For many soloists, the only kinds of coworking spaces that work are the ones they invent themselves.
Coworking has come a long way from its dowdy roots.
Today’s edgy spaces routinely feature glass-front offices and vibrant community areas, including meeting rooms, lounges, game areas, coffee bars, kitchens, and even craft beer carts.
Spaces are designed to allow members — soloists, small start-up teams, big-company execs — to get work done and at the same time to encourage interaction — a far cry from the soul-crushing hermetic “executive suites” of the 80s.
But for some soloists, all the lattes and lounges of the WeWorks still don’t add up to that place you just can’t wait to go to each morning. So they’re doing what creatives do — they’re imagining and building their own personal coworking spaces. Think “DIY Coworking.”
The COMN (pictured here) is the brainchild of six creatives in Minneapolis, including clothing designer Lisa Hackwith (founder of Hackwith Design House) and millennial tastemaker and brand consultant Kate Arends (founder of Wit & Delight). Meanwhile in the Eastern Market neighborhood of the nation’s capital there’s a small industrial building refashioned by entrepreneur Zach Lyman and his wife, filmmaker River Finlay. It’s called Headquarters/DC.
Lyman explains the impulse to build his own digs. “I had sold my alternative energy company about four years ago,” says Zach, “and my wife and I were looking for office space. Even four short years ago there was nothing here in DC that was similar to the coworking options we had seen when working in Brooklynand San Francisco.
“We wanted a place that we couldn’t wait to get to in the morning. So we decided to make our own. We bought what had been a small industrial space in Eastern Market. The space was big enough to house several small teams, and an assortment of independents. From the beginning we wanted a diverse, collaborative, healthy ecosystem — not all creatives. We didn’t want a space that felt exclusive.
“For me, my work group has also been my social group, so the relationships are crucial. This past winter, given all the snow, people were going stir crazy so they started bringing their kids into work. It was fabulous. We also feel that we’re part of the neighborhood here, which we hadn’t expected. So it’s not just a place to work.
“What’s really surprised us, though, is that now that we own this asset that’s already paying for itself, we’re starting to think about all the things we could do with it. We could create fellowships and cram interesting people into the corners. We could create a secret coffee shop that only people in the neighborhood know about. Someone whose name I won’t mention is thinking about building a small boxing gym.
“When you have an asset like this,” Lyman says, “it can become a place that supports all sorts of small-scale experiments, the types of experiments that are an important source of innovation.”
“The coworking scene here in DC has changed dramatically in the past several years, like the rest of the country. But still institutional spaces aren’t for everyone,” says Zach. “You can be as lonely in a crowd as you can at home.”