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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Nail spas with a difference

Nail salons are becoming more unique
The Straits Times - April 6, 2012
By: Gladys Chung
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Nail spas with a difference Thumbelina Nail Lounge -- ST PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR

A visit to the nail salon can literally be a pain sometimes, and we're not talking about a bleeding cuticle.

Squeezing into cramped spaces in generic, hole-in-the-wall salons in shopping malls, with nothing to stare at but a movie that is put on loop and muted, is not anyone's idea of a pampering session.

There is a nail salon at almost every corner these days. And a majority resemble the ones mentioned above.

To fill the gap in the market for nail salons that provide a unique and relaxing experience, at least three nail spas have sprung up in unexpected parts of the island, each offering refreshing concepts.

Two are in the East Coast area - Kuching Nail Spa is in a Joo Chiat shophouse and Hands + Feet Studio is in Siglap Drive. Thumbelina Nail Lounge, in the Bukit Timah area, occupies another shophouse. All three were opened in February.

The owners, all beauty junkies aged between 25 and 31, want to change the game in the seemingly saturated nail grooming market.

'Many are starting to view grooming and pampering sessions as a necessity and no longer as a luxury,' says Ms Caryn Lim, 25, owner of Hands + Feet Studio.

She wants to do something different, she says, besides providing a service that is a touch above the inconsistent standards of many other salons.

Being different means making interesting changes to the concept of a nail spa, like hanging local art on the walls so customers can decide if they would like to commission the artist for an artwork, while they get their nails painted, as Ms Lim has done.

Or serving clients Nespresso coffee with a salted pretzel in a colonial setting, like Ms Clarice Lim, 31, does at The Kuching Nail Spa.

Urban checks out the three new nail parlours with a twist.

The Kuching Nail Spa

291 Joo Chiat Road, 02-15 JK Centre

Open: 10am to 9.30pm daily

Call 6636-2826 or visit for details

With its ceiling fan, black-and-white tiles, plush leather chairs and dark wood panels, this parlour with British colonial-style decor is absolutely charming.

Opened in February by two childhood friends - former Singapore Prisons Service counsellor Clarice Lim and entrepreneur Kris Ho, both 31 - the cosy nail spa is a good alternative to the other generic salons in the area.

Although it is just 259 sq ft, the four pedicure chairs and two manicure seats are comfortably spaced out.

The nail spa was named after the Kucinta, the Singapore River Cat which is the breed of Ms Lim's cat, Charcoal.

As both owners of the salon are animal lovers, 5 per cent of the nail salon's annual turnover will go to the Animal Lovers League, a local animal shelter.

Ms Lim does the nail grooming, together with two other manicurists. It is advisable to make an appointment.

Prices: $30 and $35 for a classic manicure and pedicure respectively (includes cuticle removal and a quick massage).

Best for: Busy bees who want a speedy manicure. The nail-grooming service is neat and quick. The nail art can be pretty loud, which is great if you are the adventurous type.


Hands + Feet Studio

44 Siglap Drive

Open: 11am to 11pm daily

Call 6448-7187 for inquiries

This foot reflexology-cum-nail salon is a haven for urbanites. Located in a quiet neighbourhood in Siglap, it is sandwiched between two confectionery shops.

The spacious 1,500 sq ft shop is divided into two spaces - The Gallery Space, with eight leather couches for foot-reflexology services; and The Paint Room, with four pedicure chairs and two manicure seats.

On the walls of The Gallery Space hang the work of local artists Pepper See and TheBowerBirds.

The clean, minimalist design also makes it inviting to male customers, who make up 40 per cent of the clientele.

The woman behind this business is former bank executive Caryn Lim, 25, who opened the studio in February after feeling frustrated about 'not getting the kind of service I want at nail salons'.

She recalls with horror: 'At one place I went to, the manicurist cut my cuticles after she put on the nail polish.'

So, when she stumbled across the empty shop space - a five-minute walk from her parents' home - last October, she grabbed it, quit her job and started the business with her five-figure savings.

'I don't think the nail-grooming market is saturated, especially when more can be done to offer customers a better experience,' she says.

There are five foot reflexology therapists and two manicurists at Hands + Feet. It is advisable to make an appointment.

Prices: $28 and $38 for a classic manicure and pedicure respectively (treatments come with a scrub and cuticle treatment); $30 for 45 minutes of foot reflexology, and $38 for 60 minutes.

Best for: Pampering the man in your life while you get your own nails groomed or feet kneaded. The foot reflexology here is thorough and relaxing. Ask for Makita, who provides excellent foot massages.

Thumbelina Nail Lounge

619B Bukit Timah Road

Open: 10am to 7pm, Tuesdays to Sundays

Call 6469-0722 or visit

Tucked away on the second storey of a shophouse next to Coronation Plaza, Thumbelina in Bukit Timah Road is a homely nail salon with a rustic feel.

Opened in February by Ms Zoe Teh, 27, a former science teacher at a tuition centre, its main clientele comprise local and expatriate residents in the area.

While Thumbelina provides the usual nail-grooming services - as well as hands and feet spa treatments and eyebrow services - interesting touches in the salon set it apart from the rest.

These include displays of fresh flowers in tiny jars, cross-stitched cushions made by Ms Teh's grandmother, a small collection of imported vintage china pieces that are for sale and a trolley of pastries priced between $1.50 and $3.80 each.

At any one time, it offers a selection of five kinds of cakes and sweets, such as dark chocolate brownies and orange poppy muffins, which are bought fresh daily from Plain Vanilla bakery in Holland Village. Ginger and green teas are free but other teas, such as Earl Grey and peppermint, cost $3.80 per pot.

For hygiene reasons, nail grooming is done in a separate room from the pastry corner in the 900 sq ft parlour.

'Most customers eat after their nails are done or order takeaways because they don't want to ruin their manicures,' says Ms Teh.

Her decision to start a nail salon was sparked off by a stint as a beauty salon receptionist when she was 16.

'I realised that I loved interacting with the customers,' says Ms Teh, who holds a business finance degree from the Singapore Management University.

So, instead of getting a job at a financial institution after graduation like her classmates, she took up a job at a tuition centre which 'paid her well' so that she could save up for her own business venture.

A year or so later, she signed up for a full-time, six-month beauty course at The School of Make-up, a local beauty academy, before becoming a full-time manicurist at a nail salon for a year.

'It was back-breaking work. I worked for more than 10 hours a day and earned about $1,000 a month,' she says. 'But I wanted to gain hands-on experience.'

Today, even though she is the boss, she still attends to customers, together with four other nail groomers at Thumbelina. It is advisable to make an appointment.

Prices: $30 and $45 for a classic manicure and pedicure respectively. The classic treatment comes with a soak, scrub and cuticle treatment.

Best for: Those who want basic grooming and nail-art services and have a long afternoon to while away. The services are provided with care and patience. The relatively spacious and quaint venue also makes it perfect for birthday and bridal parties.


Carrot cake without guilt