Behind the Design: Immortal Beloved

Image Credit: Max Cook

Design is everywhere.  Your toothbrush is designed, your office is designed, and even the carts at the grocery store are designed (next time check out the difference between the elongated single carts and the compact double carts – the latter makes maneuvering through a crowded aisle much, much easier).  Design is truly meant to improve the physical and emotional relationship that we have with a space or a product.

Having spent a couple of years studying design, my sense of awareness in regards to its implications has been heightened.  No matter what I do, I take notice – the good, the bad, and the extremely ugly.  And one type of environment that has always left me wondering is the hair salon.   Why the heck do they all look and feel like clones?  High-end salons are almost always ornamented with chandeliers; trendy salons love to play glaring music – the louder the better; and I don’t think a “budget cut” salon exists without some dated, checkered vinyl flooring.  Can’t someone please answer my salon design woes and create something truly unique?

And in fact someone has finally answered my prayers! His name is Kelly Gorsuch and he is the owner of Immortal Beloved.

Image Credit: Max Cook

Inside an inconspicuous garage on Church Street NW – between 14th and 15th – lies a salon that surpasses all expectations.  Immortal Beloved is not just a fantastic salon for the obvious reason, that they make your hair look really, really good (just check out their countless positive reviews on Yelp). However, there is something else that makes this salon stand out amongst the rest, and that is its design.

Nothing inside Immortal Beloved is generic or ordinary, every nook and cranny is devised with extreme thoughtfulness and care.  And what serves most impressive is that even though everything about the salon has purpose, nothing feels contrived or forced – leaving you with an impression that is rightfully fresh and exciting.  This was the exact goal that Gorsuch has 11-months ago when he opened his second salon.  He wanted to create a space that did not look like “it was ordered out of catalog”, but one that was rough, rustic, and honest.  “Character comes first, you can’t fake that”, said Gorsuch.

Image Credit: Max Cook

Image Credit: Max Cook

One thing that makes the space distinctive is its shell.  The site-plan is surrounded by historical significance, as this strip of the 14th street corridor was traditionally respected as a working-class area.  The shell of the salon previously served as a few different auto-repair and maintenance shops (evident by the floor-to-ceiling garage door and large pooling oil spills on the original concrete floor), and continues to have preservation protection with the city.   Although the constraints that come with not being able to touch the exterior of the building could have lent itself to disaster, Gorsuch stepped up to the challenge and designed a salon that lived in unison with its original housing while also celebrated its past.

Gorsuch explained his process for developing the concept and design of Immortal Beloved as one that may seem unusual to the rest of us, but that seemingly worked for him.  “Caleb and I spent a couple of days just getting drunk in the salon and tossing around ideas, we had to figure out how the space lives – and I couldn’t think of a better way to do that”, Gorsuch said.  Caleb is in reference to Caleb Woodward, Gorsuch’s friend and design partner-in-crime.  Woodward is a DC-resident and celebrated woodworker who creates one-of-a-kind furniture with a mid-century feel.  Gorsuch and Woodward manually created all of the wood decoration that furnishes Immortal Beloved, with each unique piece adding to the salons sincere character and overall visual appeal.

Image Credit: Max Cook

Image Credit: Max Cook

Another show-off in the salon is the antique claw-foot tub.  At about three-feet wide (I have no idea who, at what point in time, could ever fit inside there) the cast-iron beauty serves as a central node, unifying the different sections of the salon.  Although Gorsuch originally wanted to fill the tub with beer, he ultimately decided that a Wisteria Vine would be most appropriate – a choice that I also believe helps to distinguish the salon from its “manufactured” counterparts.

Image Credit: Max Cook

You also won’t be able to move about the salon without noticing the aged books that are stacked just about everywhere.  The books came about as a design addition because the salon was full of “literary people” who, well, really like books I guess.  Furthermore, the salons name, Immortal Beloved, which comes from Beethoven’s famous love letters to an unidentified woman – plays into the salon’s perceived romantic aesthetic.  This quirky creativity is also evident throughout the salons finishing touches, from the typography on the salons business cards and store-front, to the product design of the House of Esterhazy Hair Glimmer.  There is something even fairytale-like about the entire experience that comes with Immortal Beloved, one that is dreamy and distinctively their own.

Next time you are thinking about making an appointment to get a hair cut, you may want to consider making it an utterly unique experience.  Who knows, you may just fall in love with it too.

Immortal Beloved is located at 1457 Church Street NW. 202-299-1050, Appointments Only.

Samantha can often be found daydreaming by the Rothkos of the East Gallery, sketching store facades along 14th, and snapping photos with her vintage polaroid at 9:30 club concerts. Since moving to DC in 2007 to get an MFA in Interior Design, her eyes can’t seem to be peeled away from the beautiful things in this city. Send any visual art, architecture, or design related news her way via Samantha (at) WeLoveDC.com

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