Name: Wendy Kidd and Oscar (the Boston Terrier)
Location: East Village, Manhattan, New York
Size: 600 square feet
Years lived in: 15 years — rented
Designer: Jim Fairfax, Fairfax Studios
Wendy is a self-proclaimed master juggler, wielding the tools of two trades … drumsticks and barber scissors. She's a "single mom" to Oscar the Boston Terrier, skittering like a black and white gazelle up and down the long hallway of her top-floor railroad in the throbbing heart of the East Village. With the help of a designer-friend with a knack for paring away the excess, this is her living and working home, the quiet hub of a buzzing and busy creative life.
"I owe the entire set-up to my dear friend Jim Fairfax of Fairfax Studios." That's how Wendy Kidd, of Wendy Kidd Entertainment and Wendy Kidd Studio, generously starts the story of her live-in "speakeasy" salon. It's a fourth-floor walk-up and their third collaboration. The first was Wendy's salon "Dandie," an early project that garnered a lot of attention and press for its design and designer, and began a long-running working relationship with Jim that Wendy characterizes as more brother and sister than designer and client.
There are some games of opposites here... dark where you might go light, small where you might go big, sink where you might expect stove (we'll get to that). But that's no surprise in the home of a rock drummer who cuts hair and runs a wedding entertainment business specifically aimed at New York's newest newlyweds: the LGBT community. Here, conventional thinking just won't do.
And neither will a conventional decorator. But Jim does, and did, more than just decorate. He shaped the space into a working canvas for Wendy with choices both artful and practical, helping her see new possibility in a space she'd been in for over 15 years. "Without him, there's no way that I would have been able to create this type of environment that works so well for my clients," says Wendy. "And it works so well when all the clients are gone and it's just Oscar and me."
Aside from turning her existing apartment (Jim-designed, in collaboration number two) into a functioning salon that still had to contain happy life and happy puppy, the creative brief from Wendy was a familiar one. Says Jim, "The first thing she told me when we did the hair salon, is 'this place has to be sexy.' And I think that was the same thing she told me when we were doing her apartment." But, as Jim notes, sexy means different things to different people. Third-project shorthand, magazine clippings and trips to inspirational spaces clarified things, and they set off to create a sensual space, with moody moment and curvy, colorful accent.
Mood comes mostly from the dark hallway that buffers front and back, adding a visual mile in between. But even a creative type like Wendy needed some coaxing to take that risk. "Jim described it to me and I thought, 'Wow, really?' Isn't that gonna be kind of creepy and weird?" Once that dark paint was applied, Wendy saw the light. "At night, if I'm in my bedroom, and of course everything is on dimmer switches, (again thanks to Jim)," she says, "I can look through the hallway and see into the living room area. It's so, so pretty." "It's an old Frank Lloyd Wright trick," says Jim, of the use of a dark color in a confined space, to make the spaces beyond expand even more. But it's also about setting the proper mood. "She has lots of clients in the evening... so it created this very sexy kind of club-like hallway," and there's that "sexy" word again. Plus, notes Jim, "We took the paint right up onto the ceiling, right into the window wells. You don't see that jagged line along the top, where there's no crown moldings."
The bedroom was another place where color didn't stop at the walls. "The ceiling just seems to disappear," says Jim. This is one part practical magic, one part design philosophy: "I'm really attracted to 'modern,' but where you can kind of soften up the edges," says Jim. The paint does just that: erase all the hard lines, a bit like the Pink Pearl eraser the color conjures.
Wait, a pink bedroom? How does a woman who once toured with an all-girl Led Zeppelin tribute band ("Lez Zeppelin," to be precise) end up with a pink bedroom? Again, blame-- and then credit-- the decorator. Wendy recalls her reaction to Jim's pink proposal: "Pardon my French... I was like, 'Are you effing kidding me?' Dude, no way! I'm sooo not a pink girl! I grew up in a pink room as a little girl, and I was such a tomboy, and I hated it!" But Wendy's plan for a biker chick, all-red bedroom didn't get the green light from Jim, who made his case with pictures of successful, seductive, pink bedrooms. Part of the success stems from the kind of pink. This is no bubble gum. It's a smoky, rosy clay, perfectly flattering, suited to candlelight and, um, a more grown-up kind of entertaining.
When she's not entertaining, she's working, and the main changes necessary to make this live/work space, well, work, are centered on the kitchen. Or rather, what's left of one. Wendy rarely cooks, but hadn't considered foregoing some of the staples to make the kitchen work better for how she did use it. The first to go, at designer's urging, was the stove. It seems impractical, but this is no by-the-book life. "She doesn't have the normal 'we have breakfast at 8, I have lunch at noon, and my evening meal at 6.' Her life is not like that," says Jim, further proving that losing traditional sink and oven were perfect choice, not frivolous compromise. Shampoo sink replaced stove, and refrigerator was replaced with a half-sized model, making way for more countertop... custom stainless steel, and with a quick wipe of Windex, ready for Wendy's next client.
Jim doesn't just preach: he practices. His own love of art and the wall space it requires overrode his need for upper kitchen cabinets in his own kitchen, proving that form does indeed follow function, however unconventional. Just don't tell their Supers.... both Jim's uppers and Wendy's stove disappeared into the night like a crossover event of Extreme Makeover Home Edition and The Sopranos.
Window shelves created a perfect place for Wendy's glass collection. It was on early shopping trips for the original salon where Wendy was first charmed by glass, when Jim found the lamp now bedside and what Wendy affectionately calls the overhead "eyeball lamp" making the bedroom's biggest statement. That turned her into a bit of a magpie. "I like bright, shiny objects! I'm very much like my last name... I'm very 'kid,' very child-like." Grown-up Gio Ponti pieces mingle with vintage vases of various (or no) pedigree, and create Wendy's riff on a stained glass window.
