Intricate nail art—and candid conversations—at Get Nailed Beauty Lounge
Get Nailed Beauty Lounge, overlooking High Street in the heart of downtown Portland, is not for everyone.
If you have delicate sensibilities over things like cursing and don’t appreciate sarcasm, this probably wouldn’t be the nail salon for you.
But if a “let’s get to be friends” atmosphere, with lots of joking and laughing and often-irreverent humor sounds like your speed, Get Nailed might be your place.
“We’re not for everybody because no subject is off limits here, and not everybody is comfortable with that,” acknowledges owner Nancy Nguyen, who opened the upscale salon a year ago. “We’re gonna talk about our sex lives, food, eating, our periods, pooping—all the time. The people who come here like that and do feel comfortable. I may not have a filter, but I’m nice and fun and very personable!”
If some people are turned off, that’s OK, she says—just as many or more people will appreciate her fresh approach. And she must be doing something right. The salon is open Tuesday through Saturday by appointment only, and Nguyen says she’s booked two weeks out.
Requiring appointments provides time to get things right, she says—“I don’t want anyone to feel rushed because we need to get to the next person”—and gives her the flexibility she needs as a mom to two, ages 1 1/2 and 8.
“The atmosphere she’s created is like no other. When I walk in, I feel like I’m going to just catch up with some girlfriends,” says Helen Gillis of Portland, a kindergarten teacher who has enjoyed Nguyen’s gel manicures, acrylics, dipping powders, pedicures and nail art services for the past three years. “They know about my life and I theirs because they have such genuine conversations.”
That’s by design for Nguyen, 30, who was clear on precisely what she wanted for her business by the time she teamed up with a friend to share fourth-floor space at 142 High St.
It had taken time to find her niche. She graduated from Cali for Nails Academy in Boston, but she also tried going to school for biochemistry and earned an LPN license from Intercoast along her way.
She eventually returned to doing nails – she got her nail license on her 21st birthday – because it satisfies her artistic and business talents, but it wasn’t a smooth path to her own business. She had hopped from salon to salon for years, experiencing good and bad bosses, service and conditions, before renting a booth in a Portland house as Nailed by Nancy—the last stop before Get Nailed Beauty Lounge. Through those years, she’s learned what works for her and what to avoid.
Like stuffy and discouraging people. And less-than-top-notch sanitary conditions. Hence, the no-subject-is-taboo atmosphere and doing some things deliberately differently, like opting for deep pedicure bowls that are not hooked up to a pump and get a fresh liner for each client. And she’s also heavily focused on intricate nail art, despite naysayers telling her it would never fly in Portland, Maine.
“It’s become such a big thing now, and people love it as a way to express themselves and their personalities,” Nguyen says, offering photos from her phone that show elaborate examples. “I’ve always loved art, so it’s fun. I’ve learned how to build nail sculptures out of acrylics,” including 3D detailed skulls for one set of fingernails. “I’ve also done things like a Ouija board and lots of florals—not your average florals! And I love working with dipping powders, which are another form of acrylics that can strengthen and lengthen nails.”
When pondering how to achieve a certain look, YouTube has been known to come to the rescue. And Instagram has been her biggest source of advertising and business.
“People love it as a way to express themselves and their personalities.”
“It’s amazing, and free!” Nguyen says. “And the moment I started posting pictures of nail art, people starting coming and asking for it.”
High-quality work is her highest priority, she says, noting that a typical price for a regular manicure in Greater Portland is about $25–$27. Hers start at $35.
“The difference is, ours last. We take our time to make sure it’s done right. So you can spend $50 a month and go every two weeks, or you can come here and get a manicure every three or four weeks, or even six, sometimes. That saves you money in the long run.”
Nguyen says she appreciates a trend toward a little more flash when it comes to nails.
“Wearing bright colors and nail art at the office is, like tattoos, slowly becoming more acceptable,” she says, adding that more men are having their nails painted, too. “We have one guy who likes to try all sorts of things. Right now, he has ice cream cones (painted) on his nails.”
Nguyen says she’s happy with how the business is going, but has higher aspirations. Beyond catering to bridal parties, she’d love to host children’s parties, for one thing. And then there’s the bigger picture:
“I’d love to have a salon and a school in the same space with lots of little suites, all under one roof,” she says. “A lot of schools pump people out, but they don’t learn what they need to learn,” from trimming cuticles correctly to understanding how to avoid bacterial infections. “My students would learn some things I wish I’d learned! And they could gain clientele and then booth rent or work for the school or salon. Who knows? Maybe I’ll franchise it.”
Get Nailed Beauty Lounge
142 High St., Portland
Patricia McCarthy is a longtime writer and editor. She has three daughters, lives in Portland, and also has a photography business (patriciamccarthy.com)