• Paloma’s interior features different seat groupings and a series of screens to subtly divide the space. Photo by Peter Molick.

The quintessential framework for individual retailers in today’s plazas is a long, thin, rectangular unit, which is challenging for natural light. Paloma, a non-toxic nail salon at BLVD Place in Houston, transforms the typical unit into an “Escape to Beautiful” — continuous space that uses subtle thresholds to create smaller, private areas.

Owner Maryam Naderi’s friend had hired CONTENT Architecture to design their house, and her experience with that building convinced her to partner with the firm on Paloma. “We are so busy: Time is our biggest commodity,” Naderi says. “I have a high standard for the space, for our techs, so clients have not only beautiful nails but a great experience and boost of self-confidence.”

Houston-based CONTENT designed a series of screening elements that divide individual areas while also allowing light to filter inside. “Using our experience with the Eye Gallery [another shop in the same plaza], we wanted to create a space that connects to the outside, transitioning and layering light in the deep spaces,” CONTENT partner Jesse Hager, AIA, explains.

The facade, white with gold lettering, is slightly set back to cleverly mask overhead intake and exhaust vents behind a thin strip of white perforated panel. The ducts inside are hidden behind a white ceiling plane. Outside the entrance is a wooden bench. An identical bench mirrors the first just inside the storefront, as if the glass between has dissolved. The purpose, says CONTENT’s Eric Hughes, Assoc. AIA, is “to capture the energy inside and connect to passing pedestrians.”

Once inside, the small retail entrance features natural light on white surfaces to make it easy for clients to pick a polish. To divide it from the salon services beyond, a vertical screen of bare brass extends from the ceiling, thickening into white wood rods that become a short wood-topped wrapping wall. Another short wall hides a small service area, transitioning into the salon. A series of blue Eero Saarinen womb chairs are set up for pedicures, arranged so that large groups can sit side by side along one wall and smaller groups can opt for facing pairs. Moving deeper inside, light fixtures are increasingly paired with wood surfaces in the manicure area to create warm, individualized spaces. The most private space at the rear, the bathroom, uses wood and lighting that are an extension of the rest of the salon.

“The space is meant to be hygienic and clean, but also approachable,” CONTENT’s Gail Chen explains. It also integrates the graphics, according to both Hager and Naderi. The pedicure chairs are elevated on a platform so tools can be stored underneath and techs can reach clients’ feet easier. The walls are decorated simply, with reflected light from below and plants lining the short wrapping wall. The experience of the techs was also considered: CONTENT designed the ergonomic furniture with wood and touches of brass.

During the day, the reflection from inside is a gradually dissipating white. At night, when the light within emits outwards, the nonwhite, wallpapered rear wall evokes a sunrise/sunset. These warm colors reflect forward toward the facade to reveal Paloma’s interior: a long, deep space.

Renee Reder works for Metalab in Houston.

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