Stepping into Friends & Family salon – a bright and beaming space amidst the bustle of Sydney’s Chippendale peninsula – you’d be forgiven for the double take.
Less of a conventional shop floor (though not without the chairs and basins), it’s a space more akin to your cool designer friend’s inner city dwelling; modern, artfully adorned and imbued with 70s nostalgia. A sunny reprieve from the throes of modern living, peppered with paraphernalia, gilded mirrors and boldly hued vintage pieces; a place that looks (and feels) like home. A deliberate undertaking for husband and wife owners, Adam and Natalie Walmsley.
“We’ve worked in hairdressing for 20 years a piece, operating in places we’ve loved and others we didn’t enjoy quite as much,” starts Adam. “The salon is a culmination of the aspects that stuck; the best bits manifested into one shop. We’ve tried to bring that East London feel to Sydney. It’s not a traditional set up but rather one that feels a little more informal. Our goal was for clients to feel relaxed rather than intimidated.”
A sentiment Natalie echoes, “We’ve both worked in fast- paced salons (think, ten haircuts a day; music blaring) but, with two children, we’ve come to a new chapter in our lives. We wanted our space to reflect that; to feel comfortable and relaxed. Somewhere we would enjoy working and our clients would love visiting.” Relocating from London to Sydney in 2015, the pair set about finding the perfect site in which to manifest their shared vision, ultimately choosing Abercrombie Street in Chippendale after a year-long search.
“We moved to Sydney to be closer to Nat’s family and to raise our kids. It’s been a lovely journey so far,” shares Adam. “After a long period of adjustment – in which family was our core focus – we started missing the industry connection, especially after years of being at the epicentre of it in London, and working in central areas like Soho.” Taking temporary post at a hip space on Cleveland Street – a move that acquainted the seasoned stylist with the local industry – Adam was ready for the next step.
“After years of working for others, there comes a point when it’s time to create your own environment. It’s just about finding the right place to do it. For us, Chippendale ticked all the boxes. It had the clientele (designers, young creatives, professionals) galleries and office spaces, but felt slightly under-serviced in the hair department. We saw an opportunity to create something different; something in line with our vibe and aesthetic. Chippendale just had that little bit more of an edge to it.”
A place for clients to “sit back and relax” while the pair (or in- house colourist – depending on your poison) work their magic, Friends & Family is a haven for all. As for their hairdressing approach? “We’re aware of trends, but never led by them,” leads Adam. “We look at a client’s unique qualities and champion that. Consultation is key. We take the time to get to know our clients; to sift through the ambiguity and find out what they really want. That’s a massive part of what connects us to them.”
Another crucial aspect? An overarching ethos of family. “Our regulars are really chilled,” shares Natalie. “They’ll ask about the kids and share their own stories. We’ve really worked to foster that family environment. We want our clients to feel comfortable – as though they’re hanging out at a friend’s house. That’s why we’ve positioned the kitchenette and reception at the back of the salon – you have to walk past the lounge first! Every aspect is informed by our approach to business.”
Though the journey has not been without its challenges. “At the start, it’s an emotional rollercoaster,” Adam recalls with refreshing candour. “It really is so hard to give yourself credit for setting something up – even when others do. Staying sane was a real challenge. There’s moments when you question what it is you’re actually doing. You have to be committed; to be compelled to create something. I remember Nat nursing while painting the walls… I’m pretty sure our eldest chipped in too. It was mayhem.”
“You don’t realise how big of a task it really is until you look back and think… ‘How did I do that?’ continues Natalie. “It’s a small operation; there’s only Nat, myself and a colourist – our space dictates as such. But there’s potential to grow,” adds Adam, “It’s been two years with no advertisements, and the majority of our clientele sourced through word of mouth. We want to create somewhat of an institution in the area. We’re simply producing good work and continuing to look after our clients – in a space that fits us and our clients.”
A job well done.
You may also like…