NYC’s Whittemore House: Historic Landmark’s Basement Converted into Hip, New Salon
When wandering through New York City’s streets amid rancid smells, piles of garbage bags and unsavory characters, it’s easy to forget about that “magic” everyone talks about. But then you come upon a street like Grove, in the city’s West Village, and suddenly all the smells waft away and you remember: this city has magic. And then you’re further delighted when you stumble upon places like the Whittemore House, which know how to capture it and give it right back to you…while you’re sitting in a chair getting your hair done.
Housed in the basement level of an 1830 mansion that was converted into an apartment building in 1871, the Whittemore House salon is an antique treasure. But it took partners of the salon Victoria Hunter and Larry Raspanti, along with designer Martin Heinz, a lot of work to get the salon looking like it does today.
The building, on Grove Street, has gone through several alterations since its beginnings, when it was tied to folks like John Wilkes Booth, who reportedly visited the house in 1865 to try to persuade tenant and actor Samuel K. Chester to join a “conspiracy to take over the government” and kidnap President Abraham Lincoln. With history like that, the new salon owners knew that even while ripping apart its basement interiors and turning it into a happening salon for the NYC socialite crowd of the 21st century, they would have to work hard to maintain the cultural and historical integrity of the space – all while creating a salon that offered its clientele something beyond just a cool building to see and sit in.
The result is a basement space that was once all brick and cement walls is now a beautiful salon with an eclectic design sense and a trained staff of stylists and colorists, along with product lines that you’d be hard pressed to find in any other salon. While the design is immediately one of the salon’s most inviting and impressive attributes, the skill of hair craft executed by its staff is what’s most important to ensure clients keep coming back. Stylist Coby Alcantar undoubtedly has such a draw – her cutting technique is simultaneously effortless and precise.
After getting a painted-on color treatment (no foils, just plastic wrap to separate the strands) from Victoria, a NYC-dwelling Aussie, Coby worked her scissors to shape my hair into a fuller, more polished version of my existing style. (As I’m in “growing out” hair mode, I didn’t opt for anything too dramatic.) She also worked in some of the salon’s uber-exclusive, high-end product lines, ORIBE and Sachajuan. ORIBE is the salon’s luxury hair care line, which became popular in the ‘80s when its creator of the same name started getting commissioned for editorial hair styles on magazine covers like Vogue, Elle and Allure. To balance the luxurious ORIBE line, the Whittemore House also uses a mid-priced line from Stockholm called Sachajuan. Whittemore is one of only three places in the states to carry the line in their salon. The products are loaded with an algae/silk concoction that nourishes hair naturally and wonderfully.
Using the line’s Ocean Mist product to lift and style my new do, Coby then gave me the perfect quick blow-dry and sent me back onto the whimsical West Village streets, where I couldn’t help but skip back to my dinner across town. True story.
By Kelly Hushin
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