Ep4: Designing Connections: Insights into Coliving Architecture with Marta Kluk

🎙️ Join us as we chat with Marta Kluk, the creative mind making coliving spaces feel like home for digital nomads everywhere. 🏠✨ From London to spots all over the globe, Marta uses her skills to turn ordinary places into cozy, community-focused homes.

In this episode, Marta tells us all about what goes into designing great coliving spaces. She talks about why kitchens are so important for getting people together and how she makes sure everyone feels part of the group. 🍴👫

Find out how Marta’s designs help people connect and create a sense of family among those living together. Get ready for a conversation full of great stories and tips on making living spaces better for everyone. 🎧

Read Marta's Interview

César: Hello, welcome everybody to Colivers Club. Today we have another episode and we’re joined by Marta Clark, a voice architect specializing in remodeling and designing colivings. She started her career as an architect in a studio in London but then decided to embark on a sabbatical that led her through colivings all around the world. Am I right?

Marta: Yes, that’s exactly right. It’s been a really interesting journey over the last three years. I’m very happy where I am at the moment.

César: And you specialize in designing kitchens, correct?

Marta: Yes, kitchens.

César: Can you tell us about it?

Marta: Sure, I’ve opened my company, which specializes in spaces for digital nomads, including colivings and coworking spaces. We’ve worked on about nine coliving renovations, focusing primarily on the kitchen, which is a crucial area in coliving spaces.

César: What’s the most important room in a coliving, and why is it the kitchen?

Marta: Communal spaces are generally vital, but I’d say the kitchen is the most challenging to get right. It needs to be super functional to accommodate multiple people cooking at the same time. The design is a bit of a science.

César: Do you also include multiple sinks and stoves?

Marta: Exactly. The layout starts with the kitchen triangle, involving the fridge, sink, and stove, to maintain efficiency. For larger groups, you need at least two of these triangles. I’m actually writing an article about it.

César: Interesting, I never thought about the social interaction aspect of having an island in the kitchen.

Marta: Yes, an island encourages face-to-face interactions, making it an essential feature for enhancing social dynamics in coliving kitchens.

César: Now, beyond kitchens, which shared space in colivings do you think is often overlooked but actually crucial?

Marta: I wouldn’t say they are overlooked, but a well-equipped coworking space is essential for digital nomads staying in colivings. It’s about creating a balance between communal, coworking, and private spaces, ensuring they are properly sized and well-organized.

César: What about areas like the pantry or laundry room?

Marta: Those are also important, adding to the functional aspect of colivings, similar to a well-organized home. Outdoor spaces can significantly enhance the living experience too.

César: It sounds like getting the balance and sequence of spaces right is crucial for a successful coliving environment.

Marta: Absolutely, it’s all about the social ratio — the balance between the number of bedrooms and the communal space available. It’s crucial for fostering a sense of community among residents.

César: And yeah, in the remodeled places, we had a wall with pictures of the people who stayed there. I think it’s super cool to see familiar faces and people who have come back.

Marta: Yeah, it’s nice to see returning guests. When I arrive at a new coliving, I look at the board to see if I know anyone or have mutual friends.

César: It would also be cool to take a picture each time you visit, to see how you’ve changed over the years.

Marta: I don ‘t think I’ve changed much in the last three years, so I’m still happy with my old picture.

César: Which coliving are we remodeling next? Any ideas for other locations we might want to renovate?

Marta: It’s becoming a big trend for digital nomads. Three years ago in Tenerife there were only one or two colivings, now there are 10 or 11. I constantly see new ones opening and people contact me about potential new projects, though I don’t start until later in the process after they’ve chosen the property and dealt with legal/architectural matters. I hear about at least five new colivings that will likely open at some point.

César: Nice. Any other hotspots apart from Tenerife? We usually think of colivings in Europe, but what about other continents?

