Coliving In Europe — What I Learned From My Travels

Article originally published on Qwerky Coliving

On October 30th, I set off on the Qwerky European Coliving Tour 2017. Having read hundreds of articles and researched the European coliving space extensively, I felt I had the knowledge. But nothing can replace seeing the coliving spaces with your own eyes so I decided I had to jump on a plane and go check them out! I was born in England so I know Europe like the back of my hand. Imagine the 50 US states being different countries, each with their own currency, language and traditions. That is Europe. You are totally spoiled and air fares are much more reasonable due to the multiple budget airlines operating. You can hop around easily using planes, trains, subways, ride sharing services and bikes.

SAN → LHR

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After flying 10 hours east from San Diego, California, the first stop was London, England. The Collective has planted its flag firmly in the ground and created a micro-community in the industrial area of Willesden Junction in north-west London. When you look on a map of the nation’s capital, it seems strange to choose this spot to open a coliving community. But when you approach the building perched on the edge of the Paddington Branch canal, it all becomes clear.

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The Collective has crammed 546 rooms (mix of ensuite rooms with shared living area, single ensuite rooms and one bedroom apartments) into a high rise building and fostered its own coliving community. They currently have around 570 residents. There is almost everything under one roof including a restaurant, a co-working space and a gym. Each level has a shared master kitchen, there is a laundry room that doubles up as a social hangout spot and a secret garden where you can get your calm on after the chaos of central London. What I really liked was the well thought out design for not just the bedroom but also the micro kitchen and breakfast bar. It reminded me of Japan: everything in its right place with a degree of minimalism. The co-working space on the ground floor was well designed complete with DJ booth and bar for events. My tour was quick but thank you to Roberto for squeezing me into their busy schedule. Overall, the vibe was good and I am keen to see how they progress in London as competitors pop up.

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LHR → CPH

My next destination was wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen (or København as the locals call it) — the capital city of Denmark. My schedule was very tight which meant I hopped across for less than 24 hours. Copenhagen was the world’s first bicycle city and there is a strong sense of community in this Scandinavian hub. See below photo showing the multi-tier bike stands right next to Central Station.

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Nest houses 21 entrepreneurs who are “creators, builders and dreamers of tomorrow”. It was difficult to find their location but this caused something interesting to happen. A guy was coming out of the building that I thought was the right one and I told him I couldn’t find Nest. He didn’t know where it was either but asked me if I had a phone number for anyone in the community. I said yes and before I knew it, he had punched this number into his phone, given it to me to make the call and said “I’ll be back in a minute, I have to go get my bike.” I don’t know many places in the world (Japan is one of them) where people would be so trusting of a complete stranger. My theory is that because education is free for life for Danes, crime is not considered in most people because they are simply intelligent enough to do more meaningful things than steal phones. Once I had made the call and given the phone back to this true gentleman, my connection Frederik emerged from a door and I was in!

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Nest feels very Parisian in that you have a grand entrance to the building which is a courtyard. You then have stairways on either side leading to the apartments. The community is split across two sides and two floors giving 20 entrepreneurs a home. Frederik told me Nest is a “do-ocracy” — a democracy where the people who do shit, decide on shit!” It means less permission and more action. What I liked is that each zone had its own look and feel and “Nesters” were placed in the one that was the best match for them. On the tour I chatted with a few who were coding in a living room and then saw others playing a board game in a kitchen. It was nice to see entrepreneurs so relaxed after a hard day. In the US and UK, you sense they are on a hamster wheel with investor puppet masters pulling their strings a little too tight to get their ROI. What I also learned is that IKEA had spotted Nest and partnered with them to take care of the interior design in one of the apartments. The Swedish company are clearly looking to get into coliving as they have also just partnered with One Shared House to give people an insight into what people are looking for in coliving communities.

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Almost immediately after I arrived, Frederik said we were heading to a nearby bar to see another Nester launching her new podcast show. When we got to the bar I met one of the Nest Founders and chatted with others about my mission for Qwerky. We then hit a traditional Danish bar and got phở on the way home. After a coliving discussion with Frederik and learning more about Nest, it was time for some shut eye. I woke early and rushed around Copenhagen to see some of the sights. Although this was my fourth time in the capital, I just love the architecture, coffee shops and Nyhavn area. The metro is also a really efficient way to get around. Who needs cars?! Then it was time to catch my flight.

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CPH → AMS

Landing in the Dutch capital was electric. Even though it was November and cold and rainy, there was a real buzz when I got to Amsterdam Centraal Station. I had heard that following Brexit, a lot of companies had left London and moved their headquarters to Amsterdam. I had also read an article in the US saying that “the Dam” was the next London. Over the next 24 hours, I was about to see why.

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I got to my Airbnb on the side of a canal and when my host opened the front door I saw the hike in front of me. The stairs were the steepest and narrowest I had ever seen! I contemplated crawling up but Riks said it these were actually good stairs compared to other apartments in Amsterdam. Once I had reached the summit and got over the vertigo, I headed out to dinner. I had connected with Louis De Keyser on twitter a few months ago and talked on Skype. The Belgian had lived in a coliving community in New York and his enthusiasm for Qwerky meant that he quickly started helping us with a new version of our website.

