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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Inside WeLive, WeWork’s Dorm-Style Take on Urban Housing

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Caption: Today, in the Financial District, in downtown Manhattan


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WeLive applies the WeWork model to housing, by renting apartments of various sizes that come fully furnished and decorated, in a building stocked with the kind of conveniences normally found at Silicon Valley tech campuses.

“When we started WeWork it really was thought of holistically,” says Miguel McKelvey, one of the founders of the co-working startup, that’s now valued at $16 billion. McKelvey is telling me about 2010, when he and Adam Neumann were preparing to open the first WeWork office space, in New York City’s Soho neighborhood. To anyone watching at the time, the two entrepreneurs appeared to be launching a company that would rent out office space. But behind the scenes, as McKelvey tells it, he and Neumann were hatching a bigger idea. “We had a bunch of ‘we’s—a fitness concept, a restaurant concept” McKelvey says. “The first business plan we had included all of them.”
That plan also included a residential concept, one that today, McKelvey and Neumann will make good on. It’s called WeLive, and it applies the WeWork model to housing, by renting apartments of various sizes that come fully furnished and decorated, in a building stocked with the kind of conveniences normally found at Silicon Valley tech campuses. In the same way that WeWork provides the infrastructure needed to do your job, WeLive takes care of the many hassles that come with finding and setting up your own home. For those who opt in, WeLive will also provide one particularly alluring amenity: a community of like-minded people. The first manifestation of this vision is at 110 Wall Street, in the Financial District, in downtown Manhattan.
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WeLive officially opens today, but about 80 people—a mix of WeWork’s own employees and its members—moved in in January, as part of a beta test. (A second, untested location is also opening today, in Crystal City, just outside of Washington, D.C.) As such, I was technically sitting in someone’s living room when McKelvey told me about the new venture. That particular apartment is a studio with about 450 square feet that will rent for $2,000 a month. The largest units have four bedrooms in 1,000 square feet, and per-tenant pricing starts at $1,375. There are no credit checks or broker fees, and residents rent on a month-to-month basis.
In this studio, there’s a queen-size bed partly hidden by a built-in canopy, tall cabinets lining most of the walls, and a small kitchen area with a full-sized refrigerator, stovetop, and microwave. Big, midnight blue, tufted cushions stack together to form a sofa in one corner, which faces both a flat-screen television and a window that looks out onto a balcony, which will soon boast a communal hot tub for WeLive-ers. Down the hall is a state-of-the-art communal kitchen, a laundry room that doubles as a game room with ping-pong tables, and a small screening room, filled with couches. There’s even a small concessions stand in the hallway, filled with toothpaste and tampons. As is the case in WeWork offices, there’s a certain kitschiness to some of WeLive’s décor, like a poster in the hallway that reads

 “Home is where your pants are off,” in splashy, brushstroke letters.
These touches have already led to WeLive being compared to a college dorm. (Before touring WeLive, I personally thought it read like an urban kibbutz filled with startup founders who can’t stop networking, even while doing laundry.) McKelvey, of course, positions WeLive differently: “It’s a series of opportunities.” He admits that this idea is abstract, and goes on to describe an apartment complex that’s designed to support whatever style of domestic life you might prefer. “What will make you energized and motivated, to be awesome today?” he says. “Is it an awesome shower in the morning, is it a great breakfast, is it a beautiful view? Or is it all of those things together. Do you prefer to watch a movie on an iPad by yourself, or in a room full of 50 people? You need to be able to enter these kind of social experiences with options.”
In some ways, WeLive simply sounds like a scenario in which your landlord actually cares about your quality of life. In other ways, McKelvey’s idea is part of a larger vision for how people will soon live in expensive urban areas. WeLive’s units are cleverly designed to embrace density; several apartments come with Murphy beds, and the ample storage space and modular sofa make it possible to maximize the utility of a few hundred square feet. Digitally, too, WeLive is connected. An app tells residents about events happening in WeLive neighborhoods—the company’s word for clusters of floors—and lets them submit service tickets to get rooms cleaned, or to order a new mattress (from Tuft & Needle) or linens (from Brooklinen). The concept will function similarly to New York’s first micro-apartments, which also offer services via an app. WeLive, with its leather armchairs in the lobby and goofy-motivational posters on the walls, just happens to have more personality

 

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