A couple of weeks ago I attended the online conference from Co-Liv where numerous topics around the theme of Co-Living industry development and future opportunities were discussed. However, one in particular caught my attention because it revolved around topics that are close to my values and the ones around which we develop A Designer at Heart. The panel was about the design of Co-Living spaces for building communities and wellbeing. Another trend within the new lifestyle developing in these years that cannot be ignored. Only in the last 3 years, the Google searches for this term have increased by 500%.
The designers involved touched on many interesting points worthy of mention that is definitely helpful to keep in mind when developing such space. Let’s go through them one by one.
1. Interior for Communities
One of the most interesting points discussed is how in co-livings the most important factor is the community and the consequences of this fact. Mainly, the people living and the relationships that are developed are what distinguish it from a regular hotel or another short-term residence. Design, while considered only from an aesthetic point of view by many actually plays a crucial role in co-living development and community building.
Ultimately, design has to be that feature that expresses specific values and attracts a specific kind of people who will feel close to them and form a community that is more likely to develop positive dynamics. For this reason, designers should always consider branding as well, and work constantly in collaboration with the marketing department to get that message clear. This is something we discussed already in the past when reporting about how we aligned our interior design ideas with the branding of our client.
On the contrary, a more generic interior, regardless of how well put together it might be, will probably appeal to a wider audience that in the end will have much less to share. And without that community building, co-living loses its purpose.
Once a message, and the design to convey it are established, a second crucial factor that an Interior Designer must consider is flexibility.
During the conference, this word was mentioned multiple times in different contexts. Yes, because flexibility for an interior designer means being able to adapt her/his own work to any type of space. Whether it’s a new development or a refurbishment of an old store, restaurant, or something else. In this sense, we have had some very interesting developments at A Designer at Heart, so definitely have a look at our projects in the Portfolio section to learn more about each one.
Flexibility also means designing in a better and more efficient way, giving more value to small spaces. Sometimes people are put off by the size of private spaces in co-living. In this respect, architecture firm Cutworks Cofounder and CEO Kelsea Crawford says:
“You can be in a 20-25 square metres space that is designed really well with a lot of natural light and plants that feels better than a 40 square metres space that is designed poorly and has poor light”
This means “disassociating the quality of a space from its square metres” through efficiency, modular and loose furniture, and creativity.
This type of design enhances also a co-living’s ‘co-creation’ potential. Group activities, events and work collaborations can be carried out properly once the space adapts to any need of its residents. The possibility of carrying out these activities in a group strengthens the sense of belonging to a community. The appropriation of a space is not easy for residents in a co-living with stricter boundaries.
The attributes described so far are achieved with the final product also through a rigorous job of preliminary research. In the initial phase, extensive work on users profile is needed to predict the different use cases for each co-living area, and cater to the needs of each resident. According to the panellists, kitchens and dining spaces are key points. Not only they are the quintessential place for people to socialise, but they are also often found to be developed in a less than ideal way, lacking sinks, or hobs for the number of people that should use them.
Research also goes into the design direction. When developing a concept designers have to be aware of the cultural context and the building’s original features. Maintaining the local flavour helps residents to feel at home and part of the community.
*The Zernike project we realised featured both elements from the Nido brand, like sustainable recycled Smileplastics, bespoke reception desks, and more while respecting the local culture recalling the building's external colours and aesthetics inspired by a famous local painter
While this might seem pretty straightforward, it actually isn’t when looking from a different perspective. In the beginning in fact we mentioned the importance of branding and collaboration with a marketing team to define values and message. This implies a certain degree of standardisation across the board, especially when it comes to big brands with numerous projects in different countries. The two objectives of strong branding and enhancing the local culture can easily clash. So it’s up to the designer to strike the perfect balance between the two, and it’s not an easy task.
In terms of design optimisation and wellbeing for communities, a big part of the answer is sustainability and Biophilic Design. The orientation of the building, windows, the artificial lighting, the amount of natural light coming in and the view over nature and greenery are key to improve community wellbeing. The same goes for other senses, so tactile feelings are as important, thus the use of natural materials and thermal and acoustic insulation.
The proper development of co-living spaces can also spark a virtuous cycle. People collaborating in tighter communities can share also amenities, appliances and other services that are not necessary to everyone all the time, and that through sharing would contribute considerably to the reduction of the overall carbon footprint.
Overall, design can significantly facilitate the community's development through wellbeing and the operational side of the business too. So management and design too need the right synergy to achieve the best results.
The ongoing discussion about co-living development and the increasing attention these alternative lifestyles get is great news for the industry both from a sustainability point of view and from a creative one. Big changes are the ones leading to important improvements through trial and error, and a better awareness of wellbeing and environmental issues are surely going to have a positive impact on residential communities in the long run.