Hot desks and urban forests: this is the new way to work

If it isn’t everyday that an Oscar-toting Hollywood celebrity strolls into your office, removes their Aviators, nods at your breakout zones and stops by the cafeteria to try the lunchtime special, perhaps you need to reconsider your career options. At Second Home, it’s a regular occurrence. 

“We’ve had David Lynch, Judd Apatow, Akon, Jessica Williams and Jaden Smith through our doors in our first year here”, says Rohan Silva, co-founder of the stylish subletter of workspace 2.0 (and Evening Standard columnist). It’s been a happy 12 months. Second Home — after establishing footholds in Clerkenwell, Spitalfields, Notting Hill, London Fields and Lisbon — cracked the US last year by rehabilitating two acres of disused land in East Hollywood. Queer Eye’s Antoni Porowski dropped in to host a book signing for his new cookbook in December. Chance the Rapper was so eager to get a look at the site that he signed a “death waiver” for the Home’s hard-hat party before the site had even been built. 

In a sentence: Second Home is a co-working space. As a philosophy, it’s more than that: designed to transform the balance of that triggering late-capitalist buzzword “work/life balance”. The first site opened in Spitalfields in 2014, a haven for small start-ups seeking low(ish) rent sites that employees actually want to work in. In an old carpet factory just off Brick Lane, the resident young start-up crowd could walk out from their silent, futuristic office pods, all curved plastic and vintage chairs, and open a door into a room full of kids dancing to a synthy-soul band on a Friday night (or Thursday night, for that matter). Its La Despensa café does healthy, sustainable farm-to-table eating. 

That was then. In 2020, it’s a co-working empire, with a diverse portfolio of tenants. In Spitalfields, 14.6 per cent of renters are from the tech world; 13.2 per cent are social or not-for-profit enterprises; 9.8 per cent are in consumer product design; 8.4 per cent are in fashion; 6.1 per cent are in advertising. 

Rohan Silva, co-founder at Second Home (Matt Writtle)

The new two-acre Los Angeles campus includes a 200-seat auditorium, outdoor events space, rooftop bar and outdoor garden terraces, as well as a lush garden buzzing with bees and hummingbirds. The star power also makes a difference. “David [Lynch] and Judd [Apatow] were invited to talk as part of our cultural programme, but others are just taking advantage of the fact we’re to the public to come and get a load of the place,” explains Silva. The architecture is striking; 60 oval-shaped office pods of varying sizes, which are topped with bright-yellow rooftops. To publicise the opening of Second Home, they borrowed Spanish phwoarchitect duo SelgasCano’s 2015 Serpentine Pavilion and installed it at La Brea Tar Pits. Indeed, SelgasCano, who designed each of Second Home’s six outposts, saved the best for Los Angeles, unpaving a parking lot (a car park, in the British vernacular) and putting up a workspace paradise. The soft-lit interiors are all curved acrylics in shades of sunrise red and yellow, woodwork ceilings and carpeted studios, all of which muffle noise. These are cloistered away from public spaces, where green-juice sipping Californians wander blissfully through the gardens. 

“We definitely think open plan offices suck, to be honest,” says Silva. 

Second Home Hollywood

The solution at Second Home is a combination of private glass antechambers for squirrelling away in, and shared public spaces. “There are times you need to hunker down and times when it’s good to be around other people,” he adds. “Those two sides of a working day or week are baked into the architecture.” 

The new working model espoused by Silva and his co-founder Sam Aldenton is this: an energy-efficient, collaborative workspace open 24/7 where you can enjoy your working life. “The idea of the 9 to 5 has really broken down,” he says. “In the economy we live in now you might have to work round the clock for three days straight, just to get a project done.” Silva himself is up at 5am every day (“I’m not built for early starts, my brain doesn’t even wake up until midnight”) to field calls in the UK. But something’s working: revenues were up 53 per cent in their last published account for 2018, set against increased losses of 15 per cent as money was ploughed into new locations like LA. 

Those are healthy figures — especially set against the plight of “Uber for office space” rival WeWork, once valued at $100 billion by Morgan Stanley reportedly, now majority owned by SoftBank at a valuation of $8 billion. “We’d not heard of WeWork when we started, and they came to London a year after and suddenly had 50 sites,” says Silva. “And we were a little like, ‘Wow, what are we doing wrong here?’ And this is true of any walk of life — stick to what you’re good at and what you think you’re about.” This meant focusing inwards. Second Home boasts staff solely employed to make introductions between the different teams and companies who work there: fintech start-ups such as Monzo talk to teams from Snapchat about getting their message out, and they rub shoulders with youth-focused media company Kyra TV. “Teams in our spaces have created jobs 10 times faster than the national average, and a big part of that is having people around you who you can do business with,” says Silva. “It accelerates that growth.”

