Say No Mo is a gender-neutral beauty salon and cocktail bar in Kyiv
Say No Mo salon takes over two floors of an early 20th-century building and includes its own bar where visitors can grab a drink before or after beauty treatments.
When locally based Balbek Bureau was asked to design the interiors, it tried to steer clear of the gendered decor features that are often present in beauty-dedicated spaces.
“We analyzed a large number of beauty salons both in Ukraine and worldwide, identified the main repeating elements, such as colours, textures, design motifs, etc – and tried not to repeat them in our project,” the studio’s founder, Slava Balbek, told Dezeen.
“The salon’s name is in tune with Balbek Bureau’s approach to this project – ‘Say No Mo’ to the traditional point of view on designing beauty salons, gender distinction, ordinary solutions, and ‘yes’ to the flight of imagination, creativity, and aesthetics.”
The focal point of Say No Mo’s ground floor is a grand concrete archway that looks as if it’s crumbling away, which the studio hopes will serve as a metaphor for the “broken stereotypes in the beauty industry”.
Concrete has also been used to make the salon’s blocky service counter, which was cast in-situ.
Directly in front of the archway is a waiting area, but when the salon is hosting cocktail receptions this can double-up as a relaxing lounge where people can sit with their drinks.
It’s dressed with a couple of contorted sofas, pots of pampas grass, and steel side tables. A faux wood burner also distends from the ceiling.
Just ahead lies the pedicure area, where a sequence of comfy beige armchairs and foot basins perch up on white-tile plinths. Some of the tiles feature hairline cracks that have been inlaid with brass.
This detailing complements the gold-painted sink that stands at the centre of the pedicure stations, which was crafted by fusing two Soviet-era baby bathtubs.
“Overall, the pedicure zone is finished in light tones with contrasting golden accents, giving it a feeling of cleanness without the sterile look of an operating theatre,” explained the studio.
Towards the rear of the ground floor is the bar area where striking gold-coloured panelling has been erected to curve in line with the building’s original walls, hiding their rough and uneven surface texture.
Each panel is just 0.5 millimetres thick and has been coated with titanium nitride. Some of the panels have been punctuated with shelves that display Say No Mo’s branded products.
Blocks of composite material have been “crudely” joined together to form the central service counter, which is surrounded by pale-grey stool seats.
Adjacent to the cocktail bar is a room dedicated to manicures and nail art. It’s entered via a doorway fitted with rows of exposed bulbs.
Before Balbek Bureau laid this room’s concrete screed, it discovered a two-metre-deep pit in the floor.
Rather than covering this up, the studio opted to turn it into a fun art feature by filling it with blue plastic balls and topping it with a pane of glass.
The colour of the balls was specifically selected to match the room’s blue-tinted artificial lighting.
On the landing of Say No Mo’s stairway is a hammock-like swing chair where visitors can snap photos for Instagram.
The steps then descend down to the basement level where there are minimally-finished zones for hairdressing and make-up classes.
Much like Balbek Bureau, Faye Toogood created a gender-neutral retail unit in London’s Selfridges department store in 2015.
Clothing was stored in white garment bags and accessories were stored in plain brown boxes, removing any indication if they were targeted for men or women.
Photography is by Yevhenii Avramenko.
Interior design: Balbek Bureau
Architects: Slava Balbek, Sofiia Hupalovska, Nataliya Stukonog
Project manager: Natalia Kozak
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