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'Student halls for grown-ups': How communal living spaces could change our idea of home

Node CEO Anil Khera says co-living is the antidote to Dublin’s ‘lazy’ developers.

Residents at The Collective Old Oak in London.
Residents at The Collective Old Oak in London.
Image: Instagram/thecollective_living

The way we live is changing fast. Every fortnight in our new Future Focus series, supported by Volkswagen, we’ll look at how one aspect of everyday life could change in the coming years. This week: housing.

“WE WANT TO create a community where everybody is on a first name basis. A place where people genuinely know their neighbours.”

As CEO of Node, Canadian Anil Khera is the driving force behind Dublin’s first “co-living” building, a build-to-rent model based on a blueprint he’s already rolled out in London and New York.

Node Dublin is set for a March 2018 launch and will house up to 51 people in a mix of apartment sizes, all located in a renovated Georgian house just off Fitzwilliam Square. Two to three residents will live in each furnished apartment space with bedrooms, a kitchen, ensuite bathrooms, SMEG fridges and Sonos sound systems.

So far, so normal, but Khera says Node Dublin is about more than just a fancy apartment block. It’s a long-term living model that could be replicated all over the country.

“As with any disruptive new idea, the old guard will ask ‘what’s all this about?’ at first. But the resident demand so far proves to me that the co-living concept has huge potential in Ireland,” he tells TheJournal.ie by phone from Toronto.

Along with a dedicated concierge-type “curator” (in Dublin’s case, bubbly marketing grad Ava Kilmartin) on site to pair up housemates and organise building-wide brunches and hikes, there’ll also be shared resident lounges, a rooftop terrace and a building full of – hopefully – like-minded neighbours.

Nurturing a community

“I think we’ll be over-subscribed when we launch, but demand is not what matters. We’re looking for the right kinds of people to move in,” says Khera.

Node Dublin_CommonRoom A rendered image of one of Node Dublin's shared resident lounges. Source: Node

And who exactly are those people? “Our customers are Generation Rent. They might not buy until a later stage in life,” says Khera.

“There’s a real creative entrepreneurial spirit among people in Dublin, and those global citizens are the ones Node targets. They’re young professionals, they travel, and on average they’re looking for accommodation for six months to two years.”

They’re also earning an above-average income, presumably. The starting price for a room at Node Dublin is estimated at €1,350 per month, the company’s business development manager Max Patter tells me after Khera’s call.

The co-living model has been well road-tested in other cities around the world – and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by Irish policy-makers.

During an address at the Irish Planning Institute in October 2017, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy said Irish people needed to be freed from the “three-bedroom house” mindset, and cited London’s The Collective as one innovative example of communal rental living.

The Collective Old Oak, a 550-bedroom tower complex in London’s north-west suburbs features communal kitchens, a restaurant, dining rooms themed like English pubs and French bistros, workspaces, a laundrette, gym and cinema room.

collective3 One of The Collective Old Oak's outdoor terraces. Source: Instagram/thecollective_living

As with Node, rooms at The Collective don’t come cheap. For a compact 10 sq m bedroom with an ensuite and kitchenette shared by your housemate, you’ll pay an all-inclusive monthly fee of between €1,184 and €1,357 depending on the length of your lease.

Despite the price – and the relatively remote location, overlooking a rail yard 30 minutes by tube from Oxford Circus – The Collective has plenty of happy residents.

‘People would ask if it was a cult’

Ruth Cooper-Dickson, a 39-year-old wellness consultant, was a full-time “Collectivist” from October 2016 to August 2017. On the morning we speak, she’s just checked out again after a two-day stay during a business trip to London.

“People would look at me strangely when I told them where I lived, asking if it was a cult or a commune,” she laughs. “Sometimes I described it to people as a hotel or student halls for adults, but I don’t think that does it justice.”

collective4 Ruth Cooper-Dickson, 39, spent close to a year living at The Collective Old Oak. Source: Instagram/ruthiecoops

Following a divorce and an extended volunteering trip to South America in 2016, Ruth says “the prospect of being among a community of people, that social aspect” was The Collective’s big draw. “I’m very outgoing and I have a network of friends, but London can be isolating.”

For many, the thought of having to make small talk with near-strangers any time you want to watch TV or put on a load of laundry would be an instant deterrent, but Ruth says the experience was refreshing, not stifling.

“It’s not like there was someone banging on the bedroom door telling you to join in. There was an events board, there were people gathered in communal areas, you could have friends over for dinner, it was always very relaxed.”

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New friends and free meals

Lauren Scott, 21, a recently qualified nurse from Louth, has been living at The Collective for close to three weeks. As part of a relocation package from Ireland with a London company, Lauren’s accommodation will be paid for until early April.

“I’ve lived in house shares in Dublin where there might be tension over bills, or you’re living with people you’re seeing at work or college every day. This is different. You have plenty of personal space but you never really feel alone, either,” she says.

collective5 Daily events at The Collective Old Oak. Source: Instagram/joanna_bucur

As a newcomer to London, Lauren’s been using her time at The Collective to put down social roots – and avail of the free-of-charge events, which she lists off with no lack of enthusiasm.

“Within a day or two here I’d met a really nice group of people: French, Italians, Swiss and English. There are free drinks every second Friday, free brunches on weekends, free juice mornings and yoga sessions.”

Here in Ireland, apartments already account for 12% of dwellings, but entrepreneurs like Khera say our real estate landscape is ready for a shake-up.

“It’s not that developers are resistant to our concept, we find they’re lazy,” he says.

“They’ve had an easy time because there’s a housing shortage. For years they’ve been building low-quality flats, flogging them off, and by the time repairs are needed five years later, they’ve sold the complex on to an investor abroad or to 20 different landlords.”

For companies like Node, happy customers are the true marker for a business model’s viability.

“Our future residents are the new generation defining Dublin’s future,” says Khera. “They don’t want to live with things the way they are are right now. That’s going to be a catalyst for change.”

This article was updated on February 13th to reflect a change in Node Dublin’s estimated pricing.

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