Art is part of the sometimes counter-intuitive decision-making going on around here. A small oil commands a large expanse in the living room. Says Jim of that wall: "We could have hung it with dozens and dozens of paintings, or one large painting as would have been typical." Off-center position gives it edge, traditional frame and the floral subject take the edge off, in a back-and-forth repeated throughout the apartment.
The figurative canvas in the hallway was a generous gift of the artist, in gratitude for a past showing of his work at Dandie. That painting, a surreal mix of "Gabrielle d'Estres and one of her sisters" and Marge Simpson and one her sisters, should overpower the confines of the hallway-turned-gallery, but its dark and carved surface melts into the dark shadows. Placement and painting is a nontraditional pairing, but a beautiful marriage, just like the weddings for which Wendy serves as drummer or entertainment booker.
Sometimes making the space work was a matter of display rather than hide. "Everyone who comes here knows she is a hairdresser, whether they're here for that or not," so Jim convinced Wendy that not everything needed to be tucked away behind closed doors. That's why barber chair, mirror, and the trappings of her profession hide in plain and colorful sight.
About that chair: It's both the sculptural furnishing Jim is famous for since he honed his skills at Thad Hayes, and party popular. "Guess what's the first chair everyone wants to sit in? That barber chair! You might not want to do that on Park Avenue, but in the East Village, it's really cool," says Jim. Wendy gloats a bit about its origins: "That was a lucky eBay score!" Why so lucky? Well, it was orange, nearby, and the perfect height for Wendy's diminutive size (her persona is much taller).
It's one of the many moments of Kismet in an apartment where things found their way to Wendy without the personal significance revealing itself immediately. Jim found the living room's secretary and loved it for its color, multi-function and commanding scale, not noticing the door's drum motifs until Wendy did. Sold!
Says Jim of the net effect, "The whole vibe isn't serious. It's supposed to be fun." What's the lesson if you're not running a salon out of your living room? Understand your own function, and your own personal style, and marry the two, whatever way it works. Make it personal, and keep it fun.
"She's very groovy, she's very funky... she really identifies in many, many different ways to the East Village and the lower east side... that's just a built-in part of Wendy," muses Jim, of his "sister." Oscar, in his skull-dotted collar, seems to agree, before scampering off down the hallway, passing through a spot of glass-colored sunlight.
Hear Jim talk about the design process, and his signature "soft modern" look, here. And listen to Wendy talk about the process here.
Apartment Therapy Survey:
My Style: If Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood and Prada collaborated on a street smart collection inspired by a tom boi rocker girl that would be me.
Inspiration: Music, music, music!
Favorite Element: I hired Jim the first time to design a hair salon for me on the lower east side called Dandie. When I sold the shop and decided to work privately I took a few things with me and to this day the "eyeball" light in my bedroom remains my favorite object. The fixture used to hang on the lower level of Dandie. The press went mad for the design of the place and photos of the "eyeball" appeared in dozens of publications about the design of the salon. It was and still is a happy visual for me. It's a piece of sculpture.
Biggest Challenge: Imagine cutting hair in your personal space. Hair goes absolutely everywhere. Keeping things clean and looking great is key for me and a daily challenge.
When I entertain in the evening and there are dozens of people with cocktails in hand - I couldn't possibly have any precious surfaces I had to keep my eye on.
I guess that's two challenges but they both seem to revolve around keeping things clean and having a design in place that allows that cleaning to happen quickly.
Key: no area rugs, a stainless steel kitchen, no precious surfaces.
What Friends Say: Friends and clients that come to the apartment always mention how fun everything feels. It's almost "undecorated decoration." Everything feels so effortless, like things are where they should be. I entertain often in the evening and when you add candlelight to the place the colors are beyond sexy.
Biggest Embarrassment: My design codependence on my designer, Jim Fairfax. I wonder if there is a support group for that?
Proudest DIY: Is shopping considered DIY? I'm not terribly handy with do it yourself things. I choose to live without a stove. But... I am very proud of the vintage Coca Cola sign I found for my kitchen. That sign may be the only thing in my apartment that I purchased without first running it past Jim's eye. It feels like POP art to me and my clients love it.
Biggest Indulgence: When I started working with Jim I didn't know about the history of modern design. I knew what I was attracted to but beyond that I was green. Jim took me under his wing and schooled me in the basics. It helped me make decisions and appreciate the objects he was showing me in a different way. I became a new convert to the designs of Gio Ponti through this process and I stepped a bit out of my budget goals and purchased a sensuous Gio Ponti designed urn. Sometimes you just have to treat yourself.
Best Advice: ALWAYS hire a professional designer to help you with your space no matter what your budget is. It will save you from costly mistakes and they can visualize all the possibilities you may never have imagined or even considered possible. Jim works with people in every budget range and I'm so grateful for his help in guiding me towards a space that works for the complicated layers of my life and that was realized in a modest budget.
Dream Sources: Jim helped create my obsession with colorful glass. A dream day of shopping for me would be walking into Damon Crain's showroom at Culture Object and walk out with everything I wanted. Jim introduced me to Damon and he has now become a cherished client of mine.
Resources of Note:
PAINT & COLORS
• Large figurative oil: Contemporary artist Bill Sharp, New York
• Coca Cola Sign: client's own
• Urn designed by Gio Ponti for Ginori Porcelain: Alan Moss
• Stainless steel cabinet and counter: custom
Thanks, Wendy (and Oscar and Jim!)!
Images: Patrick J. Hamilton
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