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What Does It Take to Make a Coworking Space a Community?

The interior designer and community manager behind Ethel?s Club tells us how the brand is building a new kind of community

By Nora Taylor | December 17, 2019 | Small Spaces

With the boom and potential bust of coworking spaces dominating the news cycle, at times it can feel like we’ve reached peak coworking space. But then, like a breath of fresh air, there’s Ethel’s Club. Yes, there’s abundant Wi-Fi. Yes, there are communal tables. Yes, you pay for your snacks with a QR code. But it takes the coworking space concept we’ve come to know in recent years and imbues it with something deep, something personal. Since its opening, Ethel’s Club has primarily positioned itself as a place to build community, where people of colour can come as they are and share space with folks like themselves.

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Last week, we opened doors to the very first social and wellness club designed to celebrate people of color in Brooklyn, New York. Join the movement. ✨

A post shared by Ethel’s Club(@ethelsclub) on Nov 12, 2019 at 3:23pm PST

The space on its own is cool, airy, and welcoming—full of the kind of accents and patterns that make you wish you lived there. But how do you design that second element? A design that says: “You’re welcome here. Be yourself. Connect.” Clever sat down with Ethel’s Club interior designer Shannon Maldonado and head of brand experience Vanessa Newman to talk about how they are building a space and a community at the same time.

Ethel’s Club is named after founder and CEO Naj Austin’s grandmother, so Shannon designed the space with “a cool grandma” in mind. From the shared vision boards to the rotating gallery wall to the carefully curated library, every aspect of the space speaks to collaboration and balance. “There was intention behind every single piece that’s in here,” Shannon says, speaking to the work of making sure all types of POC makers, artists, and icons were represented in the space.

Ethel’s Club operates from a space of abundance, nurturing the potential of what it could be rather than following the mould of spaces before it. That kind of trust and vision was clear when Shannon was first hired by Naj: “I was very open with her. I’ve never been an interior designer before. And she was like, ‘I’ve never been a CEO before!’” But Shannon’s taste and experience from working in fashion and owning her own shop have translated into a well-curated space where every room feels slightly different yet part of a whole.

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Our space is yours to take up. We’re always accepting new Ethel’s Club members. Click our bio link to learn more and apply now! 🙌🏾

A post shared by Ethel’s Club(@ethelsclub) on Dec 2, 2019 at 2:06pm PST

There is almost always something happening at Ethel’s Club, but you’d be hard-pressed to guess exactly what it will be, as the programming as is varied as it is frequent. Along with a house membership that grants members entry to the space, the podcast studio, and wellness consultations, Ethel’s Club also offers a culture membership, which gives folks access to an impressive and jam-packed roster of events. In just one-week Ethel’s Club offered a wreath-making event, an investing workshop, Reiki and meditation, a sex and intimacy workshop, and a happy hour where members could get headshots taken free of charge.

All of these offerings can be credited to Vanessa, who has been as thoughtful and deliberate in their programming as Shannon has been in designing each room. “We want to actually feel like a community. We don’t want it to feel like you’re walking into a space that’s cool, and you’re cool to be there, where everyone is cool, but nobody actually talks to each other,” says Vanessa. To facilitate that, they keep the events intimate, rarely more than 25 people, which encourages connection and discussion. “When there are 10 people and there’s a conversation, it’s easy to be like, ‘Oh, I liked what you said,’ and connect.”

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Room with a view ✨ Whether it’s our lounge areas, library or phone booths, every clubhouse is built with the intention to center people of color. Rolling applications for memberships are always open, hit our bio link to apply now! Interior design by @helloyowie ⚡️

A post shared by Ethel’s Club(@ethelsclub) on Dec 11, 2019 at 2:28pm PST

But the team doesn’t rely on just events to form community; there’s a code of conduct that reminds everyone that being part of a community is active. “We want that to live through every part of Ethel’s Club,” says Vanessa. “Saying you want a community is very different from saying you want a network. There’s intentionality and care. There are relationships in that.”

Gathering places for people of colour have always existed, but Ethel’s Club’s start-up-style formalization, structure, and marketing—balanced with its extreme care, thought, and personal touch—have made it stand out as somewhere truly special.

This article originally appeared on  AD Clever