Since its founding more than four decades ago, Seagull Hair Salon has been a haven for queer culture in Manhattan’s West Village. The first unisex barbershop in New York City is the place to lounge, gossip, and unwind.
In September 2015, its latest generation of co-owners, veteran hairstylist Shaun “Surething” Cottle and former Le Tigre band member Johanna Fateman, moved Seagull to a larger, brighter shop around the block, commissioning Los Angeles–based architect Ben Warwas to design a space that would preserve Seagull’s signature campy irreverence.
“Those colors are very riot grrrl,” Warwas said, referring to the palette of black, white, and bright pink taken directly from the ’90s feminist movement. Postmodern flourishes abound in what the salon’s owners have described as an “upscale glam feminist Pee-Wee’s Playhouse,” mainly in the form of allusions to the original space’s signature architectural features.
The former Seagull’s arc-shaped nooks have been reincarnated as trompe-l’oeil archways painted directly onto the wall, which Cottle has since dubbed “the pink beyond.” Meanwhile, a real archway that appears to be bricked in frames the actual door, covered in very convincing wallpaper, to the employee lounge.
“The employees walk through walls,” Warwas says. “These architectural details blur the lines between 2-D and 3-D, fantasy and reality.”
Warwas also developed the custom furniture, including the revolving tower of retail shelves, the scalloped mirrors, and the two-sided central workstation, which he set on wheels to give the salon the flexibility to clear the floor to host events.
The finished product, an amalgamation of Cottle’s “Middle America glam” and Fateman’s postpunk feminist sensibilities, is decorated with vintage tchotchkes and large-scale prints, including work by feminist artists like Kathe Burkhart, A.L. Steiner, Alice O’Malley, and K8 Hardy. The rest of the furniture was “combination Craigslist, internet, and friends’ offerings” painted in the requisite black, white, and pink.
As a final touch, Warwas covered the floor and ceiling with a high-gloss, reflective finish to further his theme of flattening 3-D space into a 2-D image. After all, a salon can never have too many places in which to see your own reflection.