“Owning a salon is really never what I expected to be doing–the salon part anyway,” says WHITEROOM co-founder Elisabeth Lovell. “It’s an incredibly trying experience, that’s for sure. But it doesn’t feel like there was ever another option than being our own bosses,” adds her business partner and husband, Tommy Lovell.
Though both Elisabeth and Tommy were intrigued by the entrepreneurial routine, with a tendency to stray toward creative expression, it wasn’t until three years ago that the stars aligned for them to open their Brooklyn-based, minimalist salon, WHITEROOM.
It all began at a salon in Brooklyn, where Elisabeth was working as a colorist and Tommy as a stylist. They had both taken non-linear paths to end up at that same salon. Born and raised in Cape Cod, Elisabeth knew she enjoyed coloring hair from the age of 13, but veered into jewelry design before moving to New York and re-entering the salon world, where Tommy had already been working for a few years. After moving to New York from his hometown of Louisiana, Tommy came with a background in history and mathematics, among others as he continually strived to learn new traits.
“After we met, we casually talked about what “our” salon would look like. This is before we ever talked about actually opening something,” says Tommy, with Elisabeth continuing his thought, “We knew it had to be hyper minimal; a clean open space that doesn’t impose its opinion on you.”
Once their former salon shut down, it cleared a path for Tommy and Elisabeth to create this space they so candidly spoke of, and there’s been no looking back. Today, WHITEROOM greets customers with an apotheke storefront of hand-chosen products from Elisabeth, free of plastic, fillers and cheap oils, before opening up to reveal a minimalistic–white–room.
“It’s a blank canvas,” says Tommy.
We were able to experience the Lovells in this blank canvas, mirrors bouncing their spirit around from wall to wall, as we learned more about their transition to owning a salon, and how they came to lay roots in Brooklyn.
You both came from very different backgrounds in terms of career path — Elisabeth, you mentioned you wanted to color hair since you were 13 years old. Tommy, you said you like to try a little bit of everything. Looking back at how far you have come – what does it feel like to now run your own salon?
Elisabeth: I always wanted to have my own brand, and I struggled for years with what that meant. I went to school for jewelry design after doing hair for more than five years and briefly started my own line. I eventually went back to hair, which is how Tommy and I met, and that’s when the idea of having a salon really started to form. Now, on a day-to-day it sometimes doesn’t even totally feel like its mine. I look around and wonder how it is that it belongs to me. It’s a ton of work and it’s taken a long time to see the reward, but I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
Tommy: I’ve always enjoyed learning, and trying to master, new things. Opening a salon was a way to continue with what I’m good at, while expanding the experience for myself. But honestly, I never gave it too much thought. My mind just stares out ahead. I tend to ignore the past or what could have been, so creating a business was a natural move.
Tell me about the concept of WHITEROOM. Where did this minimalist style come from?
Tommy: After we met, we casually talked about what “our” salon would look like. This is before we ever talked about actually opening something. I think we just didn’t like any of the places that were opening. We decided that it would be just the two of us, in a bare, all white room with a chair and a mirror. That’s it.
Elisabeth: Right, we knew it had to be hyper minimal; a clean open space that doesn’t impose its opinion on you. I found an image of a chair in front of a mirror with a ladder next to it in a big white room. That was the first image that we used as inspiration when designing the space.
Tommy: Simply put, the lack of color allows everything to be itself from the products, the clients and the stylists. It’s a blank canvas.
How do you source the products sold in the apothecary?
Elisabeth: I do the buying for the store. We always wanted to attach the concept of a beauty store to the salon. I spend a lot of time going down product rabbit holes online. I try to find brands that are the best at what they do. The packaging also has to fit with the WHITEROOM aesthetic. The ingredients need to be good, and I don’t necessarily mean natural, but thoughtful and high quality, not filled with plastic, filler, cheap oil, parabens, or sls.
What’s one product you’re loving right now?
Elisabeth: I am obsessed with a brand new line we just picked up, DR Loretta. Her Gentle Exfoliating Cleanser makes my skin feel so fresh. I feel like I have been glowing since starting to use the entire line.
Tommy: For me it’s Reverie Rake. I do a lot of men’s hair and this is a product with the right amount of moisture, shine and hold. The package is beautiful and it smells amazing!
We caught you on your day off (thank you!!). How do you typically spend your days off? And what would be your ideal day off?
Elisabeth: Sometimes there are no days off. We do almost everything ourselves, so there is always something that needs to be done around the salon or office work we have to take care of because we have been busy behind the chair all week. I like to walk around the city and get inspiration for the store when I can find the time. I also like cooking and I spend a lot of my free time making us dinner, or prepping lunch for the week. If we do have some time off we go up to my dad’s house on Cape Cod. In the off season our dogs can run around on the beach and that is probably our favorite thing in the world to do.
Tommy: I start most of my days off at the gym. I compete in Strongman, so I have a pretty rigorous training schedule. It’s a great way to make days off count, by starting them with purpose. We also like to do as much with our two dogs, Opi and Arrow, as possible.
What about a day at the salon. What’s that like?
Elisabeth: We always start our day with a dog walk and a coffee. We talk about what needs to get done for the day, divide up tasks, remind each other about things we may have forgotten to do. When we get to the salon for me it’s kind of game on because I am almost always fully booked with clients and don’t have time for much else. I do a lot of fly-by-working, quick email and a bite of food while my clients color processes, or I walk around the apothecary and try to find time to think about what it needs, where there are holes, and what new lines we should consider carrying.
Tommy: I do administrative work throughout the day as well as hair, so I like to get that set up before my day starts. Between clients, I spend most of my time on the computer, working on the website, or with the camera taking photos. I only cut hair, so my day is pretty straightforward. Just haircut after haircut. On a Saturday I’ve done as many as 16 cuts. There isn’t much time for anything else on a day like that.
As artists, how often do you change your hair styles?
Elisabeth: Over the last couple years my hair has changed a lot. After our wedding, it just got shorter and shorter until one day Tommy cut it into a pixie. Then I grew it into a bowl cut that another colorist at the salon bleached to a sandy blonde. Now I’m back to dark hair and trying to grow it back out. I’m ready to spend less time on my hair and have it a little more low maintenance.
Tommy: I haven’t changed mine in a while and I’m not sure I ever will again! I think the longer you do hair, the less experimental you get with your own hair. I just want my hair as short as possible now so I don’t have to think about it.
What has been your worst hair cut or hair style, in hindsight?
Elisabeth: OMG there are so many. But, when I first started doing hair I had black hair with hot pink panels (think Kelly Osbourne in the early 2000s). It was the epitome of bad hairdresser hair.
Tommy: I may or may not have been guilty of an off center, faux-hawk mullet.
What’s your trick for a “bad hair day?”
Elisabeth: Dry shampoo and salt spray can make any mess look intentional.
Who inspires you?
Elisabeth: Tommy. The rest of the WHITEROOM team, I have learned and grown so much because of them. There isn’t a day that I don’t understand that I couldn’t do it without them. They help me to keep trying to make WHITEROOM the best it can be,
Tommy: My mother. She’s been through so much and just keeps on moving. She’s got a great attitude and has taught me everything I think about the value of hard work.
Photos by Philip Nix