Inner Beauty

A hairstylist and designer collaborate on an ambitious 1920s-style salon, the Beauty Lounge.

Photography by Daniel Wood

In August 2008, hairstylist and business owner William Halabi was seeking a home for the Beauty Lounge, a luxury salon, spa and skincare supplies boutique.

Though he had been to the site innumerable times to buy hairstyle magazines when it was The Front Page Magazines, he didn’t know it was on the market. In fact, the real estate agent got the keys that afternoon and hadn’t shown it to anyone yet. “I told him I wanted something downtown, he wrote my name and phone number on that folder. It was meant to be,” says Halabi who keeps his black hair long and sports a tattoo of scissors on his right arm.

He brought Sheila Hahn of Kohon Designs to scout the 6,200-square-foot loft and basement in the historic Birks Building. “I told Sheila that I wanted a 1920s/30s salon with a damask pattern throughout. I wanted colour and chartreuse and burgundy and gold – and Sheila said, ‘Stop for a second. Black and white.'”

The space was gutted to the original 1923 brick, and slated to open on May 18, 2009. But, it was exactly 365 days later that it finally opened its doors. According to Halabi and Hahn, it’s because a new contractor did shoddy work and presented forged contracts before fleeing the city. He came with strong recommendations, but, “the key is finding very recent references,” says Hahn. “We re-used what we could and became very inventive with stretching the dollar because of the losses.”

“Any other human being would have quit,” she says about Halabi. “I’ve never seen such determination.”

“There’s so much blood of mine in this salon,” says Halabi, who was out over a million dollars, much of it gone to the contractor, paying rent while in limbo and loss of business.

“I lost a lot of clients, a lot of friends and a lot of relationships to building this salon. Lots of people told me I should have stopped, but because of my vision and Sheila’s time and effort, I would not fall back.”

For its design, the Beauty Lounge was awarded the 2010 Visionary Award from Modern Beauty Supplies, a massive wholesaler of salon products. The glass structure sits on a table next to a framed manifesto from Hahn and a pencilled portrait of his late mother, two muses he couldn’t have done it without.

Damask Theme (top photo): Halabi’s vision started with a 200-year-old piece of wallpaper on an easel he saw in a paint store in New York City. “You could see the layers of the wallpapering and wood and Gyprock on it – just ripped out of a wall and put on the easel.”

Grand Salon: “We took it [the mirrors] to the ceiling to elongate the wall, so you’re not just sitting in a chair – it’s the feeling of being in a palace and throne,” says Hahn, adding that the reflection of the chandeliers creates a richer look.

Upstairs: The pedicure room is directly under a skylight. Hahn says the bleached look was necessary to offset the low ceilings; otherwise it would feel claustrophobic. She says the airiness “gives the feeling of being lifted above everything else.” Halabi says.

Basement: Formerly home to a furrier, the downstairs is tight and narrow, so they kept the palatte light. Halabi even hand-painted the ceiling pipes. There’s a waiting area downstairs so robed patrons can have privacy.

Mother’s Portrait: Hahn planned on gifting him this pencilled portrait of his mother on the last day of renovations, but as everything soured, “there was a point where I just knew he had to see it.” Adds Halabi, “And that’s why I finished it.”

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