Casey Lewis | Willow Room Salon & Glasshouse Project
Create. Inspire. Grow.
These words have been embedded in Casey Lewis’s mind since she began building her business nearly a decade ago. Since opening her salon in March of 2011, she has branded herself and her businesses to attract like-minded, well-intentioned people from all walks of life.
This is Casey’s story [with some insight from her best friend, right-hand woman, and salon manager, Kate].
“I don’t know if he made this up or what but my Dad always says, ‘Remember when you said you were going to open up a salon one day?’ And I am like, ‘never…’”
Salon ownership is not a career path that Casey remembers anticipating for herself when she began pursuing her licensure. However, when she found Willow Room’s current location, she instantly fell in love with the space and began envisioning it as her own.
“When I opened up here, I remember having a client say to me, ‘This space is beautiful, but why so much space for yourself? And the answer was that at that time, I just needed to be alone. I had no desire to be a boss or run a business with employees. But on the other hand, I had a client say to me, ‘This space is perfect for you because it supports you creatively and it gives you room to grow.’ And those words meant everything to me. For the first time, I could look around and say, ‘Yes. Anything is possible here.’”
The space Casey acquired had to be transformed into a functioning salon—and fast. She received the keys January 1st, 2011 with a plan to open in May of the same year, however, complications ensued and the plan quickly changed. Casey was unexpectedly tasked with renovating the space in just four weeks.
“We hustled. My family flew up from Florida to help us and my husband Danny built me a station and did all of the construction himself to make the space possible. It was a labor of love to get this space up and running so fast.”
Everything you see in the salon is repurposed and upcycled wood and furniture from northeast Ohio. In fact, during their first year in business, Willow Room Salon took second place in an international eco-salon design contest held by Davines North America, the brand Willow Room proudly carries as their product line.
“As we grew, Danny continued to make this place what it is today. He has made all of the furniture, all of the stations, all of the displays himself. As this space evolves and there are new needs, I ask kindly and he makes my dreams a reality.”
Willow Room’s eco-friendly drive does not stop with their salon design. Casey’s salon has been certified as environmentally friendly through Green Circle Salons for the past few years.
“We are a sustainable salon. Through Green Circle, all of our hair clippings get turned into booms that soak up oil spills that soak up oil across the coasts of North America. It is also turned into bedding for refugees and for animals displaced from the fires out west. Even all of our foil and color gets washed out to 5% chemical waste and 95% turns into clean water.”
Though she has actively been pursuing ways to support and protect the world around her, Casey admits that she did not adopt the idea of a brand until about a year or so ago.
“We are heart-centered, we are experience oriented, and we take care of people. I do believe that finding yoga helped me find intention in everything that I do. I run my business with good intention and I know that the good intention behind me and my business is greater than any monetary value.”
It is Casey’s well-intentioned vision that brought her to partner with Cleveland’s May Dugan Center, a local social service organization that has committed themselves to helping people enrich and advance their lives and communities, to create the Suspended Beauty program.
“The idea for this program stemmed from a program in Italy called Suspended Espresso (in Italian, of course.) The idea behind the program in Italy is that when you come to fortune you pay it forward. So, with Suspended Espresso, you buy a cup of coffee and you pay for someone else’s coffee. That way, when somebody in need comes, their coffee is already paid for. We’ve adopted the concept and are doing the same thing with beauty services in Cleveland.”
The experience provided by Willow Room and May Dugan is more about just getting your hair cut, it’s an experience. To fund the program, Casey has asked the Willow Room community to donate any dollar amount which then goes into a bank to covers stylists to service May Dugan clients at no cost.
“We’re not setting up post in a community service center and doing hair. They are coming here, to our salon, and receiving an inclusive service. Our stylists work with the May Dugan clients to show them how naturally beautiful they are on their own, without any enhancement.”
Over the past few years, Casey has accepted the role of being a leader and has hired a team of full-time stylists. Casey acknowledges that one of her most important hires in this transition was the addition of her best friend Kate as Willow Room’s manager. Since Kate has been working in the salon, there has been a huge shift in dynamics that has empowered Casey to come out from behind the chair and focus on the business again—a transition that has aided in Willow Room’s expansion of wellness programming.
In early 2018, Casey was given the opportunity to expand her space to include an attached event space, office, and break room for her staff. The space is appropriately titled Glasshouse Project, which was birthed from a distant memory coupled with an inspiring conversation with Anne Hartnett of Harness Cycles.
“I had an idea a long time ago on a road trip where I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to have a retreat space for hairstylists to do yoga and take part in self-care?’ I kept envisioning it as a greenhouse-type space somewhere out in a field. So, I literally journaled the word ‘glasshouse’ and put that journal away and forgot about it. I honestly forgot about that journal entry until we were meeting with Ann after we had just acquired the space. Ann said, ‘Well, what are you going to call it? What are some adjectives that describe the place?’ One of the words we came up with was transparent which immediately took me back to that journal entry; In that moment, I remembered that I had written down ‘glasshouse’, and that was it. She literally pulled it out of me.”
Glasshouse was created with self-care in mind. Casey knows that the salon industry is notorious for long hours without breaks, so she wanted to include a space in her salon where her staff can sit back and relax, practice yoga, meditate, and breathe. But the intention for the space involves the community, as well. Casey sees Glasshouse as a container space for creatives. It’s a space where people who are doing inspirational work are invited to create and collaborate. And, eventually, she would love to extend Suspended Beauty into Glasshouse to provide public services and education opportunities for those in need.
“This space is exactly what it needs to be right now. It’s providing people with creative freedom and room to grow. We want people to be whoever they are supposed to be here. We want this space to be anything that anyone wants it to be.”
“We are in a place now with the salon that we have more flexibility to go and do the things that fill us up and bring our experiences back to this container space to help fill other people up. I think one of the most exciting things about living in Cleveland and having a business here is that there is so much in the world that we can go out and experience and bring back to Cleveland that doesn’t exist yet.”
In the long term, Casey wants people to grow within the Glasshouse walls. And she, herself, is taking full advantage of the growth that the space allows for.
“I want to be a stronger leader in order to support the people that come here and be able to help them achieve their goals. I’ve had a lot of challenges in the past year and I often find myself wondering if I am being ridiculous, you know, that I want this for people. That I want this space to be utilized by my staff and the community. But, I find that when you let go a little bit, you are able to sit back and watch it evolve organically.”
Casey feels as though the heartbeat of the world right now stems from the need for honest, open connection with people, and redefining that being self-serving, and doing things that are right for you, is not a bad thing. She believes that unless you are true to you, you are not where you are supposed to be, and that the more self-serving you are, the more good you have for everyone around you.
“Running a business, you have to keep your intentions very clear and close to your heart because it’s not everyone else’s. It’s yours. I know that what I am doing is true and it’s non-negotiable. It’s what I want to be doing and what I am meant to be doing.”