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Working With Scissors, Designing With an Edge

Four years in the making, a Greenwich Village neighborhood barbershop, the Kinsman, is now complete.

The Kinsman. Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson
The Kinsman. Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson

Nemanya Vukanovich came to New York City 12 years ago from Montenegro and plied his trade as a barber in many a barbershop until he had the opportunity to open his own place, The Kinsman, four years ago on a slip of West 10th Street. Women are welcome, of course, but there is something about an old-fashioned barbershop — just as there is something about an old-fashioned hairdressing salon — that conjures up camaraderie between strangers who have eked out time for themselves to chew the fat, or sit quietly and listen, or tune out, while someone takes care of them for however long it takes to get a shave, or a haircut, or a beard trim, or all of the above. A barbershop is a refuge, and Vukanovich, known to his friends as NJ, had a vision of what his would be like. The design was completed very recently. He used 100-year-old American oak from Pennsylvania for the walls, floor, and ceiling of the 460-square-foot storefront. The back, seen above, is where clients wait for one of the six chairs with NJ or one of his staff. During my visit, a cappuccino machine was being installed on the counter to the left.

There is a method to the design madness, if you will, as NJ had to address the challenge of the irregular ceiling, where the building’s staircase shaped the area above the door. NJ also happens to be a skilled carpenter and is implementing his own designs in the space on top of cutting hair and giving the traditional hot-towel shave. Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson
The handsome stations each have their own sink, which has become a rarity in most modern barbershops and salons. Here, you can see the cast-cement surface holds two sinks for two stations, each equipped with drawers for hot and cold towels. The 1920s cast-bronze mailboxes that surround the case are exquisite pieces in their own right — with an American eagle stamped on the metal cover and two dials for the combination to open the box — and each still has its number from the post office. Today, NJ uses them for storage. It took him months of searching the internet to find the right type of boxes. Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson
NJ found three of his six classic 1950s Koken barber chairs in California, two in Chicago, and one in upstate New York. He customized each with stainless-steel siding and replaced the original seats with vinyl. It took him two years to restore them. NJ found the barber pole that’s now in the window lying in the basement. The shop had been owned by two different Italian barbers, and when NJ bought the lease, it was operating as a hair salon. Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson
NJ first designed the light fixtures by making a model to show his builder. The fixtures are a combination of plywood and cement. The shape, he explained, throws even light on each customer’s head in the chair. Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson
The cantilevered open shelving allows easy access to products and shaving accessories. The ’80s clock that tracks the hours, minutes, and seconds was a find on eBay. “I came here alone 12 years ago,” NJ says, adding that he has been cutting hair since the age of 14. He picked the oak because it reminded him of where he grew up in Montenegro. “My grandfather was a doctor, and after he retired, he worked with oakwood. When I was a small boy, he used to make me boats out of the wood. The American oak that was on the barns is beaten by snow and rain, all the elements. I knew I wanted to use that oak for the store.” Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson

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A Greenwich Village Barbershop, Designed With an Edge