T he Bird Nest is rightly named—not only because proprietor/stylist Steven Uccello’s last name is the Italian word for “bird,” but also because the Guilford salon/gallery/gift shop is composed of found objects. A refurbished door discovered in the building’s basement serves as a table-top desk. Several wooden rails salvaged from Hamden’s Urban Miners trim the main room. A full-length mirror rescued from an old New York hotel sits in front of the salon chair.
Like any good nest, family’s involved. All the jewelry in the store is fashioned by Uccello’s mother, Kathy Picard, a designer from Glastonbury. She makes earrings, necklaces and bracelets, specializing in the use of sea glass—some of which sells in Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum. Other items include woolen gloves, scarves and caps hand-knitted by Wolcott-based artist Shelly Attenberg in the back room. On a nearby shelf sit burlap purses by Seymour-based Amy Wallace.
You might say the space itself is a found object. The Bird Nest’s current location is a white house on Whitfield Street built in 1745. In the 1970s, it housed the locally famous Ye Old Corn Crib, a health food store with a sign Uccello still displays outdoors. After the health food store closed, the house fell into disrepair. Then, Steven explains, “six years ago, the store was renovated and made into office space and, when I bought the place in 2011, it had stood empty for over a year.”
Its location a block south of the town green means much of Guilford’s foot traffic flies right by the Nest. But the business doesn’t depend solely, or even primarily, on retail shoppers. First and foremost this interesting boutique is actually a hair salon, and most of Uccello’s hair customers aren’t walk-ins. Most aren’t even from Guilford, judging by the rave reviews on Yelp.
Uccello has logged over 20 years as a stylist, in places including Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Raised in Glastonbury, he moved back to Connecticut eight years ago. Some of his current clients followed him over from New Haven’s Laura Ouellette Salon, where he worked before opening his own place.
As the only one-chair hair salon around, Nest promises a rare degree of individual attention. None of Uccello’s clients are booked for less than an hour, and a coloring gets at least two hours. As such, he averages only four or five appointments in a day. “Giving people more time is really important to me,” he says. Most appointments begin with a twenty-minute consultation—“I like to have an open dialogue with my clients.” He says learning what someone doesn’t want is just as important as what he wants. “One of the things I ask them is, ‘What is the worst haircut you’ve ever had?’ And then I do the opposite.”
Uccello also trains his clients to fly on their own—that is, to style and maintain their hair well between cuts. “I like to teach people to work with what God gave them. I like to show them the potential that everyone’s hair has, how it can adapt to their lifestyle, their work and whatever they do.” He discourages using damaging chemicals and irons. “I’m all about healthy hair,” he says.
Actually, Uccello’s all about a number of things; a proprietor/stylist of a salon/gallery/gift shop has to be. “I always wanted to have a casual gallery with antique and vintage furniture in it,” he says; all the better that he gets to support local artists in the endeavor. Mainly, though, he wanted to have a place to showcase his mother’s designer jewelry. “The most important thing is to give back to my Mom. She has always been very supportive of everything I do.”
Steven Uccello’s left the nest, but he remembers where he came from.
The Bird Nest Salon & Gallery
118 Whitfield St, Guilford (map)
Open based on appointment schedule. Call ahead.
Written and photographed by Will Gardner.