• The exterior of Liberty in Mill Valley, CA<br />
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Images courtesy of Julia Danison
  • One of Julia's biggest investments for the space is her custom shadowless lighting setup<br />
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Images courtesy of Julia Danison
  • Julia's collection of art and design books<br />
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Images courtesy of Julia Danison
  • All of Liberty's printed collateral is handmade on a letterpress by Julia<br />
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Images courtesy of Julia Danison
  • An art installation that doubles as window dressing<br />
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Images courtesy of Julia Danison


Liberty owner Julia Danison has carefully curated every aspect of her space in Mill Valley, CA, to reflect her personality. From her custom shadowless lighting setup down to her letterpress business cards, no detail in her minimal Comme des Garçons-inspired space is included without careful consideration. We sat down with Danison and asked her to walk us through what’s currently inspiring her, where she goes to pick up her one-of-a-kind pieces and which vintage books are currently on her waiting table.

How would you describe your salon’s design?

I’ve been cutting hair for 20 years and I wanted a salon that was to-the-point and free from clutter. I wanted a peaceful space that would support me to do the best work possible and also be comfortable for my clients. I was inspired by minimalism in design, architecture, art and Comme des Garçons, which I collect and wear almost exclusively.

What are you currently inspired by?

I’m drawing inspiration from disruptive technology—I’m in love with the simple designs of Google Glass and Soma Water Filters. The idea of throwing away old ideas for new, questioning what has been and finding new ways to look at things really appeals to me. For instance, I think the idea of having people come in for haircuts all the time is a bit dated, so I don’t focus on it exclusively in my salon. I give people free, five-minute trims in between cuts. It gives me an opportunity to check in with my clients and watch the hair as it grows and changes.

What feeling are you trying to convey to your clients?

I’ve found that I do better work when I’m in an environment that supports me, whether that’s visually or by way of the people I surround myself with. I designed my space to make clients feel like they’re welcomed, taken care of and seen for who they really are. Going to the Comme des Garçons store in Paris also inspired my space. The design is clean and minimal, and the way it’s set up resembles a museum. Head designer Rei Kawakubo personally curated the store, which has a rack featuring her favorite new designers. I think it’s a beautiful way to mentor younger artists; we don’t have enough of that in our industry.

Tell us about the salon’s lighting.

It’s really important that you have serious lighting that’s not just decorative, or else you’re going to get shadows and your client isn’t going to be properly lit. I invested a lot of money in my custom lights and made sure that there are no shadows anywhere in the salon. One of the things I learned when I trained at Sassoon is how important the lighting is on the side of the mirrors, so I have white acrylic panels on each side of the mirrors that are actually LED light boxes.

Other than the physical design of the space, how do you create your desired atmosphere in the salon?

One of the things I’m doing right now is an art installation with two mannequins that I move around the salon in different positions. Since it’s been raining, there’s currently a mannequin sitting in the front window looking out. My playlist changes all the time, but right now I’m listening to London Grammar, Rye, Lo-Fang, THINK, Julia Stone, Beck, Doe Paoro and KRQR-FM radio station. By curating the music, you can really control people’s moods. Sometimes I’ll even change the music based on the client in my chair or invite them to choose music. Also, I’m always offering everyone espresso.

If you could have a fashion designer create uniforms for your salon, who would it be?

Raf Simons

Which books or magazines are on your shelves?

I have a rare Yohji Yamamoto book featuring his advertising photos from the ’90s, which I really love because of the strong lines in the cuts of the garments. It was just a really fun time in hair as well—I like reverting back to that and using that book with clients. I also have this amazing book on Japanese clothing designers, who I love because they’re disruptive and don’t sell out. Take Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons—she’s not going to let her brand be bought out by a big corporation. I also have art books like Damian Hirst, Cindy Sherman, Eames Design and the video artist Bill Viola. Oh, and a Rolling Stones retrospective photobook and Playboy for the men, of course.

Where do you shop for all the unique items in your salon?

All of these items have come out of relationships with people who truly love their craft. The letterpress machine came from my wonderful graphic designer, Brian, at Boon Design. He understands that I love simple, beautifully crafted pieces. For my marketing collateral, I wanted something that was hands-on but not too clever, so he offered to do a letterpress. He ordered it, made the press piece and showed me how to emboss all my paperwork. I use it all the time and it sits on my counter. It’s a lot of work, but if I don’t pay attention to detail in my salon environment, how am I going to have it in my work?

Tell us about your coffee machine. What’s your favorite coffee and/or espresso drink?

The espresso machine came from Carlo at Mr. Espresso in Oakland, CA. He moved to California from Italy in the ’70s and opened up Mr. Espresso. One day, I was in Oakland going to an acupuncture appointment and felt compelled to walk in to his store because of the amazing smell. I met Carlo and asked him if he had any espresso machines for sale. We sat and talked for about two hours and he made me eight shots of espresso. In terms of the coffee I brew, I’m true to Mr. Espresso because I love Carlo, but I love the dark roasts from Graffeo Coffee in San Rafael, CA.

What is your retail area like?

I wanted the retail area to be easily accessible and really show off the products, so I have it directly behind the chair so I can reach for them when was working on my clients. The selves are made of four-inch steel planks of and are lit by rose-toned LED lights so that the products glow.
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