets, customers can bring their own lunch (the salon is a few steps from Maynards Market), charge their phones or just hang out. “I think that’s where Jes has great instincts about providing this other community space downtown that’s not just retail and not just a salon.”

* Find Salon Salon at 410 N. Toole Avenue, Tucson or visit its website.

* Look out for our feature on Ben Schmitt’s new venture Wood & Pulp coming soon in 3 Story.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I have followed Jessica for 21 years since I first moved to Tucson. Have never been disappointed. Love her style and artistry, and love her as a person! Sharon

  2. Your thoughtful and perceptive article accurately describes what Jessica has achieved here. It’s a very comfortable and stimulating space.

  3. Anonymous says:

    The space is as gorgeous as the woman who inhabits it – bravo Jesse…..Dana

  4. Anonymous says:

    This is gorgeous space!! Thanks 3 story.