General Assembly cofounder Brad Hargreaves wants you to stop fighting with your roommates.
His new company, Common, is one of a few “co-living” startups that have sprung up in places like New York and San Francisco, designed to bring the tech ethos to bear on the idea of communal living. On Saturday, Common opened by far its biggest project to date, a 51-bedroom complex in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighbourhood.
Co-living is just a fancy way of saying living with people other than your family, and Hargreaves explains that the idea behind Common isn’t meant to be revolutionary. People sometimes approach Common like it’s some completely new invention, he says. But really what he wants to do is craft the ideal roommate experience for someone who doesn’t necessarily have an extended social network in New York to tap into (more than half of Common residents are first-time New Yorkers).
Common tries to do this by taking care of things that cause tension between roommates, like cleaning and buying communal furniture, and setting up the living situation in a way that encourages people to be social with their neighbours.
But Hargreaves doesn’t like the comparison to a “dorm for adults.” He says that implies things like shared bedrooms (none of the bedrooms at Common are shared except for couples) and flimsy furniture. But despite his protests, the co-living idea does seem meant to recapture the spirit of dorm life, where it’s easy to hang out with your neighbours and make new friends — just with greatly upgraded amenities (and a price to match).
Here’s how it works:
Common's new building in Williamsburg has 51 bedrooms, which are subdivided into 12 furnished suites. It was 80% full before launch.
To become a Common 'member' you have to apply. But Hargreaves (right) and design head Sophie Wilkinson (left) say the main criteria is simply whether you want to be part of the community. They aren't trying to place people together who share interests (or work in tech).
A room in Common's new building costs $1,800 - $2,300 per-month for a 12-month stay (more if you want to lock in for just 3 or 6 months). That's probably more than you would pay in a standard Craigslist situation, though not outrageous given the neighbourhood (the average one-bedroom in Williamsburg is around $3,000).
The rooms are small. They average 120 square feet, and the smallest ones are just 100. They aren't meant for someone who enjoys a lot of clutter. But they feel well-designed to maximise the space through angles and windows.
Common's bedrooms come furnished, though one lesson Hargreaves said they learned was not to overdecorate. You don't want to feel like you are living in a showroom. Common features mattresses by Casper and 'luxury linens' by Parachute.
Some rooms have private baths, but usually you share a bathroom with 2-3 people (the staff cleans bathrooms and kitchens once a week).
Kitchens are shared between five people. These people are the ones you really get to know, Hargreaves says. This is good, since the individual rooms have no locks on the doors (because Common wants them to avoid being regulated as 'single room occupancy' units). Suite doors do have locks, however.
Hargreaves says that communal cooking is one big social element Common has seen in its first two houses in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
... and stocks things like cleaning supplies (and coffee), so its residents don't have to worry about a roommate buying rotation.
Beyond the suites, Common's new building has 4 big common areas downstairs. These have different functions (this one is the lounge-meeting one) ...
... and a big table. If you wanted to, you could use this space as a de facto home office, Hargreaves says.
Another common space is the workout room, where Common plans to have around 2 classes per week (though people can also organise their own events). Residents can chat events in Common's Slack channel, which is the main method of communication for members.
The workout room doesn't have any machines, but includes yoga equipment. There are two other common rooms as well (including a projector room for movies), which hadn't yet opened when we visited.
The building includes a roof deck for the summer (though it can get a little loud with the proximity to the Williamsburg bridge).
Common preaches ease and any 'member' can move to any open room in just 24 hours if they want (lets say they don't like their suitemates, or just want a bigger or smaller room).
One thing to note: The building does feel a bit out of step with the neighbourhood around it, which is part of a larger trend of continued gentrification in south Williamsburg.
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