Offices for sharing

WORDS Karin Schimke

Gone are the days of freelancers nesting at home in their pyjamas, as is evidenced by the recent boom in co-working spaces in Cape Town. With bountiful collaborative opportunities and conducive interior design, places such as Inner City Ideas Cartel, The Office, Twenty Fifty and Daddy.O hark back to the days of “gentlemen’s clubs”.

In the space of just half a year, at least four new office-share spaces have sprung up in Cape Town accommodating freelancers and start-up entrepreneurs to work alone, but together. This trend reflects both the aspirational modern economy – where individuals arrange their work lives around their own talents and needs, rather than around those of a big employer – while also harking back to the grand era of “gentlemen’s clubs”, recalling the kind of fellowship in which deals might play out.

These modern spaces have two things in common: an awareness of the need for networking and socialising among independent workers, and a keen sense of the interior spaces in which both those things are most likely to happen naturally. While all four are, essentially, “offices”, they are a far cry from the stereotypically regimented lines of desks or cordoned-off workstations. These surroundings display none of that depressing warren-like uniformity – that very antithesis of creativity, after all.

Schuyler Vorster, the brains behind the Inner City Ideas Cartel (IC|IC), which occupies three floors in what was previously the Freeworld Design Centre – behind the historical Evangelical Lutheran Church on Strand Street, between Waterkant and Buitengracht streets – says that the togetherness of like-minded people is an integral part of productivity and work satisfaction: “When you get up in the morning and leave the house to work in a space that constantly has a variety of entrepreneurs, creatives, free-thinkers and interesting individuals working alongside you, something will always come of it.”

While the social side of it is alluring on paper, constant chit-chat rising in volume and exuberance like a schoolroom out of control, could bring any productive work to a grinding halt eventually. Yet, through the imaginative use of the voluminous space each of these new offices occupy, the result is – pleasingly – an environment that is simultaneously hushed and buzzy.

David Graham, owner of The Office – an attractive three-storey block wedged into an island where Buitengracht Street becomes Kloofnek Road – said he wanted to create an atmosphere conducive to creativity and productivity. This combination is best seen in an upstairs lounge with its bright, plush couches, its chandeliers and its bar, and its deck that looks out onto Table Mountain. Although more colourful than the lounges of private clubs like the Savile in London and the Yale in New York, it manages to recall the warm conviviality evoked by the private club aesthetic.

IC|IC too, has an upstairs lounge with a deck. The view is a cityscape, with tall buildings all round with the big Cape Town sky ever-present, preventing it feeling at all hemmed in. Furniture here – where you can enjoy sundowners, snacks and tête-à-tête with fellow members – tends towards sparse, sparky modernism rather than sumptuousness.

Twenty Fifty in Buitenkant Street and Daddy.O, situated in the Old Biscuit Mill in Salt River, don’t have separate lounges. Instead, each space is mixed-use with long tables for working at, and couches for slouching or quietly chatting. Gareth Pearson of Twenty Fifty says different work styles means that the space, situated above Truth Coffee (read more here), is evolving: “We were lucky in that the space we moved into was a really great shell. It’s a beautiful old building with big windows, wooden floors, and high ceilings.”

Like Schuyler and David, Gareth and his business partner Nathan Daniel did most of the design and planning themselves. Schuyler – making real the philosophy of co-working – worked with one of IC|IC’s first members, Monya Eastman from Stokperd (read more here), to create the warm library feel in the boardrooms. Gareth and Nathan had their tabletops designed by Cameron Barnes Furniture, while the trestles were made by Thingking (read more here).

Daddy.O’s offices were the collaborative design effort of Tracy Lynch, Haldane Martin, Kim Stern and Marco Simal. Haldane designed couches to create a cocoon-like atmosphere for quiet chinwags, while the rest of the space has a schoolroom feel, complete with green chalkboards and metal-frame school desks. Upstairs, the cosy loft has stackable coffee table boxes, beanbag seating and a glass whiteboard for brainstorming.

Membership to each of these is essential: you can sign on for a day, a month or a year, and each club has its own set of add-on features ranging from a valet service to screening rooms and showers. These complex set-ups in stylish surrounds are suited to just about anyone’s needs: from peripatetic out-of-towners needing meeting places, to recent graduates collaborating together on their futures.

Loose gatherings, however, are the driving principle of all of them. Says Jody Aufrichtig of Daddy.O: “We are not only providing a physical space to work in, we are also creating a place to bounce ideas and develop good business relationships. We want to build success – to fuel new businesses, create jobs and change our environment.”

Twenty Fifty
Inner City Ideas Cartel
The Office