There are two ways to enter Usfin Atelier. From the street frontage, you wind up a set of wooden stairs with high, chestnut coloured balustrades. Framed images of workers from the early 20th century ring the stairwell as light pours in from above. Entering the second floor a warren of offices spreads out, each simply marked by a plaque at the entrance. The other entrance is from the back. Navigating through the carpark, the three story industrial buildings create a corridor, with eyes hidden behind oversized bay windows. Clambering up a set of metal stairs, one crosses a gangway before stepping into Usfin Atelier.
Within Usfin, the two trajectories combine. The space is bright, well-lit from the massive skylights that rain light into the studio and a gun metal grey metal work bench extends out from the reception area. Functionality, however, reigns supreme; there are no gilded mirrors or dripping chandeliers here. Each cutting station is a aluminium box reminiscent of an airline storage trolley, and the entire operation can be cleared away for regular events and workshops.
This reality is the outcome of a shared vision between Daniel Liu, his partner Xena and interior architect George Livissianis.
“My partner Xena and I really like Cho Cho San, so we always wanted to know who did that architecture,” said Liu. “We found out George did that space and then we tried to contact him and see if he's interested in doing our new atelier. He had never done a hair salon before, but he really liked this space and I think he did a fantastic job of working with us together in creating this concept.”
Usfin Atelier is located within the Precinct 75 creative precinct on Mary Street, St Peters. A converted paint factory, the area now hums with designers, furniture makers and music studios, as well as a brewery, café and bakery. It’s this intermingling of minds and practices that also empowers individuals such as Liu.
“The whole precinct is really inspiring as well. To be able to work in such beautiful space is actually promoting [my] creativity.”
Developing the brief for Livissianis, Liu reflected not only on the space itself, but the approach and ethos that he wanted this new hair salon to embody. Those that come in to Usfin Atelier have their individual hair needs assessed on a case-by-case basis, and Liu and Livissianis have created a space that reflects this forward thinking, yet traditionalist approach, “We wanted to create something quite minimal, but at the same time we wanted something a bit more futuristic.”
The connections between the practices of the salon and the construction of the building do not stop at the point of concept. The skeleton of the original building pokes through at certain points in the salon. The beams which supported the original structure are painted black, in marked contrast to the silver and white of the rest of the salon. Their geometric form and colour palette are then mirrored in the glass dividing walls which are divided into squares by black frames. As Liu noted, “we want to keep the character of the space as much as possible, because it's really beautiful by itself.”
Designing a hair salon could easily take a turn towards the decorative, with embellishments and ornamentation to suggest the approach to cutting that goes on at each station, however for Liu, the idea that hair design should be about artificial accents to hide or obscure the individual is anathema to his approach, and this has been realised in the space.
“Livissianis, he's less and less, so it's the same as I design hair; if this person has a really natural wave, beautiful texture, I wouldn't straighten it, I wouldn't blow dry it straight. I wouldn't cut off the wave, I would enhance the wave and I would hero the natural texture of that person.”
This melding of form and function has drawn the attention of not only of the Sydney-based clients and collaborators that Usfin and Liu work with, the store and its design has recently been nominated for the international Frame Award for best single-brand store of the year. There is a people’s choice accolade as part of the awards, so add your ballot before February 19: https://www.frameawards.com/nominees.
Find our more on Usfin here https://www.usfin.com.au.