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An Hour of Zen in Winston-Salem

Hannah Hanlon

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In Winston-Salem, NC, there’s a place built just to give your ego a warm hug. Actually, three, soon to be four places that any person needing an hour or so of serious self-care can pop in feeling ordinary and come out looking positively fabulous. These magical spaces are called Ego Hr., a forty-year old chain of hair salons conceived of, created by, and reigned over by entrepreneur and salon-strategy genius Anna Smith. COG is thrilled to have a longstanding relationship with Anna. Michael Corcoran designed the two original Ego Hr. locations nearly 15 years ago. When Smith needed to relocate them, she once again tapped Michael (and the COG team) to design two replacement locations: Ego Hr. on Jonestown Road, a breezy, warehouse-inspired retreat that feels a bit like an apple store and a spa had a baby; and Ego Hr. on Stratford Rd, a warm, welcoming sanctuary set to open in February 2019.

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Michael Corcoran might spend the majority of his time these days designing functional, beautiful places for families and seniors to call home, but he has a hidden, latent passion: designing salons. “Salons are hands-on, typically a quick project, and you get to do things you wouldn’t normally get away with doing with multi-family housing,” says Corcoran. “You can come up with quirky ideas and build them; get out of the box.” The box at Ego Hr. Jonestown, for instance, began as a large, open space created by combining two smaller storefronts. Corcoran and team added a floating “cloud” structure at 11 feet to break up the 20-foot ceiling span, built private rooms to shelter customers wanting a more intimate hair experience, and installed high-performance Pirelli flooring to stand up to the punishment of long hours of customers, artists, colorists and other staff parading through.  The team also heavily considered lighting. “It’s the most important thing about a salon,” says project lead Judy Warner-Babb. “We used specially chosen LEDs to ensure color-correctness. In a salon, it’s important to see the true colors.”

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The space is a veritable warehouse, with exposed ductwork and soaring ceilings. But its size was both a blessing and a curse. Twenty stylists work side by side at custom, COG-designed stations with LED-ringed mirrors. While impressive, traffic between there and washing stations, the salon’s communal “color bar” and community table where patrons wait as their hair processes, and between the bathrooms, changing rooms and the reception area and storefront had the potential to create chaos as the salon filled up during peak hours. We had a plan, however.

“One of the most wonderful things is that Michael understands the foot traffic – the traffic flow. In a salon that’s this big and does this many people, it’s really hard to move people through there; and the flow here works really well,” says Anna. “Everything has to have practical connectivity that just works,” adds Michael. “The building is a machine for making money. And if you make the machine wasteful, the business will be wasteful.”


With the opening of Ego Hr. on Jonestown Road and another Ego Hr. location in development by the COG team (more on that in a blog to come), Michel and Anna have had the opportunity to perfect their working relationship. By all accounts, it’s a creative collaboration unlike few others. “Anna is a joy,” Michael says. “To talk to. To work with. To create for.” The feeling, we’ve found, is mutual.

“It was really amazing, working with COG,” adds Anna. “I’ve known Michael for a really long time; they did a remarkable job getting the space to be what I wanted it to be.”

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