In episode 21, the last one before 2021, Shireen shares her amazing experience at Heaven coliving and everything she's discovered about herself their and learnt from others. Towards the end, we dive into:
what makes a home?
Yes, it is something I ask everyone that comes on the podcast but as the last episode of 2020 I thought I would end on that note and reflect on what we "know" so far. A lot of coliving operators take pride in their beautiful, thought through, picture perfect design and furnitures. At the end of the day though, operators and design teams are usually not the ones that are going to live in these spaces, and sure, it makes for great instagram feeds, but is it really what makes a Home?
No matter how different the answers I get, most people often utter at least one of these words: safe, relaxed, comfortable, belonging
After a bit of thinking, a lot of reading and much listening, here are, some the most essential things that can make or break a "Home", by creating (or not) senses of safety, comfort and belonging:
Lighting: Oh the importance of light! Obviously we want as much daylight as possible. But the type of lighting in use inside the rooms plays an enromous role too on how people feel.
According to Ben Channon in Happy by Design* "studies suggest that emotions are experienced more intensely under bright, harsh lighting, which can have a negative impact on our moods" Depending of the purpose of the room or the activity of the moment some lights are better than other. Often in coliving space a same room can be used for different situations and that's when diffusers and small side lamps are great to install in addition to or instead of relying simply on overhead / ceiling lights, giving residents more control over their environement.
The litght temperature also plays a part. "soft whites create a warm, cosy feeling" (Ben Channon). One great lesson from living in a former hotel for 3 years, do not underestimate the importance of the lighting in the hallways. Make sure people are able to turn them off manually. Nothing screams more "hotel" than a 24h ligth outside your bedroom door you have no control over. Another thing, light is one of the key ingredient to coziness, allowing for fairy lights and candles here and there is a great plus, especially in winter when extra coziness is required.
signage: The presence of signs and rules that are printed and put up on walls and doors are not only depressing but a clear reminder that you are more in a hostel than in a home...It's also a "sign" that your onboarding and other community processes are not strong enough. Rules should be known, not shown. Problems should be talked about not printed in bold and underlined. No one needs to come home to a giant red sign asking people to clean up the sink. So unless it is to give important extra information, minimize signage as much as possible.
The art on the walls: When opening a new space it might be tempting to fill up the walls with trendy art and inspiring quotes. It looks nice. It also looks like page 6 of the latest Deco magazine. This is a great and easy opportunity to empower the community instead, and let them decide as a group what they want on their walls. Even better, make it part of the onboarding process, allowing each member to create something or pick something they like to put up there that truly embodies their vision of their community and Home.
trinkets & clutter: We all know that clutter is not a good thing and creates anxiety for many people. However a pristine place that constantly looks like the cover of a catalogue doesnt really makes you feel like home either. People need to feel like they can relax in their space, even the shared ones and be themselves, not like they have to constantly watch themselves. Once again, it's all about balance. If we should fight mess, one should allow for "life" to happen in the shared spaces. Some spots on the shelves should also be reserved for meaningful trinkets belonging to residents and not immediatly filled on opening day with instagramable pre ordered items that belongs to no one and has no story to tell.
Locks and cameras: I know it's a selling point for many, but I find that having to lock your bedroom door every time you step outside is the ultimate "home feeling" killer. The only thing worst than that, is probably having security cameras in your shared spaces. There must be another way. I get that for some people that is the equivalent of "feeling safe" but for me it sends the oposite signal. I did not lock my room for 3 years when I lived in my coliving space and I did not know anyone there at first. The way I was onboarded, the feeling the space gave, the people's behaviours, everything convinced me, without even putting it into words, that my key wasn't needed. Also, it was pretty heavy.
Adaptability: In coliving there are usually many of us and a few shared spaces. These spaces have the great responsability to cater to most of our needs, from parties to intimate dinners, from movie nights to busy work day, all the while making sure we still feel at home and not in an event venue. Instead of providing 1 space for each fonction, wouldn't it make more sense to give people the power, and creativity, to move things around as they need? Of course extra rooms are the perks of coliving and I believe they are necessary, especially to create some bubbles of privacy, but go too big and you will lose the sense of cozyiness a smaller room can create. I would rather have to find an extra chair every once in a while than constantly move around 8 empty chairs at the table which are there "just in case". To sum up, don't over think it, residents will figure it out. And more often than not, the whole process of figuring it out will create an opportunity for bonding.
Library of things/furniture : Once again, giving people the opportunity to personalise, to a certain extend, their own space is a great way to make them feel more at home. It's convenient to be able to move in with only a suitcase or two. But even if you don't own furnitures, it does not mean you like the idea of your bedroom being the exact replica of your next door neighbour's. If you have the extra storage space, having a few items/furniture residents can pick from when they arrive to personalise their room is a definite plus! That's it for now. But the list could and will go on. At the end of the day, it might be about creating safety, comfort and a feeling of belonging, but I believe it all starts with creating trust.
Trust between landlord/operator and residents, and between residents themselves. Do you trust your residents enough to let them use candles? To let them in charge of the art? Can you give the residents more control over their environement? Do residents trust themselves enough not to lock their bedroom door?
If there is no trust then there is no home. Because when Home is shared, trust makes a Home.
* a great inspiration for this post together with The shaping of us by Lily Bernhheimer