Ever have one of those brilliant ideas for a business inspired by things you’ve learned in your day-to-day, and it becomes your life-calling? (Not yet? There’s time!) That’s what happened to New Yorker Ruth Kallens, who’s opening Van Court, a non-toxic nail salon in Manhattan’s Financial District this week.
The former model and digital marketing professional worked with nail guru Deborah Lippmann for four years, and while steeped in nail culture (up to her elbow, you might say) became “super aware” of the nail art craze. Nail services and “all things wellness” were also personal passions. So when she found the 1,010 square-foot space with boyfriend Paul, her co-founder, Kallens grabbed it with two hands.
“Van Court,” named for the street where Kallens’ “feisty” great aunt Hannah lived, will be equally devoted to “the healthiest nail salon practices possible” and easy-to-book nail art.
“Working with Deborah, I started making relationships with talent—there are all these super passionate nail artists, many of them editorial, and they’re all over the Internet, but they don’t have a home base. [Celeb consumer goods designer and serious nail art aficionado] Jessica Washick and I became friends and we would nerd out on my couch talking nails.”
Washick, a color expert whose clients range from Coach to Nike, is serving as Van Court’s creative director. She managed to grab a nail school credential while the rest of us were going to spin class after work in order to further develop her own nail blog U DON’T NEED A MAN, U NEED A MANICURE!, which has a major cult following.
“There are all these amazing nail artists who do beautiful designs and really great nail techs who do a perfect clean, shaped nail,” she says. “I really found nail techs who are great at art.” Plus a handful (ha!) of editorial nail stylists, who “when they’re not doing runway or shoots, or when they’re in NYC but live in LA,” have a salon to call home.
Kallens hand-picked the polishes, which range from 5-free to 9-free brands (get the 411 on what that means here.) Van Court’s collection includes LondonTown (“for their blushes”), LVX (“they have an amazing green sapphire”) and RGB (“for their nudes”), can’t-find-them-everywhere brands Ginger & Liz and FlossGloss—“plus every single signature red that Deborah Lippmann makes. “I can’t stand it when Lady Is A Tramp isn’t offered or the salon is out of the most popular shade.”
Of course, there are no gels or shellacs. “No way,” says Kallens. “The chemicals are just not healthy for the workers or your nails. Why would you want to do that?”
In an industry that still has lots of work to do on cleaning up its act and offering workers a safe environment and a living wage, Kallens found she had an opportunity to be creative about more than color. Take for instance raising the pedicure ottoman height, and giving staff a hip-height stool.
“This means the techs don’t have to hunch over clients’ feet all day. It’s such a positive thing for their posture,” Kallens says, her arms reaching out straight in front of her like she’s typing on a laptop. “Nobody has tried the stool, but anyone could do this,” she says, suggesting that they probably should.
Of course there’s a state-of-the-art ventilation and purification system, medical grade autoclaves to sterilize the tools, and tankless pedicure bowls, which are preferred because they can be sanitized better and don’t trap bacteria to the same degree. So Van Court ticks a lot of boxes on the checklist of OCD manicure-seekers.
Treatments (starting at $40) are targeted for issues like splitting nails or sunspots on your hands, and the products, including some house-made organic DIY scrubs, come in little dishes on trays like at a great Japanese restaurant. Nail art starts at an additional $35, though $10 can get you one accent nail.
And to cater to the neighborhood’s crazy work hours, Van Court will open at 7:00 a.m. Monday through Thursday, and 8:00 a.m. the rest of the week. “The women working in this neighborhood spend so much time here, SoulCycle is right across the street, the next big development boom is happening here,” says Kallens optimistically. You could say she’s put her finger on something.
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