Marta: Definitely some new ones in southern Europe like southern France or northern Spain which is great for the mountains and sea access. Colivings are becoming big in Asia right now too. I stayed at one at the start of the year and met the owner who wants to expand the community-focused European coliving model there. I’m helping him with his second location opening soon in Chiang Mai and he’s visiting properties for a few more. Asia seems to be the next big market.

César: I had asked you before about recommendations for Thailand, maybe I’ll go check it out next year. You’re back at Nine Coliving in Tenerife now?

Marta: Yes, I’m living at Nine Coliving again.

César: Is this your room with the names on the wall?

Marta: Yeah.

César: When you helped with the remodel and designed the kitchen, you got a room named after yourself, right?

Marta: Yes, this is where I am now. It’s actually the old kitchen area. I wanted the new kitchen named Martha, but I ended up with the old kitchen area instead. But I’m happy with that, it’s a really nice room, probably the best one here.

César: Nice. When I saw the room names I was wondering who those people were, but in your case no explanation is needed.

Marta: Yeah, I’ve met most of the people the rooms are named after. Some came for the second renovation last year. There’s also Mimi’s room – she’s the longest resident, so she got a new named room too. And then there’s mine, Marta.

César: You’re very close with Nicole and the Nine Coliving people. And Silvia wrote about you on their blog, right?

Marta: Yeah, have you read it? She was very sweet and passionate about it.

César: Yes, I had to prepare for these interviews. We also sent regards to Herman, who happens to be a coworker of mine.

Marta: Ah nice, I didn’t know that.

César: He’ll be a future coworker too.

Marta: Silvia wrote that article after a funny incident in the kitchen. A new guest put trash in the wrong bin and I explained the recycling to him. Silvia saw this and was amused that he didn’t recognize me as “Marta” whose name was on one of the rooms. She ended up writing all about who I was for half an hour before deciding to make it into an article. It was a nice experience being part of that.

César: Nice. And you’re also doing a project involving AI and startups with the remodeling, right? Can you tell us about it?

Marta: Yes, when we were renovating and you and Ann were volunteers, she did a skill share about AI that really interested me. She had this idea to use AI for interior design. So for the last two months, we’ve been developing a website called Xona that will let you submit a photo of your space and choose a style, and it will generate new interior designs using AI in that style for your space. We’re aiming for styles focused on wellbeing for 2023 – lots of plants, arches, organic shapes.

César: Wow, that’s so cool. By the time this podcast releases, maybe you’ll already be rich !

Marta: That’s the plan.

César: That’s a great thing about colivings – you access this worldwide network of interesting people with ideas, and you end up founding a company together. All thanks to the skillshare sessions where people teach what they’re passionate about. Like Ann giving that skillshare about AI which was amazing.

As a software developer, I never thought I’d meet people from amazing companies like Google. But at a coliving a year and a half ago, I did. That’s another super cool aspect of colivings.

Marta: For me personally, it’s life-changing. If you read Silvia’s article about me, it explains how I came to Nine Coliving during the pandemic after being unhappy at my architecture job in London for years. I just wanted to travel and work remotely.

I only booked five days at Nine at first, but loved it and stayed for months. Meeting all the inspiring entrepreneurs, freelancers and remote workers who had transitioned to that lifestyle was amazing. I found my people who motivated me with their stories and ideas. The power of the right community just pushes you forward.

César: I remember when I first went to Nine in Madrid two years ago, I came back working the same hours but feeling so energized with new ideas and motivation. It felt like a holiday but you’re working, not isolated like during COVID lockdowns. The beautiful, welcoming space designed by architects makes such a difference.

Marta: Exactly. And everyone wants to go do activities after work in such a nice environment. You feel satisfied being productive and can go to the beach or for drinks. It’s so energizing compared to remote work somewhere like London. The sun, colors and nature really affect wellbeing.

César: That’s why Spanish people are so happy! We mentioned adapting spaces for interaction – do you think there will be a trend towards colivings welcoming families or children? I don’t see many there now.

