STIR Article Full Spectrum: Color Me Pretty header image
Originally published in STIR®



Kelley talks to interior designer Marisha Cowles about color’s role in branding and designing for salons and spas.

We walk in and get our hair cut, colored and styled; our eyebrows waxed; our nails painted. If it’s been a successful visit, we leave with that extra spring in our step, looking and feeling different, better, polished. But is there more going on during the salon experience than the services we pay for?

Marisha Cowles, interior designer and owner of Moss Interior Design in Seattle, not only thinks so — she stakes her business on it. “Everyone likes to feel special. And when you go to a salon or spa, you’re looking forward to feeling that way for the duration of your visit — possibly for the entire day. No matter who you are or what you do, when you pay for a special salon or spa service, you want to feel like you’re getting the very best possible treatment. I believe a great deal of that impression is engendered by your visual surroundings,” Cowles says.

Commercial-space designers must consider practical business matters that aren’t a factor in residential design, such as how to help ensure repeat business. When people walk away from a space, will they remember it? Will they want to return? Will they recommend it to others? “I think the design and the feeling it evokes play a huge role in return customer business for commercial spaces,” Cowles says.

As in all design, color selection is extremely important in salon spaces. Cowles relies on color theory: “It’s a powerful little trick in creating ‘feeling’ in an interior environment,” she says. “Color is a mood changer. The more you know how to manipulate a space using it, the more powerful your concept will be.”

If a client wants a fun, upbeat, energetic atmosphere, Cowles uses vibrant hues. If they’re aiming for a calm, soothing, serene environment, she integrates softer colors or deep, rich hues. But no matter the environment, “incorporating accent colors that contrast with your overall palette is key to creating more sophisticated, layered emotions. It’s all in how you blend and play one color off another that really creates a great environment,” Cowles says.

In one particular area within a hair salon, however, the absence of color is critical. Cowles believes the area of the salon dedicated to hair coloring should include clear, bright light and white walls. That way, there’s no question what color is king: the patron’s desired hair color.

In commercial design, branding is also paramount. “A successful brand represents a company’s personality,” Cowles says. “It’s the lasting look, feel and impression you want to convey to your patrons.”

Cowles specializes in branding. “If there’s no existing brand, that’s where the project starts,” she says. “Sometimes I begin with a color. Sometimes it’s a piece of fabric. It’s different every time and that’s what helps me give each client their own unique look and feel. But, in the end, it’s the whole package that gets and keeps people talking. Great service, a great product and a great environment all matter. They’re the trifecta to business success.”

Cowles says she doesn’t have any color rules or guidelines for salons and spas. “It’s all about the brand you want to build, the mood you want to convey and the services you want to offer. It’s not so much the particular colors you choose as where you put them and how you use them in the environment. If there were guidelines and standards, every spa and salon would look the same, and what kind of experience would that be?”

This salon patron couldn’t agree more.