When establishing a new hair salon in Sydney’s prestigious Double Bay, Mariah Rota wasn’t prepared to settle for a fit-out that echoed something familiar – especially in a highly competitive market. Looking beyond the pool of local designers, the stylist-to-the-stars broadened her search for someone who could help achieve her lofty vision, returning to the sleek and sophisticated work of Nickolas Gurtler Office which she had earlier discovered on social media. “Mariah had been following us on Instagram for quite some time,” reveals interior designer Nickolas Gurtler, founder of Melbourne-based NGO. “We received a call from her in the lead up to her preparing the new salon and she had done a lot of research. She knew a lot of designers and she had a lot of referrals.”
Finding resonance with Nickolas’ razor-sharp design style, Mariah commissioned NGO to transform her commercial site on New South Head Road into a thrumming hair hub, where edginess and “adventurousness,” Nickolas says, could share the spotlight with a fair share of socialites. But first, the designer and his team needed to overcome the ghosts of hair-salons past. “From what I understand, the site has been a salon for as long as it’s been there. It’s seen maybe two or three different hair salons in that time,” Nickolas explains. “We had a good look at how the previous salon worked in the space, then we effectively pulled everything out and built Cole Hair Studio from scratch.”
Cole Hair Studio in Double Bay by Nickolas Gurtler Office
Armed only with a small clutch of reference images for Nickolas to absorb, Mariah, for the most part, entrusted the look and feel of the new salon to NGO. Where she was more collaborative, however, was through the sharing of practical wisdom, unlocking a career’s-worth of invaluable expertise that the design team could consider in their design response. “We received a lot of insight from Mariah about tailoring the salon to work exactly how she and the team wanted it to work, and about avoiding the mistakes that they might have made in their previous salons,” Nickolas says. “Mariah was really involved in that side of things. But her main request was that she wanted it to look completely different, to stand out and become something no one had seen before in the area. That was the guiding principle we started with.”
To create the space which Nickolas now insists is “very different” to its predecessors, the designer needed to gain a better understanding of the multi-million-dollar postcode. For Perth-born, Melbourne-based Nickolas the experience of soaking in everything Double Bay has to offer spun-up its fair share of eye-opening moments. “It felt a little bit like a mini Beverly Hills in a way,” Nickolas says of his first encounter with Double Bay and its bevy of well-heeled residents. “The whole suburb has something very Hollywood about it. Even how clean and leafy the streets are – it feels like this little bubble inside of Sydney that doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the city.”
The island-like detachment Double Bay might offer from its surrounding suburbs in Sydney wasn’t the only bubble to contend with. The Covid-19 pandemic and the various restrictions imposed on Australia’s internal borders were responsible for causing a feeling of separation more broadly, something which the designer and his team overcame through technology. “It wasn’t until the project was halfway through that I was able to get back up to Sydney, between our lockdown [in Victoria] and their lockdown [in Sydney]. But we understood what was at the site and we focused on the client,” Nickolas says, admitting that he and his team refreshed their memories of the area from time-to-time via online tours. “We did a fair few Google Earth street-walks around the area,” he says.
Between real-life site exploration and virtual pavement pounding, the designer picked up on the overwhelming sense of glamour that Double Bay exudes. “We noticed the wellness and beauty side in particular,” Nickolas recalls. “Also, there is a lot of glamorous retail boutiques, particularly for fashion. This was definitely an informing part of the project,” he adds, noting that it was important for Mariah that her clients felt this sense of glamour during their salon treatments, as well as when they left. “That really kickstarted the thought process and the design process for us,” says Nickolas. “How could we make someone feel like they’re a supermodel?”
Drawing upon his past life as a visual merchandiser for luxury fashion brands Gucci, Tiffany and Chanel, Nickolas outfitted the space in a chic combination of chrome detailing, mirrored surfaces, black leather, custom-made walnut joinery and Italian bouclé sofas. Hand-worked stucco combines harmoniously with fluted glass and lashings of stonework to elevate the salon into an environment where customers can look and feel their absolute best. “The inspiration that we had for the project was actually the early collections of Tom Ford for Gucci,” explains Nickolas. “We started looking at that because it was a time where there was a return to this 1970s glamorous aesthetic for women – really powerful, strong women. The collections themselves were sexy but still really feminine.”
“When we were putting the mood board together, I wanted to translate [this collection] for the concept because there’s always a direct connection for me with fashion and what we do,” the designer adds. But with a spectacular fit-out and an equally put-together clientele, the question must be asked: who is the real star of the show at the now-completed Cole Hair Salon? “I think it’s the stylists more than anything,” Nickolas admits. “The team has a lot of personality and they do amazing hair – obviously they’re very good at what they do. But there was a lot of talk about making the clients feel really fabulous and Mariah wanted them to, at the end of their experience, feel like they were stepping out on a catwalk. It was also important that there was opportunity for clients who were really just feeling themselves to be able to document that through their social media, with the fit-out starring in the background,” Nickolas says, finishing diplomatically with a laugh: “I think it’s a perfect kind of relationship where everyone wins.”
The inspiration was actually the early collections of Tom Ford for Gucci … a time where there was a return to this 1970s glamorous aesthetic for women.
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