Marta: It’s an interesting question. I’ve heard of one or two family colivings starting, like in northern Spain. There’s huge potential as many digital nomads around 30 are couples thinking about kids, and some will want to keep that lifestyle. It could provide community for parents and kids, maybe even teachers visiting.

But it would need very careful design consideration for noise, as you don’t want crying kids disturbing others. Acoustics and separating family/non-family areas may be required. It’s emerging though, as are some elderly colivings too rather than just nursing homes – community spaces for an older generation wanting connection, activities and nice environments.

We’re a community-oriented species, so the coliving concept could work for any age group. Though part of me enjoys having a few older, wiser people around to add perspectiveand family vibes rather than just young people.

César: That’s an interesting point – why not have multi-generational communities with families, elderly, singles all together in one bigger space? Rather than separate colivings for each.

Marta: Having some older members does add a nice vibe. But I’m undecided on kids in the same coliving as adults without children. When friends with babies visit our colivings it’s lovely, but I don’t know if I’d want to live with other families’ babies crying as a childless person. Like adults-only hotel pools – I used to think they were weird, but now I get the appeal of having a relaxing child-free environment as a non-parent. If I had kids, I’d absolutely want them socializing with other children.

So I lean towards some separation while acknowledging mixed views. Maybe both models will emerge – some family/multi-generational colivings and some adults-only. There are so many possibilities to explore in this space.

César: We mentioned a lot about remodeling colivings, and I’m also interested in the price differences between countries or continents. Do you see much variation or is it kind of the same?

Marta: For renovation costs or to stay in a coliving?

César: Let’s start with remodeling costs.

Marta: They do differ. Colivings usually don’t have massive luxury budgets, it’s more about making spaces nice and functional. Material costs across countries don’t vary hugely, especially from places like IKEA. But there’s a massive difference in labor costs. In Tenerife, labor was very cheap – we had 10 builders helping throughout construction. But in Switzerland it was limited to minimum – a carpenter for two weeks, electrician a few times, plumber a few times, and we did the rest ourselves – because the hourly labor rate there is five times more expensive than Tenerife. So renovations were more challenging having to figure things out ourselves instead of relying on expert builders.

César: Interesting point about labor costs.

Marta: Yes, exactly. As for staying in colivings, there’s surprisingly not a huge difference between countries from what I’ve seen, except maybe France can be pricier in ski resorts or cities. But the one we worked on in the Alps was comparable to Tenerife prices. What has your experience been?

César: In Southeast Asia I thought prices looked low at first glance, but then realized they were way cheaper than hotels, interestingly. Since digital nomads tend to have higher salaries, I figured owners could charge more.

Marta: Coliving prices in Europe do seem quite similar. Thai colivings are cheaper than Europe, but not massively so considering the low costs there. But they’re also quite luxurious, which factors into the pricing.

Many owners are conscious about keeping prices inclusive, especially places like Nine Coliving or Cloud Citadel that get booked up far in advance. It’s tempting to raise rates, but then you may just attract wealthier guests rather than a diverse global community.

César: It could be interesting to tier pricing based on someone’s country of origin and income level – nomads from richer countries pay more, from poorer countries pay less. What do you think?

Marta: I think that could be seen as unfair. A better solution is offering a variety of room types – from dorms to suites, maybe €600 to €1400 per month. That way there are cheaper options for those on tighter budgets who want to join and don’t mind sharing or having a smaller room. It preserves that inclusivity.

César: Got it, that variety makes sense. Wow, we covered a lot! Anything else to add before wrapping up?

Marta: I could talk about colivings for hours, but I think we hit many of the key interesting points already.

César: Great, thank you so much Marta. This has been another episode of Colivers Club, powered by Mapmelon. Hopefully we’ll cross paths at the next remodeling project!

Marta: Thanks for the invite, it was a really nice chat. Okay, bye-bye!

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