Assembling Common Homes: An Insider’s Look
We caught up with Sophie Wilkinson, our head of design and construction. Having spent over a year living at Common Havemeyer, she has a concrete understanding of both what goes into the process of building and designing our homes and how the final products feel and operate.
Hadas: How did you get to work at Common?
Sophie: I studied architecture in university, worked as a residential designer then got into general contracting and project management. I moved to Sydney to work on high-end hotel hospitality then finally came to New York City to work in luxury retail. The biggest project I worked on recently was Apple’s Upper East Side flagship store.
6 trips to Carrara, Italy later, and our hand selected Botticino marble made its way to the Upper East Side. Venetian plaster perfectly finished up to these pilasters and to their full 23ft height was quite the process. An awesome project with Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, their total dedication to authentic restoration really made this place sing, and take out a couple of awards too. #apple #applestore #interiors #design #restoration #landmarks #marble #womeninconstruction #architecture #uppereastside #madisonave #newyork #ues #flagship
Following that project and through a personal connection, I was introduced to Brad. And after many coffees, dinners and lunches… I started my journey at Common and formed the Design and Construction team (aka Space).
Hadas: How did you come to live at Common Havemeyer?
Sophie: It was a combination of things. I was excited to do the team stay we were doing at the time to QA the home. At that time, in the Summer of 2016, team stays started to become a thorough process. Most members of the team, then around 20 people, chose to stay at the home to do the QA-ing.
During that time, to my husband and my own surprise, our landlord sold our entire building in SoHo. So they gave us 60 days’ notice to leave. We were about to go to Europe for two weeks, I knew I wanted to live at a Common home at some point, there was a room available, and we had been really enjoying Williamsburg and the team stay.
I was excited to live at our first home with rooms that worked for our couples. We instantly clicked with our suitemates, cooking together in the evenings and enjoying Sunday night chill outs on the couch. The biggest surprise was certainly the money we saved. I knew the weekly cleaning, supplies, and house-wide wifi were a good value service, but it didn’t really click for me until I saw the impact on our bank accounts (yes, we track our monthly spending!). Shared living also just saved us on rent overall. We travelled back to Australia six times that year with the money we saved on rent (we had a number of friends getting married).
Hadas: We spoke back then about how it was going and whether you’d want to move in. You worried about “sleeping at your desk.” What changed your mind?
Sophie: Initially, it wasn’t an issue at all because we were just enjoying the company of our suitemates so much and just loving the home. After a while, I started to find myself being pulled into decisions that were not part of my job at Common before, but because I now had insights from being a member, I was part of that.
One of the coolest things about Common is that we operate the homes that we design. This means that we are there learning the lessons and growing. Most designers don’t have the opportunity to see how it worked. With 14 homes open and over 400 beds, we are so in tune with that. A lot of design work we do is sexy layouts, but also a lot of it is like gritty problem-solving. From living in the home myself, we started to build in strict minimums when it came to storage size and even refrigerator space.
We think very deeply about every aspect of the Common homes. Integrity is very important to us, so it felt like a duty for me to test the product thoroughly in order to have a deeper understanding and to do my job well. As the person running the design team, I felt the need to have the firsthand experience of what the homes feel like.
Hadas: What was it like living in the community as a married couple?
Sophie: It was really comfortable. It was also great to be able to come home to somebody, as my husband and I often had different work schedules.
My perception was that I required private time to recharge. As soon as I started living at Havemeyer, it became apparent that in that quiet time where I’d just spend time on social media, I could talk to my suitemates, and that was a relaxing and tremendously powerful way of switching off.
Hadas: What were your favorite spaces in Common Havemeyer to hang out?
Sophie: My husband and I loved having the Wellness Studio downstairs.
We also enjoyed having the Lounge because we would work from home, and we could meet other people who were also in the Lounge. It meant that when you’re in your suite, you’re at home, and not working. It was a nice barrier between work from home life.
Hadas: What was your favorite way to connect with the community?
Sophie: Well, Marty hosted a screening of The Fourth Phase, a snowboarding film by Red Bull, for everyone at Common and the local community in Williamsburg. It was really great because we got to meet more members from Crown Heights and Marty made some friends in Brooklyn that had a shared love of snow sports. The movie room really lended itself to a large event and especially a screening like that.
I’m proud to say my greatest contribution to the community has to be Vanessa’s Dumplings. The pricing breakdown for four dumplings is $1.99. That’s a tremendous value for the best dumplings in Williamsburg, but the minimum order is $20. That’s a lot of dumplings! So whenever I put in an order, I would Slack the house and ask if anyone was hungry. While $20 was nothing, 40 dumplings is a lot of dumplings to eat alone! That was pretty cool to be able to share and enjoy the small things with others.
Hadas: Speaking of Slack, did you get into that?
Sophie: I certainly used it in our suite. I created a group for Hav dedicated to running/working out, which turned into a nice community. When I ran the marathon, it ran straight past the home, and my suitemates came out to watch and cheer me on.
Hadas: I remember that. That’s so nice. Do you keep in touch with the community?
Sophie: We’re still in touch with our suitemate. It’s easy as my sister, Alice, and our Director of Construction, Zoran, actually still live at Common Havemeyer, so we visit frequently. We are expecting a baby now, but if something like Common Baltic came up in Williamsburg, with private apartments, we’d definitely be looking at that. It’s great knowing the guys on the other end of the landlord call really care.
Common is actually perfect for people like Alice and Zoran, who both moved from overseas, and I wish I had Common when I moved from Australia. Marty and I went through a tremendous number of hoops to get into a lease as expats. It shouldn’t be that hard.
We lived in four different homes in our first six months in the country, including a number of one-month Airbnbs. When you don’t have a network of people and you don’t have any credit history, you’re never going to be picked by landlords over a local person who is also applying.
We just had a lot on our plates. I had a new job, my husband was looking for a job, and we just didn’t have the knowledge of how things worked yet. At Common, things just aren’t complicated that way. They are so much easier.
Hadas: Thanks Sophie! Looking forward to seeing all the beautiful new homes coming up.
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