With a salon, school, and office by Anderson Architects, Bumble and Bumble joins the meatpacking district's glamour parade
Lucie Young -- Interior Design, 9/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Visiting the hairdresser is the closest most people come to the life of an assembly-line chicken: trussed up, chopped, and processed. The rows of chairs, mirrors, and sinks have come to seem inevitable, regardless of the excess decoration used to disguise them. But Anderson Architects has washed the tired old beauty-factory formula down the drain at the House of Bumble, which occupies most of an eight-story Selldorf Architects building in the meatpacking district.
Whisked to the double-height top floor, clients are welcomed like arrivals at a first-class airport lounge. American 19th-century cast-iron naval drafting tables add interest to the cool perfection of the space, and an oak cabinet of the same period displays a carefully edited selection of anything from Timothy Everest ties to John Hardy jewelry and, of course, hair products. Cakes, sandwiches, and smoothies are served along with cups of tea, a nod to the company's Brit roots.
Bumble and Bumble president and founder Michael Gordon says he hopes that this penthouse will become a destination in itself, a "secret hangout with people popping in." He'd also like the space to become an evening venue for art exhibits, fashion shows, and theater productions—the catwalk or stage actually being a giant raftlike seating system featuring colorful square cushions and backrests that slide up and down a Douglas fir platform.
By day, those with hair 'appointments walk down an open flight of painted-steel stairs inspired, says principal Ross Anderson, by "that Duchamp painting of a nude descending a staircase." On the floor below, every element of the styling experience has been tweaked—even shampooing, which no longer involves staring ruefully up at acoustic tile and air-conditioning ducts. Instead, ceiling-mounted computer screens loop through coiffure-themed videos.
Haircuts are performed in 16 white vinyl-covered armchairs, a plush remodel of the classic barber's chair, and clients face a Manhattan panorama, not a mirror. As Gordon explains of the no-mirror policy, "Most people prefer not looking at themselves. Also, the hairdressers should be looking at the clients." (For those who must see what's happening behind them, mirrors on wheels are rolled in.)
The most radical departure from the norm, the color room could be mistaken for a news café on a spaceship. Racks of magazines ring the walls, and a backlit vinyl ceiling casts its glow on the heads of the men and women seated at a long table, reading magazines and chatting while colorists glide around, their materials loaded on mobile carts.
Initially so unimpressed by the windowless design that she stormed into Gordon's office to complain, color director Victoria Hunter changed her mind after working in the space. This may be due both to the fluorescent illumination, calibrated to mimic daylight, and to the heavy-duty ventilation system. She'd also feared that uptight New Yorkers would hate getting their roots retouched in public, but she's since found that the communal arrangement puts clients at their ease. The only problem now is that the Douglas fir plywood table doesn't look sufficiently polished for the high-style environment—a translucent white glass top and stainless-steel legs are on their way.
Considering the tremendous amount of thought that went into the salon floors, it's hard to believe that they represent just a third of the 52,500-square-foot interior. However, the majority of Bumble and Bumble's business derives from the product line and related hair school: The 1,600 international salons and boutiques that buy Bb.'s products are rewarded by invitations to send stylists to New York to update their skills at Bumble and Bumble University.
The university is split between floors three and six. Level three houses not only a lunchroom-cum-library and a gallery but also two classrooms and a 103-seat auditorium where lectures and demonstrations are digitally recorded and transmitted over the Internet. "Most hairdressers know only two or three cuts, so there are a lot of subtleties we can teach them," says creative vice president Howard McLaren. Level six—which retains the DNA of Bumble and Bumble's original Midtown branch, also by Anderson Architects—is devoted to a full test salon. Here, the sound track sets the mood for different cuts, the Sex Pistols for a 1970's punk style and so on.
Bumble and Bumble may be 25 years old and majority-owned by Estée Lauder, but the company still operates like a small guerilla outfit. To make sure that the two office levels reflect this ideological freedom, Anderson Architects left the center of the floor plates open. Each of these areas is furnished with Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec's long white table and Antonio Citterio and Glen Oliver Löw's tailored black chairs, equally suited to a conceptual presentation or a casual lunch.
In keeping with this spirit of experimentation, an in-house team has already begun layering ideas onto Anderson's architecture. Personalizing the interior has meant relocating the modular carts intended for the top floor and foraging at flea markets for idiosyncratic pieces. Finds include the top floor's drafting tables, now serving as display counters, and a corset-maker's oak cabinet, used as the university's lunch buffet. Sturdy and functional, these additions furthermore tell a powerful story about craftsmanship. "We love the way the drafting tables relate to the hand trades," says creative vice president Alexander Brebner. "With so many professions computerized, hairdressing is one of few hand trades left."
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