There's a room for rent in Brooklyn. Fully furnished, with big windows, a view of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway--and more than 50 housemates. "You either love it or you hate it," says Brad Hargreaves, founder and CEO of Common, the New York City-based startup behind this modern boarding house. He's talking about the room with the view of highway traffic, but he could also be talking about the concept behind his property-management company, which is trying to redefine how young adults live in cities.

Common is one of a handful of startups championing "co-living," a residential spin on co-working. Instead of renting a desk in a shared office, you get a bedroom in a shared house--and, Hargreaves hopes, an instant community of like-minded roomies. Residents tend to work in creative and high-tech fields--so if you're looking for a place to crash while building your startup, or need to recommend housing for new employees, consider the pros and cons of this new house-sharing option.

The houses

After its 2015 launch, Common has:

  • 3 buildings in New York City's Brooklyn (one in Williamsburg, depicted here, and two in Crown Heights);
  • 2 buildings in San Francisco's South of Market district; and
  • 1 building scheduled to open by the end of 2016 in Washington, D.C.'s Shaw neighborhood.

The five houses now open have a combined 120 bedrooms and 40,000 square feet of space.

The founder

Hargreaves, a genial 30-year-old, is already a serial entrepreneur, having previously co-founded coding academy General Assembly. "We saw our students and our employees moving to these big urban centers and struggling to find a place to live," says Hargreaves, who's raised close to $26 million for his new venture. "At General Assembly, one of the things we did well was foster community within our classrooms," he adds. "That experience of creating community is serving me well here."

The market

Co-living has seen some notable failures, including the 2015 shutdown of San Francisco-based Campus, and the launching of some big-name competition: Co-working giant WeWork in April opened its WeLive apartments. Common has avoided buying houses directly; instead, it works with real estate partners to manage buildings as a landlord, in exchange for a cut of the tenants' rent and of the building's net operating income.

The tenants

Common releases few demographic stats, but Hargreaves claims that most tenants aren't the just-graduated college kids you might expect to gravitate to dorm-style living. Newly arrived professionals who need housing fast or are afraid of navigating the Craigslist wilds in search of roommates are among the company's customers. Expats and immigrants, whether temporarily based in Common's home cities or planning to settle, are another. Most rooms are designed for one person or a couple; though the houses aren't explicitly adults-only, no one with kids has yet rented a room.

The design ethos

Many of Common's vendors are fellow startups, many in New York. It buys mattresses from Casper; furniture from Restoration Hardware, West Elm, Akron Street, and Chicago-based custom-couch maker Interior Define; bedding from Los Angeles-based Parachute, and dishes from Brooklyn-based Snowe. "As a fellow startup, it's just wonderful to support them," says Sophie Wilkinson, Common's head of design and construction. "And we're shopping the way your parents furnish their house, with long-lasting things."

The décor

Millennial-minimalist chic abounds: wood tones, grays, creams. Living rooms might be decorated with local art or Americana, but tenants won't find any hotel-standard prints on their bedroom walls, says Wilkinson. "By living in a Common, you're buying in a little to the minimalist lifestyle--you're not accumulating that much furniture yourself," she says.

The shared space

Big kitchens encourage roommates to cook and eat together; living rooms and lounges ensure you never have to leave home to socialize. The Williamsburg building's basement is divided into rooms for fitness classes, book clubs, and Netflix or movie nights, as well as more traditional parties. Most communal activities are planned by residents--usually on the house Slack channel, of course. The office messaging startup is "really perfect for people in the building to communicate with one another," Hargreaves says.

The services

"We wanted to go beyond what the typical property manager would do," Hargreaves says. Common aims to "address the needs that roommates face"--and remove potential sources of squabbles, such as whose turn it is to run to the convenience store or scrub out the bathtub. Common provides supplies including toilet paper, dish soap, and paper towels--and, once a week, cleaning services for the shared rooms.


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