Growing up with thick curls, Paula Sato used to dread getting her hair done. Some haircuts would end with elaborate styles that she couldn't replicate, while others inspired her to rush home and restyle them herself. Her experience in the chair has shaped her approach to working behind it. "When someone sits in my chair, I really want to get to know them and understand them and their hair," she says. "My mom calls me the hair whisperer."
Instead of copying magazine photos, she meticulously dries and flatirons every customer's hair, analyzing its shape, growth patterns, and texture before taking up her scissors. While she works, she talks with the customer to find out more about their styling frustrations and typical routine. Her finished styles come complete with techniques to try at home and product recommendations. In the salon, she uses ColorProof, biodegradable, carcinogen-free, and vegan products that protect against heat and environmental damage. If customers can't afford professional products, though, she's happy to recommend alternatives, such as a nourishing dollop of coconut oil or a quick waxy dunk in a beehive.
For the past few years, Paula has hung her sheers at Front Street Studios, a laidback, retro-styled salon in Old Town Temecula. The beauty haven has been in business for more than a quarter century, and some of the original hairstylists still man their chairs. Regular customers—many who've known each other for years—gossip while their color sets, and the ghost of feathered bangs past still haunts the hair-spray racks.