WHITEROOM’S Tommy and Elisabeth Lovell Know What They Want
A tour of the perfectly spare Brooklyn salon—and the stories behind the stuff in it.
Tommy and Elisabeth Lovell listen to their instincts. Immediately after the two met in 2011 at Brooklyn salon Woodley & Bunny, where they both worked, Tommy knew he’d been introduced to his future wife. A few years later, when Elisabeth saw a photo of a monochromatic space outfitted with nothing but a chair, mirror, and ladder, she recognized WHITEROOM, their future business venture—though at the time, neither knew what WHITEROOM was, exactly.
“Obviously, we’re both hairdressers, but we never talked about opening a salon together—beyond that we didn’t want to,” recalls Tommy. “Elisabeth was designing jewelry at the time, so we talked about opening up a lifestyle store.”
The plan for WHITEROOM evolved steadily—from a boutique near other Brooklyn expat businesses in western Massachusetts to a minimalist NYC studio space with appointment-only bookings for select clientele to something resembling its current apothecary-salon iteration. Then, in May 2014, Woodley & Bunny closed suddenly, providing the push they needed. After a lucky break on a lease in South Williamsburg and a wild sprint to complete the space, WHITEROOM opened the following December (despite the fact that their contractor disappeared 24 hours before go-time and Tommy’s uncle had to stay up all night finishing the wiring).
“It was empty,” says Elisabeth of the unfinished sparseness of an already intentionally stark showroom. “There were two white pedestals with a couple of products on them and a shelving unit on the wall we built ourselves and have since torn down.”
In the past four years, the Lovells have perfected WHITEROOM without overcrowding it: The apothecary features creeping greenery and modern high shelving, which holds carefully curated products from high-end brands like Christophe Robin, Sachajuan, and R+Co. The styling area includes sleek leather salon chairs and yellow pine floors speckled with drips of hair dye, happy accidents that have compounded to look like a Jackson Pollock. As always, less is more.
“We came up with the name first but backed into the philosophy,” Tommy says. “If we strip away everything, it gives everything a place to be its own.”
Tommy and Elisabeth gave Quiddity a tour of WHITEROOM and shared the story behind some of their favorite purchases.
What we bought when…
…WE OPENED THE SALON: Handmade ceramic vases
Elisabeth: “A friend of mine has a cousin who makes these white-on-white vessels—ceramic with this beautiful glaze—and I thought they’d be great in here. We wanted everything [in the salon] to be white, but with lots of texture and personality, and these vases really spoke to us for that reason. They also added a pretty design element to our desk, with fresh flowers every day.”
Tommy: “We put them on our desk the night before we opened. It was almost implicit. It was so crazy and hectic, and those vases just ended up in that spot. It wasn’t, ‘OK, that’s where those go.’ If you’re given too many options, you can’t figure anything out. But if it’s, ‘Holy shit, we have to open! Put these somewhere!’—that’s where they go. They stayed there for a long time and became a thing. People liked to Instagram them.”
Elisabeth: “One of them got broken by our mailman, which is why we ultimately moved them off the desk. Anytime anything in here breaks, you can see steam coming out of my ears.”
…WE COULD AFFORD IT: A wall-mounted display shelf
Elisabeth: “We found this at ABC Home, their outlet center in the Bronx. While we were building the salon, we were always searching for pieces to help design it. This shelf was on sale and we were so excited, because it was cool and we could actually afford it, which was rare at that time.” [laughs]
Tommy: “I remember thinking it was expensive. It was $300. Anything over $100, I was like, Do we really need it?” [laughs]
Elisabeth: “I could visualize displaying our products on it, just like they are. It was one of the first things we bought for the apothecary space, and it helped define how we set everything up from there. Find a place to put the weird plus-sign shelf and just build around it. Those boxes are empty, by the way. It’s mostly aesthetic.”
…WE WANTED TO UP OUR EXPOSURE: A Sony Alpha a7 II digital camera
Tommy: “As we were growing, it became really important to document everything that was happening. I also thought it was a great excuse to buy a toy. It’s another creative outlet for me, for sure.”
Elisabeth: “We realized we needed to work on our social media presence and website, and we’re real do-it-ourselves people. It was a turning point for us professionally. We had a website, but it was kind of rickety, and we had an Instagram account that looked cool, but not super professional.”
Tommy: “The camera gave us our voice. We have a little studio at home, and I do product photography for our e-commerce site—I have a 90mm macro prime lens for that—and then I’ll use the 24-70mm zoom lens for portraits and for shots of people doing hair. Most salon Instagram accounts are just, ‘Here’s the hair we did!’ but I like to zoom in for more interesting shots.”
…WE WENT TO VEGAS: Surprisingly comfortable salon sinks
Elisabeth: “Deciding on the furniture was very hard for us. The sinks took forever. We ended up at a tradeshow in Las Vegas. A horrible place.” [laughs]
Tommy: “Sinks are so uncomfortable. We would sit down [to test them] and say, ‘OK, no. We’re out of here.’”
Elisabeth: “They had to be white and look nice and, since I’m a colorist, they had to be comfortable enough for someone to lie back in for 30 minutes. We didn’t actually buy these in Vegas, but that’s where we discovered the line. It’s an Italian company called Maletti. They make the sinks and the chairs. Then we found a distributor in Massachusetts.”
Tommy: “We lay back in the chairs and said, ‘We’ll take them.’ To this day we get comments—Oh my God! These things are never comfortable! I can’t understand how anyone would put anything in their salon that wasn’t.”
…WE EXPANDED: Custom-built center stations
Elisabeth: “Two summers ago, we finally had our chairs full, so we thought, ‘Now we need more hairdressers.’ So we bought more chairs…”
Tommy: “And more hairdressers. [laughs] And I had someone make this center station for us.”
Elisabeth: “The cool part is, one of Tommy’s clients owns a glass company, so he did the mirrors, and he found the people to fabricate the whole thing. It’s cool that a client helped us make it happen. I remember being worried about the support beam that we couldn’t move. But now I don’t remember what it looked like when the space was empty.”
David Walters is a freelance writer and editor living in Brooklyn.