The idea of the office of the future is as dated as the glass ceiling. Since the 1940s, when the paperless Memex office was first proposed, the concept of the reimagined workplace—from Robert Propst’s contempo designs for Herman Miller in the ’60s to the doomed egalitarian utopianism of Chiat/Day’s nomadic offices in the ’90s—has clacked back and forth like an executive desk toy.?
In the past two decades, technology companies led the way with alternative concepts such as the office complex as campus (Microsoft, Facebook) and the Chuck E. Cheese, primary-colored playground (Google). More recently, drab shared work spaces, many of them aimed at tech start-ups and favoring economy over design, have become as ubiquitous as chinos at a software convention. ?
Not so with NeueHouse, a new, luxuriously appointed private work collective in Manhattan. A few blocks east of Madison Square Park, at Park Avenue in the 20s, on a street accustomed to disruption—NeueHouse faces the Lexington Avenue Armory, the site of the scandalous 1913 exhibition that introduced America to art provocateurs like Marcel Duchamp—the four-story venue is a combination coworking space, members’ club and cultural center.?
Unlike its techy antecedents, NeueHouse is aimed not at start-up nation but at mid-career creatives and established beyond-the-corner-office businesspeople who are prepared to pay a little extra for the chance to work and network in an environment that feels more like a boutique hotel.
“There’s been a hospitality revolution in the last 25 years,” says Joshua Abram, a partner in the business. (The other partners—or the “coalition of the willing,” as Abram refers to them—are tech entrepreneurs Alan Murray and James O’Reilly, luxury marketing strategist Tracey Ryans, My Young Auntie public relations firm owner Oberon Sinclair, former Soho House membership manager Michelle Grey, former International Culinary Center vice president Camilla Andersson and David Rockwell, the architect who designed the space.) “We think about restaurants and hotels differently, and we’re all aware of the power of hospitality, but it’s never been on the page where hospitality intersects with work.”?
Adds Ryans, who has a long history in that industry, including as an investor and partner in the perennially popular downtown restaurant La Esquina, “We basically took the best of what Ian Schrager did with hotels, what Nick Jones did with restaurants and bars and what the kids in San Francisco did with the shared work space and combined them.”?
In particular, it’s the industrial-chic design that really makes NeueHouse a new kind of incubator. Conceived by Rockwell, the 50,000-square-foot building, which in previous incarnations has been an art gallery and a lighting manufacturer, somehow manages to feel at once big and small, industrial and soft, communal and personal.
“It seemed like the perfect opportunity to create a space that was scalable and about building a community,” says Rockwell. “We took the accidental encounters that naturally occur in a big city and elevated them.”?
For Rockwell, this meant making the ground-floor gallery level as open as possible. He kept the terracotta walls and columns, exposed the concrete ceiling and piping and as a focal point added his version of the Spanish Steps: simple plywood stairs strewn with kilim pillows, which during the day serves as a makeshift meeting and work area but at night becomes the setting for lectures and presentations. (NeueHouse has an impressive, if eclectic, cultural calendar; recent events have included a lecture hosted by designer Paul Smith and a star-crossed conversation between a string theorist and a steel-drum player, which drew a packed audience including the actor Will Smith.)
The ground-floor gallery level, where seating is unassigned, also features sturdy open desks that bring to mind an Ivy League library, as well as chesterfield sofas and a combination of mismatched furniture—all in lush chocolate hues that confer an air of august permanence.?
Recognizing that technology has drastically changed the dynamic of business, allowing small forces to pull off feats that were impossible in the not-too-distant past, and that many of us are expected to be tech-savvy, cross-disciplinary generalists, NeueHouse provides members access to resources that were once the sole province of larger corporations: a 1 Gbps Internet connection, a state-of-the-art video-editing suite and a 60-seat screening room with a 4K projector and surround sound.
Fittingly for a place whose name is partly inspired by Bauhaus, an aesthetic movement that brought together artists from different disciplines, NeueHouse is a broad church, with members from wildly divergent upbringings and industries. In addition to solopreneurs like Rita Nakouzi (of the trend-forecasting firm 4.5) and Alexandra Kerry (Secretary of State John Kerry’s daughter, who owns a film production company), charter members include everyone from media executive Jefferson Hack and fashion consultant Julie Gilhart to record and hotel magnate Chris Blackwell.
The focus on flexibility and hospitality has resonated with companies such as Cartier and Salvatore Ferragamo, which have been renting out the underground library and conference room for meetings and off-site events.
It’s also struck a nerve with people like Ambra Medda (the founder of Design Miami and now the website L’ArcoBaleno) and Alban de Pury (an Absolut Vodka art ambassador), who have perfectly fine offices in the city but want a place to escape to for thinking outside the cubicle. Then there are others like JL Pomeroy, the founder of JumpLine, an L.A.-based agency that aligns luxury brands with the entertainment industry.
Pomeroy’s full-time team of 13 is spread across three cities, and like her, they are constantly traveling. Before NeueHouse, Pomeroy had occupied four offices in New York, all in great buildings. But they lacked the synergy and the serendipitous meeting—a principle Marissa Mayer championed at Google, where it is credited with sparking Gmail and Street View, and brought with her to Yahoo!—that result from like-minded people interacting with one another. “A membership collective of people one actually looks forward to engaging with is invaluable,” Pomeroy says. “It provides individuals and boutique firms the opportunity to enjoy a feeling of belonging in a larger workplace.” For example, Pomeroy, who has been a member for three months, recently tapped a documentary director she met at NeueHouse to direct an upcoming film she is trying to get off the ground to commemorate Saturday Night Live’s 40th anniversary.
NeueHouse may not have all the modern doodads (sleeping pod, anyone?), free snacks and foosball tables of the latest Silicon Alley start-up. But to the creative professionals who love working in this real-life social network, it’s a Googleplex for grown-ups.
NeueHouse memberships start at $200 a month; 110 E. 25th St.; 212-273-0440; neuehouse.com.