Salon Design 101 with Award-Winning Salon and Spa Designer, Leslie McGwire


This blog is all about Salon Design 101, and to bring you this awesome content, we partnered with Leslie McGwire. Leslie McGwire is an award-winning salon and spa designer who has been in business for over 30 years. Leslie helps businesses in the hospitality and beauty industry with everything from interior design, furniture, sales and marketing, and even new business development! She is not only a specialist when it comes to salons and spas, but also with resorts and jewelry retailers. Needless to say, this woman has talent! 

When it came time for my salon, Be Inspired Salon, to move from our starter salon home to our forever home, I knew I needed to hire the best of the best. Leslie has won Salon Today awards time and time again for having amazing salon designs, and I wanted her work for my own place! After getting to work with her, I knew we had to bring her to Beyond The Technique to share her wisdom because I know I’m not the only salon owner who needed advice when it came salon design. 

A Little Background on Leslie

Leslie’s journey began with some advice from her mother. She once told Leslie that she had to do some type of work that she really loved and had a passion for. As a young person, Leslie always loved salons and the beauty industry. After Leslie received her Bachelor’s degree in Interior Design, she wasn’t quite sure how she could use that degree in the beauty industry. But as fate would have it, Leslie was soon hired to develop a salon and spa design program for salon owners. One thing led into another, and she became a regional manager for Takara Belmont for five years, and then a vice president for Belvedere for five years.

After spending ten years getting to know manufacturing and design in the context of salons, it only deepened her love for the beauty industry. Not long after that, Leslie decided it was time for her to start her own company. Leslie McGwire and Associates was born. Since then, Leslie has worked with salons and spas across the country, including salons such as José Eber in Beverly Hills and Premier Salon and Spa at Marshall Fields in Chicago. Leslie has also helped design the Wynn Hotel and JW Marriott in Las Vegas, and has worked with several very high-end jewelry stores.

Why Salon Owners Should Hire an Interior Designer

Salon owners often end up hiring their equipment supplier, such as Belvedere, to help design their salon. While this may seem like an easy solution, we strongly suggest hiring an interior designer. Why? It will save you money in the long run. Most cabinetry and equipment companies have the goal of selling you their products – not helping you design a salon that not only looks great, but functions efficiently. By working with a designer, you end up saving time because a designer knows what to do and who to work with. A good designer will be a team player who is there to support you and help build a salon designed to succeed. 

Leslie often gets calls from salon owners who start without a designer and end up having to pay more to essentially “redo” the work of a big equipment company. Save the stress, and the money, and start with a designer! 

What to Look for When Hiring an Interior Designer

Before you hire an interior designer, there are some things to consider. First, there are different types of designers. If you hire someone like Leslie, who is a top specialist in her niche, you will be paying a higher price. But Leslie also offers turnkey services, meaning she helps salon owners from start to finish. Leslie comes in with a blank slate and helps with everything from a space plan, to cabinet selection, to the accent colors. But there are also designers that can come in and help on a smaller scale.

No matter what “level” of designer you choose to go with, you want to make sure they’re associated with American Society for Interior Designers (ASID). ASID is the number one association for interior designers, it’s very prestigious, so chances are you are in good hands. 

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices for an interior designer, it’s always a good idea to ask to see their portfolio. If you like what you see, ask if you can get references from at least three of their past salon clients. Take the time and interview past clients to help you decide if you want to work with that particular designer. 

Design Budget: How Big It Should Be and Where You Should Spend It

Just like good hair color, you can’t go cheap on interior design. It’s important to view it as an investment. If you are thinking of starting your own salon, or relocating to a new salon, here’s some advice for a realistic budget. 

Leslie estimates that if you are looking to have high end turnkey service – which means help with everything – you should plan to pay about $9 per square foot. So, if you have a 2,500 square foot salon, your budget should be about $22,500. 

Speaking of square footage, you want to have a floor plan designed to generate the most revenue possible per square foot. What does this mean? It means you shouldn’t waste space on a big back office when you could add another chair or a manicure station. You want to fill your space with things that will make you money. 

It’s also a good idea to put aside a chunk of money for your equipment. It’s never a good idea to go cheap on equipment, because chances are you will be replacing it within a year. Leslie suggests prioritizing your budget to invest the most on styling chairs, shampoo units and processors, your front desk, and your lighting! Lighting is so important to prioritize in your salon. Great light makes all the difference! 

While it’s important to invest in some areas, there are other areas of salon design where you can spend less. Flooring is a great place to save money. Flooring has come a long way and there are a lot of inexpensive options that still look great, such as vinyl “wood” flooring and porcelain. Another great way to save is by going with ceiling tile instead of drywall and spending less on window treatments. 

Five Salon Design Elements That Will Make an Impact  

When you are in the process of designing your salon, you have to keep in mind what your guests will experience when they walk through your doors. What will be the first thing they see? What is going to grab their attention in the first 15 seconds and leave a great impression? There are a lot of ways to go about creating that “wow” factor, and Leslie kindly shared the top five design elements that can make the biggest impact. 

  1. Lines. Lines provide visual interest. When you walk into a salon, do you see curvy lines? Do you see straight lines? Say you walk in and see a curved reception desk with a curved wall behind it – that’s going to stand out.
  2. Color. Color is a huge element, and it does have an impact on the atmosphere of your salon. Having an accent wall with a pop of color can bring great energy. 
  3. Movement. Movement is becoming a very popular design element. Just picture a big wall with a large, beautiful image of someone cutting hair, or of an attractive female with the latest hair trend in action. These large images create movement and draw people in. 
  4. Scale and Size. It’s important to keep scale and size in mind. Having a big, oversized reception desk with a huge, bright chandelier over it can help create a “wow” factor.
  5. Texture. Texture is another design element that’s become very popular. Think reclaimed barn wood and exposed brick. Texture adds a unique element that attracts people. 

Designing your salon should be a fun experience! That’s why you should consider working with an interior designer to help you save money and stress. To listen to the full interview with Leslie, check out podcast episode 118

Emily Kelly