Michelle Saunders James Shows Us Her California Bay Area Salon

Celebrity manicurist Michelle Saunders James shows us around her earth-toned, newly opened California Bay Area nail salon.


The Look

Saunders & James is located in Rockridge, California, a diverse and well-established community in North Oakland, home to many shops and restaurants, and conveniently accessible from all points in the Bay Area. I like to say that the salon is “high concept” and “high design.” In terms of design, I felt like I was building a home for nails, not a salon—it’s an elevated destination. We utilized colors in the decor that mimic my favorite nail polishes hues, such as aloe, persimmon, dove gray and emerald green. The architectural designs were created to mimic nails, like the moon (we use a lot of arches in our space). And it’s high concept because everything was chosen for a curated style, not just to meet the bare minimum salon requirements. We strive to create a new standard in nail salons by focusing, first and foremost, on nail care and the individual client’s needs.

RELATED: How to Authentically Bring Wellness Into the Salon


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Michelle Saunders (@michellesaundersjames) on

Signature Services

On average, clients spend about one hour in the salon and between $30
and $100. Our most popular service is the Recovery Manicure & Pedicure. We bring nails back to health with this therapeutic service, which adds intense hydration to the nails and strengthens them with a special base coat—perfect for those recovering or taking a break from acrylic, dip or gel. It’s also great for those who have sensitive nails that break easily, peel or chip. The manicure includes a hot oil treatment, and the pedicure includes a gentle scrub and foot mask. For best results, we recommend four manicures within 30 days or four pedis within 60 days.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Michelle Saunders (@michellesaundersjames) on

The Goods

Essie is our hero brand; I’ve been using it for 30 years, back when it was exclusively sold and used in salons. We’re in the process of exploring pro luxury brands to bring into the salon, as well, like JINsoon and Morgan Taylor, and we’ve recently been introduced to The Gel Bottle, which is a great line with more than 400 color options as well as builder gels.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Saunders & James (@saundersandjames) on

Local Outreach

When building our salon, we met and worked with a lot of local artisans for elements, such as wall murals, custom lighting and shelves. We enjoy meeting our neighbors as more of the community learns about us. We’re getting to know our
clients by name, and we love that feeling! We also donate regularly to local schools.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Saunders & James (@saundersandjames) on

Social Life

We use social media to inspire our clients with the latest fashion, color and nail art trends; as an educational platform to teach them about proper nail care; and to promote our services and newest nail art designs. We’ve found Instagram to be a great platform for us because it’s about sharing beauty, sharing nail knowledge and sharing the joy we find in doing nails.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Saunders & James (@saundersandjames) on

Up Close With Michelle Saunders James

What was your first job in the nail industry?

“I was plucked right out of cosmetology school by Chanel, working at department stores like Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Saks 5th Avenue. At the time, they were running a promotion where shoppers would get a complimentary manicure with a purchase of Vamp nail polish.”

What inspires you?

“Colors, textiles, fashion design and architecture. You see a doorway; I see nail art.”

What was the most challenging thing that happened while opening Saunders & James

“Choosing the right flooring that was acetone- and nail polish-proof! It was a little funny because we’d be on our hands and knees wiping the floor with acetone after spilling nail polish purposely. We went through different kinds of floors before landing on Ardex.”

What’s your best advice for new salon owners?

“Build a really strong team of like- minded people who excel in the areas that you do not.”

More in Business