Image of a storefront with a sign that says "ephemeral"

Ephemeral Tattoo Reimagines Tattoo Studio Design

Spearheaded by Pete Trentacoste, former Casper environments design director, the “made-to-fade” tattoo brand now has six locations, each inspired by the city they’re in. 

When you think of the traditional tattoo shop, what comes to mind? Is it a storefront in a strip mall covered in flashing neon signs and filled with black furniture, biker dudes with face tats, and dark walls covered in white sheets of flash designs? Maybe you envision the tattoo/smoke shop combo—a place where you can not only go to get body modifications but a new pipe, a box of incense, and some Grateful Dead merch. Perhaps you recall sets from reality shows like Miami Ink or Ink Master, not only giving you an idea of tattoo studio aesthetics, but an idea of the tattooing process and the etiquette around getting inked? Through evocative interior design and a hospitality-driven atmosphere, Ephemeral Tattoo seeks to challenge many of these preconceptions, introducing a new kind of tattoo shop. The catch? The tattoos are 100 percent temporary––and that has some serious design implications.  

Since launching its first studio in Brooklyn in 2021, the “made-to-fade” brand has expanded to Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, and San Francisco. Offering custom tattoos with ink that fades in about 9–15 months, Ephemeral not only offers a unique selection of temporary art designed by licensed tattooists but a calming space that is designed for both those who are familiar with tattooing but also welcoming to folks who are new to body art.  

Image of an outdoor lounge with palm  trees
Ephemeral’s first location in Brooklyn offers something that most tattoo studios do not: an outdoor lounge area.
a photograph of the interior of a tattoo studio with palm trees, a disco ball, and white space dividers
A lounge area located within the Los Angeles location, including a custom-made disco ball and screens repurposed from the former autobody shop.

Before designing each location, Ephemeral’s head of studio design and experience, Pete Trentacoste (also behind bedding company Casper’s retail design) interviewed tattoo artists, tattoo shop owners, and shop managers, but also the people who have tattoos and those who don’t. “We asked, ‘What was their experience like? What went well? What didn’t go well? Why haven’t you gotten a tattoo?’”  

While visitor experience is important, Trentacoste “put the artists first.” The one thing he noticed coming up again and again? Privacy. He explains that privacy not only creates a better working environment for the artist, but creates a sense of ease for clients who may already be nervous about the process, anxious about having to remove articles of clothing, distracted by other clients, or overstimulated by both the auditory and visual noise.  

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The design of any tattoo shop needs to strike a delicate balance between reveal and conceal. On one hand, clients want privacy, but on the other, they need ample opportunities to view the work that is being placed on their bodies. In order to achieve this in the Los Angeles location, Trentacoste utilized brightly colored plastic screens—taken from the site’s former use as an autobody shop—juxtaposed with organically shaped mirrors with warm wood frames. Meanwhile, the Atlanta location incorporates reflective red and blue screens that recall the city’s nightlife scene in addition to massive triangular mirrors that can be manually spun to give the client a kaleidoscopic views of their body art.  

image of interior of a tattoo shop with wood bookshelves dividing the space
Ephemeral’s San Francisco location gives off homey vibes with spacious rooms divided by bookshelves made of locally sourced wood.

The design of each Ephemeral locations shows that tattoo studios don’t need to have a generic, universal design to maintain a safe, sterile environment. Rather than replicating a similar aesthetic for each, all of Ephemeral’s studios are individually designed to reflect their surrounding communities. Trentacoste notes, “It’s just really important that each studio feels like the city it’s in.” With this in mind, he included include custom-made objects and furnishings for each. For Los Angeles, this was a giant disco ball. In Atlanta, it was a fur-lined swing set, while Miami location evokes play and the outdoors with a metallic see-saw, cloud shaped mirrors, and pool-tube shaped seating.  

For San Francisco, the shop was turned into a library-esque space filled with locally-sourced raw wood bookshelves decorated in hand-picked tchotchkes, photographs, and ephemera Trentacoste scoured Ebay for. He likens it to “your crazy aunt’s house” but because San Francisco is such a tech city he notes that, “People come in and expect it to be like the Apple Store of tattoo shops. They expect like a super minimal white box but we’re doing the exact opposite.”  

But that’s just it, while each store is different, Ephemeral designs spaces that evoke a feeling of familiarity in all locations. “When we design our studio is, we want it to feel like home. We want it to feel like you belong there, and you can come and just hang. And just something as simple as having snacks and a refrigerator for you to grab your own drink, starts that,” Trentacoste says. But that said, if that traditional neon-clad tattoo shop is more your style, more power to you. The designer respectfully acknowledges tradition within the industry: “We’re not saying we’re disrupting the industry; we’re just doing something different and we’re doing it kind of in our own way.” 

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