Kathryn Farrell in Bricks & Bucks on March 21, 2018
Co-op and condo boards are always looking for ways to expand their list of amenities. They’re also looking for ways to accommodate the changing demands of their shareholders and unit-owners. Two big recent changes have been a surge in self-employment – which frequently means working at home – and the accompanying urge to get out of the home office and mingle with the neighbors.
“I think there's been a general trend in cities, if you work at home, that you have a place to go to outside where you have community,” says Evelyn Sherwood, a designer with dash design, a New York City interior design company. Sherwood has worked on several buildings where developers have come to view lounges as assets. “That's making people much more open to spending time in community rooms, and to using them for all kinds of things that they might have gone outside for.”
And the number of such people continues to grow. According to the annual survey by the Freelancers Union and Upwork, 57.3 million Americans – more than one-third of the work force – work for themselves full- or part-time. Not surprisingly, millennials – people in their 20s and 30s – are the leading cohort, with 47 percent self-employed. The survey predicts that more than half of the nation’s workers will be self-employed by 2027.
Savvy boards are responding to this trend by rethinking the ways they use common areas, such as lobbies, community rooms, even vacant apartments. Not only are renovated communal spaces a benefit for all residents – the self-employed and the 9-to-5er alike – they can also be a valuable marketing tool. And they can change a buyer’s approach.
“Essentially, where previously [a buyer] might have felt like she had to have a one-bedroom because she can't spend all her time in one room,” says Sherwood, “she can imagine that she can now [get] a nice studio and have this great community room also available to get out of the apartment, and maybe be a little social.”
But is it possible to make such sweeping changes in a well-established building? “New construction has, sometimes, a lot more opportunity to do it,” says Sherwood. “You can make all kinds of spaces for all kinds of integrated play areas for kids and grown-ups. In the older buildings, sometimes it's a little more challenging because you have to take out a couple of apartments to do it or try to consolidate things on a floor, where you want to have the community areas.”
Sherwood points to a building she recently worked on where the new community room was renovated to include four distinct, yet harmonious, areas. “There's a communal table, a place with lots of plug-in possibility,” she says. “There is a grouping of lounge chairs with small tables, so you can sit all by yourself in a lounge chair and put your laptop on the small table. Then there is a comfortable living room [with an] L-shaped sofa and some lounge chairs around a coffee table that's oriented towards the TV. There's also this great little niche, where we have a sofa going all around it on three sides, and a big coffee table in the center with a stone top so you can put your feet up.”
The cost of such renovations depends on the scope of the work, of course, but Sherwood estimates boards can expect to spend at least $50,000.
In the era of WeWork and other communal work spaces, actually getting to know your neighbors might sound like a millennial’s dream – but is it a baby boomer’s nightmare? Sherwood doesn’t think so. “The traditional way of living in a New York building used to be, ‘I live here, and the less I see any of my neighbors, the better,’” she says. “I think that's really changing. People are seeing their buildings as a community where they want to get to know their neighbors, and have friends in the building, and really make it more of a neighborhood. I think people just naturally really love that and want to do it, so these spaces provide an opportunity to do that.”
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