You’re Selling Community—Not Isolation!
Coliving is a new industry taking shape, and as such, an ecosystem is still in early development. There are operators, each with their own model and value proposition (and most of them, in my opinion, very shallow in their value proposition).
There are designers, consultants, lawyers—you name it; all specialized, they say, in coliving.
This is fine and part of any new ecosystem’s natural development. The fact that this is happening is good news for the industry; it means that, at last, it’s been taken seriously because people are now grasping its potential for society and the economy.
There’s a problem, though, and it’s that coliving is so new that we’re still defining what it is, what it means, and how it should be operated. There’s lots of noise and confusion at the moment defining what the coliving experience should feel like, and in my opinion, a large part of that noise comes from players of other industries (Real Estate mainly) joining the coliving party. Some bring their way of doing things by assuming their old habits will work fine with coliving, and most won’t.
An Ideal Coliving Bedroom
One of those misconceptions is the role the bedroom plays in a coliving. This is how I design my room:
Small; as small as you can. Tiny. Think of a monk’s cell, and it should be designed to spit you out.
From a design perspective, I know there are many ways you can conceive a coliving experience; and I hope you will forgive me if my methods seem extreme. In reality, I am, but it comes from eight successful years operating Startup Embassy.
In your average hotel, the center of the experience is the room. They sell isolation. Whereas in a coliving, the center is the community, which in this case means the common spaces. You sell the opposite of isolation. Ideally, you want the colivers to spend as much time as possible in those common areas and less time isolated in their rooms.
Private Space – Automation and What to Avoid
A bedroom is the place where you have good rest and privacy. That’s it. Sleeping is a biological need, and the bedroom is there to cover that need. Nothing else. All this doesn’t mean that it can’t be cozy; it should. These are some of the characteristics I believe a bedroom should have:
- A very comfortable bed. It could even be an 8sleep bed, where you use technology to improve the sleep experience.
- A large closet.
- A safe.
- Well insulated from noise.
- A clean, bright room.
- You can use technology to guarantee the right amount of humidity (50-60%), especially at sleep times. Measuring levels of CO2 and particles.
- Ideally, private, but this can be optional depending on your model.
As a bonus, and since I’m passionate about IoT and technology in general, I’ve been playing with the idea of using technology in the guest’s bedroom.
Each room represents the small, private space the guest has. As such, it should be super personalized. It’s their space. This means that they could have a dashboard to configure their room. The dashboard would be a smart way to configure the following:
- Schedule temperature changes
- Air quality and humidity
- Mattress-specific temperature
- Blinds, shutters, windows, whether open or closed
- Voice assistant speaker
- The room should have a noise sensor to identify if the guest is being annoyed by other guest’s noise.
- A sensor in the bed to know when the guest is sleeping and be able to use this information for predefined settings.
- Lights should be able to be controlled remotely.
On the other hand, these are factors that undermine your community-focus, avoid when possible:
The kitchen is the heart of the community. If you allow your guests to cook in their room, they’ll miss most of the experience. Kitchenettes or microwaves in every room mean potential hazards, more expenses for you. Larger rooms to accommodate them imply less density of bedrooms per sq foot. Also, you will potentially face a dish situation as most guests have an excuse to be lazier.
A kitchenette could require a sink, a small fridge, maybe even a dishwasher, and a trash can—more expense per room, more liability, less control on food getting wasted, etc.
I just see it as one mess per room!
A Work Desk
I know you want them to be comfortable, but you’ve got a great coworking space for them downstairs. In my experience, whenever I provided a desk to work, the guest would disappear forever. You don’t want that.
Nowadays, everyone has their phone, tablet, or computer to watch Netflix. You really don’t need to provide a TV. Save the money to provide an amazing home theater if you want.
And hey, it’s OK if your coliver is not feeling great and needs to spend two days depressed in their room. You shouldn’t force them to spend time with others! Respect their timing and privacy. However, the way your space is designed, especially the bedroom, should discourage them fromdoing anything else in their bedroom that is not resting or having privacy.
I haven’t mentioned that this requires two things:
- Your building should have the proper layout to allow for these types of rooms. Of course, the ideal coliving should be designed and built from the ground up. But today, most of the colivings are retrofitted buildings that are not perfect.
- Regulations in your region will surely have a limit on how small the bedrooms can be—one more reason to lobby to have a specific regulation for coliving. Society must understand that the value proposition of a coliving is not the room! When you are offering a small bedroom, it comes with thousands of square feet of shared space.
Bedroom Concepts by Privacy/Density
Depending on your specific concept of coliving, and considering this concept of room that I’m defining here, there are different types of rooms you could have:
This is the cheapest offer.
In my opinion, they’re much better than bunk beds, even though they fall into the same category. Keep in mind one thing. Don’t assume that people choose them because they don’t have another option and are broke. Quite the contrary, I’ve found that many guests prefer this way of sleeping. They love the experience of sharing sleep with their colivers.
For gen X like me, it’s difficult to understand, but I had situations where I would offer a private room to one of our long-lasting guests, thinking that it was an upgrade. He begged me not to move him! He loved his bunk bed; go figure (I’m sure territoriality played a role).
Also, depending on your community’s DNA, you might want to avoid privacy by design. It’s the case of Podshare, where their pod design allows guests to have eye contact with other members when resting, with no curtains or shades. Elvina, Podshare’s founder, stated that this is part of their culture, which is extreme openness. Don’t assume that everyone wants privacy.
Here is another affordable option.
They offer some privacy compared to open pods, shared rooms, and take to the concept of high-density beds to the extreme. I believe they are an excellent way to find a privacy/density ratio balance.
Double or Triple Shared Bedrooms
I consider them, especially the two-bedroom version, a nice compromise between improved bedroom density and privacy.
When you share a bedroom with a single stranger assuming that your coliving is very verticalized (which means stronger community and shared values), you don’t feel such a loss in your privacy.
I’ve personally enjoyed sharing a bedroom with a fellow entrepreneur. Emilio and I would stay talking with the lights off way past 3 am almost every night. I felt like going back 30 years when it was exciting to spend all night long talking with friends. The bonding experience is so strong and enjoyable that the perception of loss of privacy is almost nonexistent.
Obviously, a double bedroom also allows for couples in your space. That, of course, depends if you allow them, and that decision should be based on your culture and be taken in the initial design process of your community.
It’s the ideal format, especially if it includes a private bathroom. Obviously, single bedrooms bring the least revenue per square foot, unless you play with the pricing and are able to provide a space-efficient bedroom design.
Part of your value proposition could be to offer different types of bedrooms to different budgets and/or desired experiences. You don’t need to stick to just one model. But remember that how you design your sleeping experience, whether it’s private or not, stems from your core values and community’s DNA.
If a coliving space is designed for a higher bed density, it allows for very affordable housing, which should be part of the value proposition.
I see way too many colivings focusing their value proposition on the luxury market. That’s fine, the market is big, and there’s plenty of space for different propositions. But did most of them do that (position themselves in the luxury market) by design (community, brand, core values), or did they do it for lack of imagination? Do they have a clue how to monetize, verticalize, and provide value beyond an expensive bed?
Mama Carlos Says
Having a small bedroom doesn’t mean that the privacy experience can’t be great. We should change the old mindset and understand that if we save square feet from unused bedroom space, we’ll have more room to design an incredible communal experience, which in the end, is the goal of a coliving. We don’t sell isolation; we sell community!