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An Afternoon Inside The Copper House — A Boutique Hair Salon in Middlesbrough

An Afternoon Inside The Copper House — A Boutique Hair Salon in Middlesbrough

The moment I stepped into The Copper House on Baker Street I thought I had stepped into a late 19th century seafarer and antique collector’s house. I also realised that I had made the right choice. They describe themselves as a boutique hair salon with a difference. It was this coupled with the online profiles of the stylists that made me choose this salon above other, better-known hairdressing brands when I first arrived in Teesside. Having visited salons all over the world, I knew that I was looking for something out of the ordinary. A personal touch. An original artistic vision. A respect for the science of hairstyling. The edgy buzz ringing through the elegant house and the laid back professionalism of the stylists immediately set me at ease.

They knew their trade like the back of a pair of clippers.

The Copper House is located on 31 Baker Street in Middlesbrough

The Copper House is located on 31 Baker Street in Middlesbrough

From their logo, the historic velvet theatre seats, the black and white photographs, to the Belmont barber chairs, oriental cupboards, and dainty tea cups, this was meant to be a house. A house filled with old-world charm, yet home to hairstylists with modern outlooks and a passion for working on the cutting edge of hairdressing. This is no doubt what the founder and art director of The Copper House, Stephen Barker, had in mind when he opened the salon in 2011.

One of the upcycled treasures

One of the upcycled treasures

Clients are seated in a miniature theatre row while waiting for their appointment

Clients are seated in a miniature theatre row while waiting for their appointment

While growing up in Teesside, the idea of working for ICI and building a career in industry did not appeal to Stephen. At the age of 13, after seeing a television programme on hairdressing, he decided to take a completely different route. After 25 years’ experience either working in, managing or owning salons in diverse locations across the country, including London and the South East coast, Stephen opened The Copper House in Middlesbrough in 2011 as an independent contractors’ hair salon. He describes it as a business within a business. Each stylist is independent: they determine which days and hours they work, they book and manage their own appointments, have their own phone lines and rent their own work space from Stephen.

Stephen Barker, the Art Director of The Copper House

Stephen Barker, the Art Director of The Copper House

This means each hairstylist’s business success is solely dependent on their motivation, their knowledge and creativity, as well as their ability to create a friendly, relaxed space where they can see to their clients’ needs. A client will usually be booked in with the same stylist from start to finish: consultation, colouring, washing, cutting, blowdrying and styling will all be done by the same person. Clients can thus expect a superior, personalised service every step of the way.

Stephen knew each stylist and was assured of the quality of their work before they started working in The Copper House. They are all either ex-salon owners, managers, or hairdresser with excellent reputations and large client bases. And because they all run the salon together, it is crucial that they are all happy with any new members of staff and the work they produce. It is the hairstyling equivalent of a peer-reviewed art journal. In this way, Stephen’s goal was to create a salon not only offering superb service to clients, but also providing hairstylists with an ideal work environment where they can be satisfactorily rewarded according to the hard work they have put into their careers and which has helped them attain their current standard and reputation.

Tools of trade

Tools of trade

Stephen and several other stylists at The Copper House have also been regular participants in hairdressing competitions, including the British Hair Awards. Participation in competitions often give hairstylists the chance to create expressive experimental looks through application of their knowledge and experience. These original creations of hair art is part of a hairstylist’s learning curve and help sharpen their skills. Raising their profiles and having their work published can vouch for the professionalism and expertise of the staff at any hair salon and this gives you an idea of the scope of knowledge that you can expect at The Copper House.

A vital part of the salon experience

A vital part of the salon experience

The visit

Knowing the hair salon’s dynamic vibe, insouciance and sparks of creativity, I wanted to give them the freedom to do with my hair wherever inspiration led them. In particular, it was having previously observed the stylists at work, creating conventional, trendy and street style looks on a variety of clients, that inspired me to go in there with a head like a clean canvas on which they could create as a painter would paint an abstract picture.

As Stephen started bleaching my hair, ensuring a clean working surface, he told me that he had been looking for ideas in magazines over the weeks leading up to my appointment. Inspiration for the colour palette eventually found him in a recent lounge design in Barker and Stonehouse with a bright yellow fireplace and teal sofas. It was all decided when he received a new colour at the salon, called limoncello. When stylists create looks for competitions and especially regarding colour blocking they work in geometrical shapes: circles, triangles and rectangles. As my hair turned into a tangy lemon liqueur, Stephen decided to complement the colour and my skin tone by adding a teal tear drop on the side.

The place of inspiration: a Matthew Williamson lounge design at Barker and Stonehouse

The place of inspiration: a Matthew Williamson lounge design at Barker and Stonehouse

As for the cut itself, there was no predetermined style that he wanted to recreate. Led by his grasp of hair types, he spontaneously sculpted out a shape. It was fascinating to see him descend into an unreachable zone, working quickly and efficiently, analysing the way my hair falls, taking away, shaving, feathering and styling.  

Photography courtesy of Martin Fox

Photography courtesy of Martin Fox

The end result may not seem like your run of the mill look, but it is exactly what I intended it to be: a celebration of the art of hairstyling and a nod to the effort and skill of stylists across the industry.

An Essential Question to ask your Hairstylist before getting a New Look

Advice from The Copper House: the most important question a client should ask their hairstylist before getting a new hairstyle is, “Can you create that look on me?”

We all have completely different hair in terms of thickness, texture, movement and colour. Can a hairstylist recreate a look exactly? Most likely not. The challenging part of their trade is to advise a client what is and what is not possible and to recreate a similar look suitable to the client’s hair. Stephen tries to ensure that his clients feel satisfied at the end of their visit to his salon by avoiding over promising when it comes to requests.

"Rather under promise", he tells me, "and over deliver".

Special thanks to Stephen Barker, Martin Fox and Michelle Rooney for their help and contributions to the hair styling and photography.

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