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Interview: April Barton of Suite 303

Hotel Chelsea's clandestine hair salon relocates to a street-level space after 18 years of legendary service

by Kat Herriman in Style on 14 August 2013

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With three large windows and a small terrace, Suite 303 peers out at 23rd street from Manhattan's legendary Hotel Chelsea. Decorated simply with tokens from friends, tall mirrors and an inviting couch, the private space feels more like a buddy's apartment than the home and salon of celebrated hair stylist April Barton.

It's here that we meet with Barton to talk about future of Suite 303 as it moves from the third floor of its historic spot in Chelsea to its new location, a street-level space hidden behind Selima Optique on Bond Street. Scheduled to open exactly on its 18th anniversary this September, the forthcoming locale marks a new chapter for both Suite 303 and Barton.

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Just eight months ago the veteran stylist learned she would have to move after the infamous hotel permanently closed its doors to guests. Recounting the news from her chair, Barton looks perfectly at peace; surrounded by her buzzing team and the quiet shuffling of an in-house palm reader. "The heartbreak is over now," says Barton. "For years I've lived in a landmark and it was hard to move on from that. It feels like I checked in to the Chelsea Hotel and never checked out and now 18 years later it's time for Suite 303's next step and mine. Maybe I've been in transit until now and I'm finally going home."

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Booking exclusively through referrals, Suite 303 patrons have always been provided a certain level of privacy, and it's partly the salon's clandestine nature that has kept her high profile clients coming back for years. So, when looking for a new home, Barton deferred to her tight-knit community. "We started by asking our clients. We wanted them to be involved in finding a space because ultimately Suite 303 is best wherever they feel most at home," explains Barton. "We sent an email out to our clients saying that we needed a new home. We got responses immediately including several that suggested we speak with Selima Optique regarding the space behind their Bond Street store. Our friends saw a good match—and we agreed."

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Once moved, Suite 303 will be accessible to the public for the first time thanks to its new street-level location—a daunting environment for Barton. "Ground level is a very scary concept for us. When you come to Suite 303, we want you to feel like you are going to a close friend's house, where you just happen to always walk out with a high-end haircut. Being on the street can interrupt that intimacy," she explains. "When designing the new salon, our first priority was to make it a seamless transition from our old space. The plan is very 303–bohemian and chic—but I think we will take a year or so before we will call anywhere home."

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Like its first incarnation, Barton tapped her close network of friends in order to create a one-of-a-kind space, starting with an architect who has been coming to Suite 303 since she was four. Barton also invited Feng Shui consultant Michelle Duffy, who vetted and organized Suite 303's salon. Barton also commissioned several artists to create pieces specifically for the space. "In the new location, we have these large windows overlooking an alleyways so I reached out to Jordan Betten, the founder of Lost Art, to paint a mural on our new wall," she says. "We want our clients to see 303 in every direction. Nothing should be without rich intention."

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When asked about the future of Suite 303, Barton smiles. "I couldn't do this at any other time. I feel very secure at this moment in my life. I have an incredible team. An amazing network of powerful women and friends. It feels right, and as we continue into the future, we will stay true to the legacy of Suite 303 and the artists and community that we have serviced over the years."

Location images by Chris Doss, all others courtesy of April Barton

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