When it comes to life’s little pleasures, a mani/pedi is at the top of our list. But a trip to the nail salon hasn’t always been a treat. Often rife with chemical fumes and featuring bland, off-the-shelf design and harsh fluorescent lighting, what should be a pampering experience can seem about as luxurious as an oil change. Recently, a New York Times story exposed serious concerns about the treatment of nail salon workers, an issue that is also of consideration here in Denver. Thankfully, two salons in the Mile High City have designed something different.

“I’m Vietnamese and I grew up with the industry,” says Tran Wills, co-owner of Base Coat, a new nail salon in the LoHi neighborhood. “I saw terrible work conditions and I saw my aunts and cousins getting sick.” When Wills became pregnant, she realized exposing herself and her unborn child to the fumes of the nail salon was out of the question. “That’s when I decided I wanted to create a different kind of salon.”

At Base Coat, the difference is immediately apparent. Located in the Lumina building, the team from Rust & Varnish Hospitality Group created a modern design that relies on neutral colors and natural elements, giving the salon a comfy vibe. “We wanted the salon to feel like home,” says Ali Elman, co-founder of Rust & Varnish and a partner in Base Coat. “People feel more relaxed in their house or at a friend’s house so we went for that homey feel.”

Base Coat is a non-toxic salon focusing on natural nails, which keeps it free from those chemical fumes. The owners are firm proponents of green beauty. Lots of natural lighting, leather pedicure chairs, wood-topped manicure stations, and plenty of houseplants play into the homegrown design. The waiting area feels like a living room with a low-slung coffee table and plenty of pillows.

“We designed the salon not only for our guests, but for our employees,” says Elman. “Of course we want our guests [to feel] comfortable during their treatments, but our employees are there every day, and we need our nail techs to be happy and healthy.” This is the second location for Base Coat, as the original building it inhabited in Highland was sold. It took Wills, who also owns Svper Ordinary, a boutique/gallery in the Source, almost a year to secure the current location.

Inside Polished Nail Boutique & Beauty Lounge’s elegant space (just look at those pedi chairs!). —Courtesy of Polished

On the other side of the style equation is Cherry Creek North’s Polished Nail Boutique & Beauty Lounge: a glamorous, spa-like escape. Here, a massive chandelier takes center stage over a gleaming mirrored table. Mod, egg-shaped pedicure chairs line one wall and nail-techs sit in Philippe Starck Ghost chairs from Design Within Reach. The clean white décor accented with gilt mirrors is both upscale and relaxing. Plus, a $20,000 state-of-the-art ventilation system means clear air for customers and employees alike.

Designer Dave Hintgen, principal of DH Interiors, created the space for his wife, Polished owner Lisa Hintgen. “We’re very much in sync when it comes to design,” says David. “We have the same aesthetic, which makes it a very easy process.”

The egg-shaped pedicure chairs set the tone for the room, says Lisa. “I found the chairs and asked ‘can you design everything around these.’ We didn’t even have the space yet but I knew these were the chairs.” They also add an additional level of safety and sanitization. Traditional pedicure chairs feature foot-bathing tubs filled with jetted pipes that can become unsanitary. Polished’s pipe-less chairs use a magnetized jet system that is removed and sanitized after every use. Hintgen’s nail techs use disposable nail tools when possible and for the tools that are re-used, hospital-grade sanitation systems are utilized.

Hintgen agrees that the issues raised in the New York Times’ exposé should be a concern nationwide. “It’s not just a New York problem, it’s a Denver problem. In many nail salons the conditions are appalling,” Hintgen says. “We do things differently, and it costs more. But it’s a question of value and we are educating our customers every day. ”

As for keeping her design services in the family, Lisa says she loved the process and is thrilled with the results—for herself, her guests, and her staff. “It was such a pleasure, every day I walk in here I think ‘Wow.’ It’s just wonderful.”

Visit: Base Coat, 3244 Navajo St., 303-477-6245; Polished, 250 Fillmore St., Unit C; 303-997-4414