It’s not often we come across a salon that not only spends 750 thousand dollars on a renovation but does so with almost zero impact to the salon’s revenue. Circles of Hair and their new idiosyncratic salon environment are all part of giving back to the people who have made it continue to rise above as one of Australia’s biggest salons, writes Cameron Pine.
Collaborating with State of Kin, a multi-disciplinary design studio known for creating spaces with unique visual interest, Circles of Hair Owner and Proprietor Sharlene Lee’s experience with their ingenuity and distinct approach to design is a highly personal one, after having purchased a house they created from the ground up in 2020. The affinity with their attention to detail and breadth of work was just something Sharlene had to carry into her new refit. Her house, known as The Shutter House, is now one of Perth’s most notorious homes, and now the salon is second in line as the most talked-about and written about salon in Australia.
Glamorous but with a gritty edge, quirky but pragmatic, serious but still very sexy, the new Circles of Hair is bold yet inviting, comfortable and genuine.
“Spending $750,000 on a fit out was justified to me as I want to do something different that the industry hasn’t seen before, which in itself takes a significant investment and commitment to going one step further in the design process. I also didn’t want furniture and finishes that were generic – everything had to be custom-made off-site and made to fit,” Sharlene said. “My clients spend a lot of money with us on hair and it’s this high investment in our aesthetic that has kept our brand relevant and in-line with what we are charging and how we can continue to charge more.”
Admittedly Sharlene is now in a very different financial position than when she refitted her salon to the current location just over 12 years ago, but for now it was about creating a vibrant and distinctive environment that gives back to their clients with an amazing experience, while also being more functional and resilient than ever.
With custom doors with the salon logo, a striking terrazzo waiting bench and a focus on sturdy steel and hygienic finishes, the salon is where the future meets functionality and a supreme sense of consciousness also spurred by COVID.
“When you are wanting the best you have to pay for it. Yes, I could have shopped around and saved $200,000 but, with State of Kin, I had a guaranteed outcome and commitment to quality. I was obviously concerned with COVID and how long it could have taken to renovate but State of Kin gave me a guaranteed timeframe and I didn’t have to shut the salon down. They worked with me to have minimal impact on my bottom line. Such an achievement would not have been possible without everyone’s positive attitude and commitment to such a unique and vibrant space for everyone to enjoy,” Sharlene said.
Plenty of roster planning saw all of Circles’ 28 staff members working across a rotating schedule to ensure the salon could stay open, seeing only a 2 per cent downturn in takings for the month of November while the renovations took place. They now see improved workflow and movement through spaces with increased capacity and much more storage, resulting in more efficient and seamless functionality for the team that allows more effective client turnover and improved customer experience.
The salon’s detail must be seen in person to really appreciate the quality of each finish chosen for its timeless modernity and its ability to last. Circles has a flowing silhouette from the moment you enter, it’s futuristic yet minimal, with lots of curves and a hero glass styling table that weighs more than 150 kilograms and took six men to carry in.
“My favourite element is the front desk. A lot of salons are not using front desks the same way anymore and I feel in a way we are losing the significance of a front desk in the industry, so we’ve gone bolder than ever. I wanted the front desk to look like a hotel check-in – each time a guest walks into the salon it feels like a luxury hotel. It feels like the start of something really great, an experience of quality,” Sharlene shared.
Not only was everything built-off-site to reflect such a unique design and response to space but, in coming up with the furniture design, the colours, texture and way shapes sit on top of each other result in an incredibly well curated environment.
“It was all a work in progress every step of the way, it wasn’t just a quick salon refresh and at times I wondered if we were ever going to finish, but I was lucky that I had the money invested and I really wanted to give back to the industry. The photos don’t do it justice.”
It was as much about cleansing out even some of the old salon elements that the Circles of Hair team loved to make way for something at an even higher level – a completely new process that makes it more than just a salon but a destination of style and superior experience.
The Circles Of Hair story began as far back as 1995, when the doors of the first Circles of Subiaco first opened. The goal was to create a salon that would become synonymous with fun-loving luxury and a premium service offering and they quickly carved out a prestigious niche within the stereotypically challenging millennial demographic. It has since been the Circles strength that has allowed them to create a highly profitable and sustainable business, before opening a second salon, Circles On Fitzgerald, in 2017.
The original salon was always unique – in the early days the salon was continually tagged by graffiti artists, so it soon became a core part of the salon’s brand. In 2022 it was time to take on a sophisticated level of curvature and class reminiscent of the high-level new salon brand.
“When you start putting curves in a space the price goes up dramatically, but I was adamant that every part of our salon had to be unique,” Sharlene said. “Just like Circles as a salon I wanted the curves to reflect the journey. There are no straight lines in the new salon anywhere.”
With such a large team one of the biggest challenges was always running out of cupboard space and Sharlene specifically wanted to spend money on cabinetry because the organisation of the salon needed to be paramount.
“My clients spend a lot of money with us on hair and it’s this high investment in our aesthetic that has kept our brand relevant and in-line with what we are charging and how we can continue to charge more,” Sharlene said. “We all need to invest in our future. It’s part of my journey of more than 20 years and I’m glad I spent that much because I wanted to make a statement.”
The space and the openness are what guests and visitors seem to comment on the most. The space has a completely different flow to what was previously there and what people expect. Architecturally the eye is drawn through the whole space. There’s no blockages or straight lines and benches in the way.
“It had a really good flow before but I wanted people to be able to see right to the back of the salon when they walk in the front door and even from the front desk,” Sharlene said.
Now, the salon is bold with their choices – deep blue, millennial pink, red and softer palettes are merged with steel and glass. The front doors have the logo front and centre, split across the doors, allowing you to literally walk into the brand. The salon’s website, signage, stationery and imagery all now hinge on the use of these key colours and modern designs to tie it all together in one perfect trend focused identity. It’s bolder and makes a statement.
Pink Fritz Hansen Drop Chairs, Maletti Plexi Fume in Clear and Luxe The Prague Shampoo Units are all attention grabbers that fuse comfort with design and are mixed with some existing finishes like the polished concrete floors, the coffee station in the window and more trademark Circles elements. Makeup and styling counters amidst the more functional colour tables and cutting areas make the 260 square metres of space seem cosier than you’d expect. Touchpoints and texture have been paramount in the entire refit.
The salon is aligned with partners including L’Oréal Professionnel, Kérastase, Evo Hair, Showpony Professional and Cloud Nine and they work closely with them to ensure cohesive and complementary branding and messages both in salon as well as digitally. Those who saw the old salon understood that they pioneered a retail concept with a sushi train style design. It was iconic at the time and showed retail in a theatrical way but now the retail space is about full customisation and imported finishes. Lighting is paramount as LED lights and feature lights have come to the fore. The front desk strip light across the front desk is imported from Portugal.
It’s little wonder it was important to be functionally beautiful as well as aesthetically.
“What did my head in was the trolleys. When they are packed away, they are always ugly and messy,” Sharlene said. “Now, when you finish with the client, we have sliders that go under the benches and hide the trolleys. Big sliders to hide the salon’s not-so-beautiful features and it all looks so clean. With 28 full time staff it’s very hard to get that minimalist vibe. Everything can look like chaos and that’s not what the new Circles is about.”
A salon with a vision for the future, a space built to be somewhat future proof and an investment into the industry not just for today but how it’s changing, the new Circles is something every hairdressing needs to see at least once in their lifetime. A circular notion where everything comes back to Sharlene’s values of being a leader and example for others to follow. It’s no wonder this salon is, in every sense of the phrase, a full circle salon.
For more information visit www.circlesofhair.com.au