Make it new but don’t lose the backstory. That’s the spec Unico’s Sofia Basile gave for the rework of her flagship Degraves Street, Melbourne salon. The designer, Kate Challis of Kate Challis interiors, is also a longtime client, so knew dug exactly what Sofia meant, writes Tracey Withers.

Following months of renovation here it is. Industrial fixtures tipped with bare bulbs snake from the Brooklyn-tile wallpaper while above each minimalist work space, sharp, strip mirrors bounce back that particular cast of natural light that you get from Melbourne laneways. The place has that newly-arrived, It-address vibe yet has a sense of long memory and belonging.

The salon feels as much a part of the urban streetscape as the Unico brand is now a part of Melbourne hairdressing DNA. This is, of course, the epicentre, the first salon Unico founder Sofia opened 23  years ago – the one that sparked not only the other Unico salons across the city but an eponymous, eco-conscious and Melbourne-made haircare line. 

First opened in 1990, Unico is nothing if not a local. Challis says, “It was very important that the design responded to the urban grittiness of Degraves Street and made people stop as they go by. 

“I really wanted to create a space that is breathtakingly beautiful and that both women and men would feel comfortable in. I wanted it to give goosebumps and command attention, yet not be ostentatious.”

The concept all came together on the walls that make you look twice. They’re fresh and smooth, yet covered in a photographic print of vintage tin tiles  sourced from a concept store in Paris’s Marais, they appear peeled, purposefully rusted, artfully cracked. These walls look like they have history. And why not? They do.

Photography by Derek Swalwell