A salon. A gallery. A store. The cutest couple you’ve ever met.

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written & photographed by CARISSA GAN

“I don’t want it to feel like a salon. I want it to feel cozy, like going to your grandmother’s home. I want people to enjoy coming here and enjoy the experience. We’re super friendly. Our first priority is our clients and the health of their hair.” — Martha Ellen, founder and hairstylist at Headchop

The moment she hit 18, Martha Ellen Van Gemert packed her bags and moved out of South Carolina into the Big Apple with a cosmetology license tucked under her belt. The tall, bright-eyed brunette had big dreams of pursuing hairstyling in New York City. As a New York freshie, she was overwhelmed by the rhythm of the city — fast and daunting, but inspiring nevertheless. While she loved it, she wasn’t planning on staying past six months.

Here’s a heads up about plans — they change.

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Now several years later, the 24-year-old beauty is the hairstylist and owner of Headchop — an eclectic salon in the heart of Williamsburg that merges the art of hair, music and design. She runs the space with hubby Clint Van Gemert (the creative mind behind clothing brand HeadHoods) who transformed the salon from a boring white box into a rad, vintage-esque salon/art gallery/workshop. Every aspect of the salon is unique — from the vinyl record player to the slabs of colored screens contributing to the interior’s contrasting textures.

Located in the basement of 86 Berry Street, the underground space carries the ambience of an old house with its rustic wallpapers and vintage furniture that Clint curated off the streets of Brooklyn. How cool is that?! The cash register caught my eye — a massive gray box echoing the vintage vibe that Headchop embodies. The front of the salon features green vinyl chairs and an awesome sofa with Brooklyn-inspired cushions and a funky table lamp from the ‘60s. To the left, the art gallery beckons with its niche collection of paintings, portraits and cool musical instruments resembling nude bodies.

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And of course I was greeted by Rudy, the Van Gemerts’ super friendly and adorable dog that hung out with us in the kitchen.

“The environment here is so different because it’s not just about the hair. My husband plays a huge role in what we’re doing here — especially in the design aspect. I don’t want it to feel like a salon,” Martha Ellen said as she ate her lunch on a cushioned bar stool. “I want it to feel cozy, like going to your grandmother’s home. I want people to enjoy coming here and enjoy the experience. We’re super friendly. Our first priority is our clients and the health of their hair.”

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I nursed the warm cup of Porto Rico coffee that Clint had brewed for me, the steam rising from the milky brown surface. From where we sat, I could hear the steady punch of the sewing machine coming from his workspace at the back of the shop. The other hairstylist, Elma Siljkovic was attending to a client at the front of the salon.

“For me, it’s so important for my clients to feel comfortable. I’m a people pleaser. I want people to feel comfortable and I’m really happy to do whatever it’s going to take to make people feel comfortable… to a certain extent,” Martha Ellen chuckled.

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She didn’t even have to try — her warmth and affability just flowed so naturally.

With the Yellow Magic Orchestra pumping electronic beats in the background, she continued, “I think it’s really important for people to be able to have the hair that they want to have. I think most people don’t realize how to utilize the hair that they have. So we’re really good with every hair type, specifically curly hair — that’s how I started my career in New York. I worked for a curly hair salon [Devachan Salon in SoHo], but the reason I left was because I wanted to do more than curly hair. I just love trying new things and working with all hair types.”

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She had to pause because Rudy kept pressing her pudgy wet nose into my hand — I think the pup really wanted a taste of that rich-smelling caffeine.

“Anyway, after leaving Devachan, I worked upstate at a salon Art of Hair with a woman who’s actually an amazing colorist. I did the commuting because I wanted to work with her. I met Elma there and we connected really well.”

When it comes to coloring, she said that she and Elma study the complexion of the client before suggesting the colors that would suit them. As for haircuts, they would take into consideration the shape of one’s face and preference in length.

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“For someone with a round face, a bob wouldn’t be good because it would only bring out the roundness more. Long hair with a round face slims it in. For those with longer faces, bangs help shorten a little bit of the face,” she explained. Very useful advice!

Next, she admitted that the tricky part about starting the salon on her own was nailing the business aspect of it. Her mom was an entrepreneur, so some things came naturally to her. But for the most part, it was mostly a hands-on experience coupled with Clint’s assistance.

“The other challenge would be working alone. I was alone for a year and a half. So, bouncing ideas off people is an amazing thing to have. Elma and I bounce ideas off each other: ‘What do you think of this formula for color, or this shape for a haircut?’ It was also a huge leap because I have grown so much since I opened the shop even more.”

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Working alone definitely quickened her work pace. She started timing herself 30 minutes per client —regardless of the gender and hair length. “I’m really quick now. If someone comes in wanting color and cut, I know how much time to schedule it for. A huge part of doing hair is knowing how much time it takes for you to do something. The woman that Elma and I worked for used to set a timer by our stations and be like, ‘You’d better be done with that haircut when this timer goes off.’”

“Continued education is also really important,” she added. “We’re really into taking classes and attending hair shows every year. We try to stay updated with the ever-changing hair trends.”

She hopes for Headchop to continue growing in clientele. “I’d love for Elma and myself to be booked back-to-back. I also love how small we are — I wouldn’t build any more than what I have: two stylists and one assistant [Katie] is enough for the space. It’s a small space, so I don’t see myself growing out of it because I can’t imagine staying in this area and getting a bigger space since it’s so expensive. I like the aspect that it’s not more than we can handle. I feel like I’m working my dream right now and it’s opened a lot of doors for me to do other things.”

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Through chatting with her, I learned that she also sings and performs with Clint. They call themselves The Van Gemerts. (Seriously, why is this couple so fucking talented?) Their art gallery also doubles as a little music venue for local artists. Pretty neat, huh? Her music taste leans toward folk, with one of her favorite bands being Bird Courage. (BTW, don’t forget to check out our cover of the band.)

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Before leaving, I asked her what she’d like us to see, hear and know. Here’s what she said:

See: More nature. It’s really important to see other places. I’m always inspired when I come back from other places.
Hear the music that we make. We don’t put it out too often, so when we do get to play, it’s great. It’s happy music — something we love sharing with our friends. We get to meet interesting people when we play music. We go by The Van Gemerts. Our next show is on Valentine’s Day at The Rock Shop in Park Slope.
Know: You should know that your hair always grows back… And when it does, you should come to Headchop!

x Long hair, don’t care? Nonsense! Head over to Headchop. x