Kathleen Sanborn has had perfectly rounded acrylic nails for 15 years. She's never taken them off, and never intends to.
"I love the way they feel," she crooned, stretching her fingers wide to admire the spread. "I might not be dressed, but I always feel dressed."
Ms. Sanborn is an old pro in a booming trend: nail art. Describing herself as "the funkiest one around," she said her nails are an extension of her personality.
And like her, more and more women sport funky nails on the wild side. The range of designs is endless, and includes nails with encrusted rhinestones, Buffalo Bills motifs and city skylines, complete with a dangling charms at the tips.
In keeping with the demand for a signature claw, nail salons are popping up all around the Buffalo area. For the last three years, Ms. Sanborn has driven from her home in Alden to be polished and painted at the Nail Place in West Seneca. Owned by Ali Loretto and her mom, Andrea, the salon is busy polishing clients from as far as Salamanca and Canada.
Six nail technicians work at a time, seeing up to 15 clients a day. Most clients come to the Nail Place every two or three weeks. For many women, it begins with buying some fingernails. At Ms. Loretto's salon, a full set of sculptured acrylic nails is $38. Once you've got nails to decorate, the art ranges from $2 to $6 a nail. Ms. Loretto estimated that most clients spend about $22 every two weeks to maintain their nails.
Ms. Loretto offers freehand nail art, a service she called a dinosaur: slowly becoming extinct as the popularity of airbrush nail art rises. She said airbrush art is easier to do, because the designs are painted on using a stencil. Ms. Loretto studied art in high school, a background she credits with giving her the creativity and skill to paint the nails freehand.
Susan Pfohl of Eden comes to the Nail Place every two weeks. As Ms. Loretto prepped her nails with an electric file, her smiling client talked about her childhood dream of having long nails, and how she loves to get them done now.
"It's fun and relaxing, and one of the ways I pamper myself," she said. "It takes a lot for me to break a nail appointment."
Ms. Loretto worked from a four-foot high rolling cart crammed with hundreds of bottles of polishes, paints and equipment. One shelf was filled with thousands of beads, rhinestones and glitter to glue on, and jazz up, her clients.
After removing Ms. Pfohl's old nail polish and filing her nails, Ms. Loretto gave them two coats of hot pink polish. She then used a wood stick with an angled tip to create piles of rhinestones on the tips. Finishing with a sealer and a quick-drying spray, Ms. Pfohl was sparkled and dry in no time.
"Twenty-five minutes to dry, and then it's back to business as usual," she said.
Ms. Loretto used Ms. Sanborn's nails to show off her range of designs. She said many women have nail art done during the holidays, and using a tiny striper brush, painted a Halloween spider wed (complete with a beady-eyed arachnid). With her stick and some gold foil, she soon created a Christmas design on the next finger.
Ms. Sanborn said she has nail art done for special occasions, like her semi-annual trip to Las Vegas. One trip was close to St. Patrick's Day, and she asked Ms. Loretto to paint something that would bring her luck.
"She painted on a clover leaf, with little diamonds on it," she said, beaming. "It brought me luck."
Ms. Sanborn said she considers her nails to be part of her ensemble, because as a professional, people are always looking at her hands. She said the cost of maintenance, which averages $6 a week, is well worth the way she feels, and the attention her nails get.
"I do get a lot of comments," she said. "People ask, 'Are those your nails?' And I'll say, 'Yeah.' After all, I paid for them."