The Twisted Mansion


The NY Daily News

West Village salon mixes nabe's boho past with its ritzy future

Whittimore House has a "twisted mansion" feel where the quirky space pays homage to the area's history and is one of the top designed interior spaces in Greenwich Village.

What do you get when you cross hot pink glamour accented by artsy touches with hard-core industrial materials like ­metal, reclaimed wood and concrete? You get the Greenwich Village salon Whittimore House, owned by Victoria Hunter and Larry Raspanti.

She's a hair color expert from Down Under who likes margeritas and fish tacos. He's a kid from Queens who drinks beer and flies around the world, cutting hair for rock stars. He wears jeans, black boots and T-shirts. She's a rainbow of edgy style with ruffles, feathers, high heels and neon yellows. You can hear and see both of them coming for miles.

Partners in the three-year-old business at 45 Grove St., the two managed to create one of the top designed interior spaces in Greenwich Village. Without realizing it, they've built one of the only places in the neighborhood that invokes its boho chic intellectual past with glimpses into its ritzy, comfortable and charming future.

An archway connects the foyer to the salon's main hall and its stations and coffee bar (Jeff Bachner)

Their patron saint, after all, is a bird-headed man sitting in a rattan chair, wearing a three-piece suit. Its portrait hangs over the fireplace in the salon's foyer. Underneath the painting, two chairs covered in unmatched torn fabric add confused panache.

"We wanted a twisted mansion feel to the space," says Hunter, a former creative director at Bumble and Bumble. "An old haunted mansion but with a modern twist. A place that Jack the Ripper might like. Crumbling but put together. Quirky and weird but with a good look to it. Most of all, we wanted it to feel like a home."

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Tired of the same-old, same-old hair salon, Hunter and Raspanti were intent on creating a space where comfort comes first. They succeeded. Everywhere you look in the salon, there is something you'd want to buy or steal. Sourcing most of the items from upstate New York antique stores, the two employed graphic artist and painter Stephen Spera to add little touches.

"Stephen would glam something up or tone something down or maybe make something older and slightly decaying," says Hunter.

(At left, the façade of Whittemore House, once a boarding house, Jeff Bachner)

"It felt like a time warp when we finished," says Raspanti. "The place was a dump when we moved in. We gutted the entire thing and built into the backyard. Fortunately, we had professional help."

He doesn't mean the psychiatric kind. A meeting on the street with neighbor and interior designer Martin Heinz was more destiny than chance. Heinz was in the process of convincing the building owner to maintain key design features of the exterior, like the long windows added to the 1830 structure in the 20th century along with two additional floors. Hunter said it was love at first site.

"I just had this good feeling the second we met Martin," says Hunter. "I knew he 'got' Larry and me, and I knew we could work together. Now, we're dear friends."

Heinz, an accomplished designer who stays under the radar (he has no need for a website), designs Tribeca lofts and ski houses in Aspen for names he'd never mention. He was able to get a little crazy with Hunter and Raspanti.

"Larry and Victoria had pretty clear ideas on what they wanted," says Heinz. "My idea was to add some slick but subtle modern touches like white lacquered ­cubicles and Lucite handles. You don't notice them, but they add to the moody but glamorous atmosphere."

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Most important, the salon's design and attitude extend the strange but storied past of 45 Grove St. Named after the 1830 structure's builder, Samuel Whittemore, a manufacturer of textile machines who built the home for his family, ­Whittemore House was over the years a boardinghouse, a convalescent home for Civil War soldiers and a stop on the Underground Railroad, and housed artists and writers such as Hart Crane.

As a story goes, John Wilkes Booth paid a visit to actor friend Samuel Chester, a resident. That night, Booth asked Chester to take part in a plot to assassinate Lincoln. Chester said "no" but mentioned the visit to no one.

(At right, Raspanti found the doors connected to this mirror in the Dumpster of a nearby public school, Jeff Bachner)

While design plays a big part in the salon's story, so does scent. Hunter and Raspanti will launch their first candle in the spring. The smell of the candle (which will come in rusted iron packaging) actually is the same smell of the salon.

Hunter and Raspanti worked with a longtime client to come up with the scent, which is pumped constantly through the salon's air vents. Created by 1229 out of Paris, the scent comes from Hunter and Raspanti's personal emotions, tastes and salon vision. With hints of rose and musk, and both masculine and feminine, the salon smells like a place you might want to taste.

"The scent is such a strong part of the salon, it was natural for us to go with a candle first," says Hunter. "Next, we may make a perfume."

On a recent Friday afternoon, the salon is jammed. All 22 employees are styling or coloring hair. Some make coffee for clients reading books. A braless model straggles in wearing jeans. Hunter is between clients, easygoing and confident, at home in her area set up as a throne.

"Doesn't it feel like people are getting their hair done in a house?" she asks.

Raspanti is reflective about the design and what he does for a living.

"If I owned this space with anyone besides Victoria, one of us would be dead or in jail," he says. "Hair-styling is part architecture, part creating and sculpting. It's a passion. We want to make people look beautiful. This space reflects that."

By: Jason Sheftell

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