After the hustle and bustle of gift-buying, gatherings of family and friends and holiday dinners, Darline Cheers needed a little lift.
So she called a caterer and ordered some spiced shrimp and fried chicken, whipped up a platter of deviled eggs and a salad, and invited a few girlfriends to her Mitchellville home.
Then she called Art K. Mallory.
"Oooooh, yes. I needed this!" exclaimed Pat Dowsing-Buie, 48, an educational consultant from St. Louis, as Mallory worked her left calf with a vibrating circular massager. In the background, Cheers and the other women nibbled and chatted as the sultry saxophone of Boney James emanated from the stereo and Dowsing-Buie sighed appreciatively.
During the day, Mallory, 35, is a telecommunications technician. But at night and on weekends, he offers premium pampering and nail care through the business he started in his free time, Executive Nail Care Services Inc.
He is one of a growing number of cosmetologists, massage therapists and manicurists who are setting up permanent shops on the road, providing their services where clients want, when they want.
Around the Capital Beltway, beauty and health specialists are giving busy Washingtonians an alternative to salon massages, hairdos, manicures and pedicures. Stylists now go to their clients' homes to clip their coifs, massage therapists work tired muscles in the privacy of their clients' homes, and nail care specialists give manicures and pedicures for one, two or two dozen clients . . . wherever they choose.
All it takes is money.
Home care services generally cost $10 to $20 more than those provided in salons, with prices of about $25 for a manicure, $50 or so for a cut and style and up to $125 for a makeup-application lesson.
And more consumers, who have neither the time nor the patience to sit in a crowded salon, are happily paying a little more for the convenience and luxury such specialists provide.
Clients of massage therapist Richard Brown, who runs his business, Kuzari, from his home in Adams-Morgan, are lining up for his in-home seaweed body wrap ($85), a "salt glow" exfoliate ($65) and his basic massage ($65).
Brown said his business once focused primarily on athletic clubs. Now, he travels throughout the Washington area to serve clients' needs, working his schedule around theirs.
"I started getting more and more requests from my clients," Brown said. "Most of my clients prefer to be pampered at home, instead of going in, getting a massage, getting dressed and then going home."
Jill Neff, 33, a guest-booking agent at CNN, has gotten her manicures and pedicures from Mallory in her Capitol Hill home for five years. During her regular 9 p.m. Monday appointment, Neff enjoys a glass of wine and watches "Ally McBeal" as Mallory does her nails.
"In Washington, time is of the essence," said Neff, who frequently works 10-hour days. "You don't have a lot of downtime and the downtime you have, you have to try to fit everything in. To have a pedicure and manicure done in the privacy of your own home, as you are sitting down and having a glass of wine and watching TV, is worth the extra money."
Besides, she said, "you don't have to put your shoes back on and mess up your toenails. You can be barefoot in your own home."
The popularity of such services has grown by word-of-mouth; many of Mallory's clients treat their friends to his manicures and pedicures as gifts. His champagne pedicure for two--he provides the champagne, the music and the pedicures--are hot Christmas and Valentine's Day gifts. Mallory was booked solid through the holidays by his regular clients.
His popularity tells as much about the quality of his services as the discretion with which he provides them, Mallory's clients said.
"Art knows everybody's business and doesn't tell any of it. He's the soul of discretion," said one of Mallory's many high-profile clients. Mallory won't name them, but they include politicians, media figures, government insiders and law enforcement officials.
Said Neff, "I really do consider him a friend."
Mallory's business has become so popular that he shares group bookings with another manicurist, Shonta Williams.
One recent night, Jennifer Wells, a Mitchellville mother of a toddler son, shared an appointment night with her neighbor Howard W. Stone Jr., Prince George's County's chief administrative officer, at Stone's town house in the gated Woodmore community.
Sipping white wine and listening to Joe Sample and Lahla Hathaway, Wells and Stone enjoyed the decadence of the experience as Mallory soothed Stone's tired feet and polished Wells's elegant fingernails in Mother Road Rose.
"I told him to surprise me with the color, and he chose one that matched my skin tone perfectly," Wells said, surveying Mallory's work. "I just love this!"
Cheers declares herself a convert to the home-style personal styling that Mallory offers.
"There's nothing like being pampered in your home," she said. "I wanted to share that with some of my friends. Sometimes you just need to do something good for yourself, and I'm the kind of person who believes in sharing."
CAPTION: Art Mallory tends to Pat Dowsing-Buie while Toyin Shodiya, 7, awaits her turn.
CAPTION: Darline Cheers invited friends to her Mitchellville home for snacks, sultry music and a massage. "I wanted to share that," she says.
CAPTION: "Art knows everybody's business and doesn't tell," says one devotee.
CAPTION: "Oooooh, yes. I needed this!" says Pat Dowsing-Buie, 48, at the home of Darline Cheers.