Pretty Is as Pretty Does In Salon Design

The remodel of Mario Russo Salon in Boston, MA, is practical as well as beautiful. The project won the Design Portfolio award for commercial/institutional furniture.

By Beverly Dunne

Owner Mario Russo selected wood, glass, aluminum and stainless steel as primary materials he wanted for the remodel of his upscale salon in Boston. He wanted the design to be reminiscent of European furniture designer and architect Phillipe Starck. Photography by Brian Urkevic

Woodwork for the Mario Russo Salon is “brutally practical, yet timelessly elegant� says Eric Swanson, owner of Swanson Woodwork in Boston, MA. The project, which includes the reception area, product display cabinets and 16 stylist’s stations, won the Design Portfolio award for commercial/institutional furniture.

The design immediately conveys the salon’s commitment to style and customer service. “Mario Russo was selected by Vogue as the salon to visit in Boston. Every design detail had to exceed the expectations of its discriminating clientele,� Swanson says.

Russo wanted the design to be reminiscent of the work of European furniture designer and architect Phillipe Starck, and he selected wood, glass, aluminum and stainless steel as materials to be used in the project. The result is a salon that is vaguely industrial in ambiance and conveys the efficiency and professionalism of an operating room, Swanson adds.

Cherry solids and veneers add warmth to the project. For the reception desk, Swanson vacuum-pressed cherry paper-backed veneer onto either MDF or 1/8-inch bending ply cores. The space is tight behind the desk, and the only way to make the dimensions work with the proportions of the solid cherry turnings was to make it frameless, Swanson says. All wireways are routed through the base section below the turnings, which were supplied to Swanson’s specifications by Peterson Furniture & Turning in Boston.

The workstations are attached to an existing chair rail with massive, slotted, aluminum angles bolted to blocks. Photography by Brian Urkevic

Designer Celeste Cooper had drawn the desk as one piece, but it had to be re-engineered to fit in a 3-1/2-foot by 2-4/5-foot elevator. With the designer’s approval, Swanson re-worked the desk to be knock-down. He added reveals to create both visual rhythm and to create a space for invisible field joints.

Swanson also suggested painting the diamonds on the panel behind the desk. (Finishing was handled by The Johnson Co., a local firm.) Originally drawn to be cherry “diaper work� with contrasting grain directions, the painted design retains the geometry and visual rhythm of the project but shaved several thousands of dollars from the cost.

Swanson worked closely with Mario Russo to design workstations that would be easy to clean and efficient to use. The stations are removable, simple to fabricate and in keeping with the modern styling of the salon.

Workstations are built of 1-1/2-inch-thick cherry plywood with mitered 1/8-inch solid edges. A clear space of one inch around the sandblasted glass tops allows stylists to brush hair to the floor easily. The placement of styling implements and grommets was designed by Russo.


Name: Swanson Woodwork, Boston, MA
Year established: 1992
Annual sales 1999: $200,000
Shop size: 4,000 square feet
No. of Employees: 3
Specialty: Designs and produces custom furniture, cabinets, millwork. “We attract unusual projects and repeat clients with our reputation as a company of articulate, highly skilled and versatile craftspeople,� owner Eric Swanson says.

Also per the salon owner’s suggestion, the drawer fronts are angled for ergonomics and style. Drawers are joined with sliding dovetails in front and tongues and grooves in back. Drawer boxes have 1/8-inch-thick aluminum tops and bottoms to save space. Drawer slides are from Hettich and the stainless steel drawer pulls are from Sugatsune.

The workstations are attached to the existing chair rail with massive, slotted, aluminum angles bolted to blocks. “The existing floor was badly out of level, and we needed a way to level and align these units quickly and easily,� Swanson says. The leveling feet came from Reid Tool and Supply, the aluminum angles were machined by Swanson, and the legs were custom-made.

It took nearly three months to complete the salon remodel. Swanson says that he is particularly proud of the engineering on this project. Installation of 16 stations took only five hours with no scribing or cutting of any kind. “In addition, the mounting system allows the units to seemingly float at the back walls, yet adds visual interest with the slotted aluminum angles,� he says.

Swanson Woodwork also won a Design Portfolio Award in the Kitchen/Bath Cabinets category.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.