On second thoughts, coffee shops as co-living rooms aren’t going to work in the UK. Coffee houses are blandspace, neutral ground, business places, places you meet people you’re not keen to let any further into your life.
British television dramas focus around pubs – not diners as in Seinfeld or coffee shops as in Friends. This should’ve been a clue. Britain is a nation of swift halves, not demitasse or semi-skimmed. The pub as co-living room is closer to the heart of the nation than even actual living rooms. On Christmas Day, people go to their local to pay their respects to their landlord and escape their living rooms. Pubs offer something that domestic life doesn’t. After, people go back home and catch up on virtual pub life with the Christmas special. In most other episodes you’ll see some characters sitting quietly in the background chatting and getting on with their lives away from where they actually bed-down for the night.
Sadly, pubs are being bought and converted into flats – thirty each week, they say, though the rate is also said to have recently dropped to about 20.
Architecturally, the results are never pleasing. Those corner doors used to be so welcoming and now they’re not.
So then, here’s the pitch: why not keep the pub functioning as co-living space with the added frisson of random strangers, and build/convert/sell studio apartments above?
It doesn’t make sense to destroy everything that’s nice about something just because one aspect of it isn’t as popular as it used to be. All it requires is a change in attitude and a change in tenure. A freehold studio with bathroom and minimal kitchen facilities above a shared source of sofas, food, televised football and the potential for company is all that’s required. The food needn’t be pretentiously, competitively or unsustainably gastro because all that’s needed is nutritional value for money on a daily basis.
Let’s be clear. Upstairs is studio apartments for sale. (In an ideal world, this new equity instrument would be preferentially available to single first-time buyers.) Ground floor is a bar with comfy seats and tables serving canteen/caff food. We should’ve seen this coming. Even back in 2000, bars in London started having names like ‘Home’ and ‘Mother’. It was possible to order baked beans on toast as bar food. In further development, cereal restaurants are now a thing.
Over in Moscow, there’s the Kommunalka restaurant*, the ambience and menu of which is modelled on the communal kitchens and dining rooms of 1920’s apartment buildings.
What in London appears as the simple commercialisation of domestic life appears in Moscow as commercialised nostalgia for a simpler domestic life. What the two have in common is a demand for a shared domesticity not being met by how people live.
Easing into co-living via pubs as living rooms involves no change in people’s social habits, and no perceptions challenged. You can still meet your friends at a pub near where they live or one near where you live. No-one need even know you have equity in a room above a boozer. This consolidates several trends and solves several problems at once.
- Apartments can be smaller with little loss of amenity. People already use pubs and bars as their living rooms. This just makes it official.
- We don’t have to look forward to a world of co-living wirelessed coffee shops. With pubs, a whole new world of decorative possibilities doesn’t immediately open up. The same old pubs can stay just as they are. Artless interiors are more homelike. Continuity is good.
- A traditional social amenity that is falling out of use can be put to the same use but with the rooms above fully occupied and paid for. Converting pubs into apartments involves a change in typology as well as the corresponding change in tenure but co-living pubs involve only a change in the tenure upstairs. The ‘living room’ can be run however works best. Some will become like hostels. Others will be places to be. This happens anyway. No-one is forcing anyone to actually use the one they live above, although 20% discounts for residents could encourage it.Co-living for students is already sorted, as is co-living for the elderly. Pub as co-living dwelling goes some way to meeting the needs of that inbetween demographic with decreasing options – i.e. the rest of us.
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