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Paintbox, The Nail Studio Without a Polish Wall

Owner Eleanor Langston on how her manicure-only salon came to be.

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Paintbox is nothing like the nail salons you're used to. There's no polish wall, the manicure stations are spacious, and champagne and "mani cams" are part of the experience. "At a lot of nail salons, you're told to pick a color and you're expected to come in with your own idea of what you want done," Paintbox owner Eleanor Langston told Racked during a recent visit to the Crosby Street studio. "The manicurists are the experts and they'll guide you through the process and help you find something that's within your comfort zone."

During our visit, we discovered the nail studio's origins, why it offers a "lookbook" for customers, and how from Langston actually ranks at giving a mani.


So how did it all start?

I was a beauty editor for over a decade working at Self, Cosmo, and Fitness, and freelancing for InStyle, Redbook and Women's Health, so I was already on the editorial side of the beauty realm. Then in the early 2000s, I saw the rise in popularity of nails and I just fell in love with all the cool things you could do with them and how they were being treated as an accessory.

As a beauty editor, my passion was to help women navigate crazy runway trends and pare them down to what would actually work [in real life]. That same idea applies at Paintbox: We're here to help women navigate nail trends. We do everything from a lookbook to picking the colors for every season, creating modern nail art that's not too over-the-top.

Were you always a beauty buff?

I was obsessed with it even before I was a beauty editor. I remember loving Wet ‘N Wild — I'd go to Target and get all the nail polish and glitter. But what I really love about beauty is that not only is it aesthetically fun, but it's also about science. I love to learn all about how everything interacts and what the process is. It was great as a beauty editor because I'd get to talk to dermatologists and fragrance experts. Beauty is fun and super-girly and colorful, but it's also research and science-based.

Was opening up a nail salon always something you planned to do?

No, not at all. I was happy doing editorial, but then I realized that there was a need to help women navigate this nail trend, and so opening up Paintbox really came from that passion to help women understand that they could try something outside of their comfort zone but still look clean and modern.


How did the studio concept come about?

After a lot of research and polling some of my friends! Really though, I felt like you could have an elevated experience with hair and makeup, and nails were an afterthought. But nails are actually pretty important, since we use our hands all day. They're something we should celebrate. So I thought, "There's no reason why we can't make this into a cool place that plays great music and has a mani cam." I also wanted Paintbox to be a social place, where you could come with your girlfriends and have a glass of champagne or nice tea.

Why did you pick Soho for Paintbox's first location?

I really fell in love with Crosby Street. It's this corridor east of traditional Soho with cobblestone streets that really feels special, with all of these up-and-coming brands. It's very community-driven, and all of our neighbors are supportive of one another — anytime one of us has an issue, everyone helps out.

Who is the traditional Paintbox client?

We have so many varieties, but I'd say the typical one is a 25-to-35-year-old woman (though we love our male clients, too!) that are really beauty-savvy, social, fashion-forward and take pride in self care. They're also looking to try something different.


How do you see Paintbox in comparison to other nail salons?

We are manicure-only, which really sets us apart. I also see other salons more as spas and more client driven and I think of us as a very social place that's also very elevated and curated. Not only do we do manicures, but we also have our lookbook, too. We give you a starting point that you can customize to match your personality.

How often do you get your nails done?

Every two to three weeks. At Paintbox, our appointments are an hour, and I'm a busy mom with two kids — I do gel pretty much exclusively to keep my nails lasting a little longer.

Do you think you give a good mani?

No, I don't! [laughs] I love picking out color combos and glitter mixes, but the actual manicure part? I'm not licensed. That's one of the reasons I started Paintbox, because I can't even do my own nails.

Where do you draw your nail design inspo from?

All of our manicurists submit ideas, and sometimes clients will pick an interesting color combo that I had never thought of. We're also inspired by fashion, architecture and interior design.

Any celebrity Paintbox fans?

Yeah! Kelly Ripa, Lo Bosworth, and Tara Lipinski have all come in. Zosia Mamet has Instagrammed about us, and Hailee Steinfeld too.

What's a polish shade that's timeless?

RGB's Scarlet is a gorgeous deep red, and Essie's Lady Like is a beige camel that's a modern neutral.

Do you ever miss being a magazine editor?

I do in some ways, but I did a decade of it and I was ready to move on. This [job] does have some of the stuff that's already in my comfort zone, like the lookbooks and the shoots and doing content for the website and social media, but it's also made me grow in so many other ways — from a business perspective, I've learned so much.

What's your favorite part about this business?

The reward of the client trying something new. A lot of them come in here during a busy day running around the city, and by the end of their appointment they're more confident and relaxed and showing off their hands. Women come in here and end up getting something that makes them feel special.

Even just sitting in here feels special. Finally though, tell where you're headed next.

We're figuring that out right now. We just had our two-year anniversary and it's been really fun and exciting, so we're just trying to be strategic with our next move. We have a lot of things planned and we're really excited to see what's next for Paintbox.


17 Crosby St., New York, NY 10013 (212) 219-2412