Although they’re determinedly “anti-algorithm”, eschewing big data for “people power”, there is a formula for success. Every week they study the weighting of different industries at Second Home to establish what’s underrepresented, and adjust accordingly. Fashion start-ups might be approached directly. Charity teams and non-profits might be invited to occupy space for no charge or a discount rate (individuals hot desk for $400 per month, while offices start from $2,000 per month ); “A building full of tech bros is its own downfall,” says Silva. Indeed, the gender-split is 60:40 in favour of women at the Los Angeles Second Home site, with plans to introduce a crèche. 

Space age: curved acrylics and lily pad rooftops at Second Home LA

From any height, Second Home’s footprint on the city is obvious. The office pods dot the site like a flotilla of bright yellow lily pads blooming by a Los Angeles freeway. Between them, 6,500 plants (all Californian) sprout from 700 tonnes of soil, an organic feature of Second Home’s green drive. This works twofold: it also negates the need for air conditioning because the soil and shading keeps the main buildings cool (the complex is also powered by 100 per cent renewable energy, which doesn’t hurt since it’s open 24 hours a day).

The plot also incorporates the former Anne Banning Community House, a historic Sixties building, now renovated office space. “We’ve protected a historic building which was going to get knocked down, which no one does in Los Angeles”, says Silva. 

“It’s a very London project, because people just don’t work like that here — although the weather is annoyingly good, we get hummingbirds outside our windows, and there isn’t a bakery within five miles because everyone keeps going on about ‘carbicide’. Other than that, we’re the same London brand.” Not that LA isn’t distinctly different.

“You find yourself in conversation where someone is very earnestly telling me what their tarot reader has told them and how they’re going to do things differently now that Sagittarius is in the ascendency, and I hope I will never stop finding that funny”, says Silva. 

“You meet a hell of a lot of people talking up microdosing,” he adds. “There are a huge array of types of cannabis from extracts that are supposedly good for different things like alertness and relaxation. I’ve so far been able to resist crystals, sound baths and tarot cards, although I might have been spiked, to be fair, he jokes. 

Also, no one comes to work when it rains, he says. “This is honestly true —  the Second Home office is empty when it rains.” What? “It’s a bit like a snow day. The justification is that the roads are really dangerous because there’s lots of oil, so they are very slippery.” 

Rain or shine, though, they’re up and running. “Sadiq Khan quite rightly has that message that London is open,” says Silva. 

“It’s a very London spirit, and it’s hopefully what we’ve brought to LA.”


In the clubs la’s co-work culture

Soho Warehouse 

What? Soho House’s seven-storey, second Los Angeles site has all the mod cons and retro accoutrements: two-story Soho Active gym with steam and sauna rooms, pool, restaurant, lounge, 40-foot-long stone mosaic bar and crystal chandeliers. Oh, and a graffiti wall. 

How much? If you’re under 27, it’s $1,080 annually for one club, $1,650 for access to all. If older: $2,160 or $3,300.

The AllBright

What? The UK’s first women-only members’ club has now added a West Hollywood hub to its roster. There’s a spa-slash-salon alongside chic event spaces, while Gwyneth Paltrow’s interior director Brigette Romanek designed the wood-panelled restaurants. 

How much? A $300 joining fee plus $2,050 per year.

The Wing

What? Woman-centric co-working space known for spreading what the New York Times coined as “Instagrammable feminism” — think pastel booths, candy-stripe sofas and Battenberg tiling. The Little Wing offers “enrichment classes” for children (read: face-painting). Has a site in the heart of West Hollywood. 

How much? From $215 per month, or $2,350 annually.

Spring Place

What? Upsettingly-cool exclusive members club and co-working space in Beverley Hills, inside a building by Belzberg Architects, frequented by supermodels Irina Shayk, and Alessandra Ambrosio. Co-working offers the hottest of hot desks or 18 private offices furnished with vintage pieces, contemporary design curios and floor-to-ceiling windows. 

How much? 

If you’re under 30, it’s $2,500 per year. $3,500 if older. 


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