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After dinner, most people would have said let’s go to a pub but Louis surprised me with his question: “Do you want to fly a drone?!” We went to the harbor behind Centraal Station because Louis wanted to see if the roof of the station had “AMSTERDAM” written on it. Watching the drone take off and climb to a few hundred feet in a few seconds blew my mind. The remote control had GPS and a video monitor on it and if the battery was ever low, it would automatically fly back to you. The flight was amazing to watch and you can see the POV video camera footage below:

The next day I went to Zoku in the newly created “Knowledge Mile”. The ugliest street in Amsterdam has been rejuvenated into something special that is attracting ad executives, company leaders and young people to the city. When I entered, I expected a reception but you have to take an elevator to the roof to get there. A refreshing twist, a variation on a theme.

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Zoku is technically a boutique hotel but they have fostered community here and been so careful with their interior design, it might as well be a coliving community — which is probably why they are working on launching a coliving community! As you turn right out of the elevator, you are greeted with green plant life hanging from the roof in something that resembles an elongated conservatory. It is quite beautiful and the natural light adds an ethereal quality.

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At the end of this walkway, there is a self check-in for people staying in this boutique hotel. Then a little like a hive, there are honeycomb sections which act as work areas or places to talk. The center is a coffee bar. I particularly liked the drawers in the shop that allowed you to grab qwerky items you wouldn’t normally be able to buy.

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The design was impressive and the buzz from the people made you want to be there. My contact Lucas gave me a tour and showed me one of the hotel rooms. It was essentially a micro apartment with micro kitchen, work area, dining room and lounge. The thing that caught my attention though was a couple of qwerky features: the parallel bars hanging from the ceiling which allowed you to get some exercise in and the stairs that you could pull out of the wall that led up to a raised sleeping area behind a screen.

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After a sumptuous traditional Dutch style lunch, I headed out to walk Amsterdam. Getting lost as you wander the canals and streets of the city is an absolute must-do. There is something mystical and liberating about it that makes you want to never stop. After about a day of this, the stampedes of tourists were getting a little much so I decided to escape to an area I had just learned about. NDSM-werf is a free ferry ride away and takes about 20 minutes. It is an abandoned shipyard that has been converted into artist studios, apartments made out of shipping containers and a couple of coffee shops. As a huge proponent of street art, seeing how NDSM had taken something that was decaying and revitalized the area was exemplary. Suddenly, there was community where once there was rust.

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After this exciting discovery and glimpsing Botel— a floating 3 star hotel — I was back on a plane flying east!

AMS → MUC

I had never been to Munich (or München as the Germans call it) and other than Oktoberfest, had heard little about the city. I made my way over the river on the U-bahn to Hyprspace which is a coliving community for entrepreneurs and students. I particularly like their tagline on their website “coliving, coworking, cowhatever”. The large house accommodates 17 people, has a coworking space (complete with mini bleacher section!), a Makerspace in the garage and a yard for social events.

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They are using a shared electric car for the house which reduces carbon emissions and congestion on the roads. Talking to Daniel, Julia and Tobi who were entrepreneurs living there, I got the sense that they truly needed coliving and that without it, they would be lonely in the city and disconnected from the entrepreneurial ecosystem. This confirmed my thoughts that I presented in my “Future of Living” talk at the Qwerky pilot house in June 2017. Toby was working on an app that would allow increased adoption and improved infrastructure for electric cars and of course was using the electric car at the house as a way to test his business concept. When you create an organic, contained ecosystem and test your ideas daily in real life, amazing things can happen. The pinball machines in the laundry room increased the cool factor nicely and overall, I really liked Hyprspace and what the community they had created.

After experiencing one of the qwerkiest hotels I have stayed at (Cocoon — see photos below) to get inspiration for the interior design for Qwerky, it was time to get my French on!

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München Hauptbahnhof → Paris Gare de l’Est

Paris might be best known for being the romance capital, the home of The Louvre & The Eiffel Tower and the city with a million cafés. But remember, the French also invented the word “entrepreneur”. It was only the Americans who embraced it as their own. I had lined up a visit with Station F because I had seen some photos online which were similar to my future vision of Qwerky. Their Founder Xavier Niel invested $267 million into the project — converting a former Paris train station into a startup campus attracting entrepreneurs and investors from around the world.

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There are 26 startup programs and companies like Microsoft and Zendesk camping out here.

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My guide was Brice — head of Logistics and Design. Station F is massive. I mean really massive. Where once there were trains and tracks, there are now desks, offices made out of shipping containers, elegant phone booths, chillout zones all carefully designed with a theme and dining rooms. Throw in the giant Jeff Koons art installation Play-Doh and a sculpture by Ai Weiwei and you have something unique in the French capital. I really love buildings where the original shell has been retained and the history is not forgotten. It really adds character and gives you a story to tell to your community members.

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With time running out, I had to say au revoir and head back to my motherland.

Paris Gare du Nord → London King’s Cross

With time running out before my flight back to San Diego, I was told Roam had just opened in London. I jumped on the tube for about an hour and emerged in Chelsea. This area of West London is an extremely rich neighborhood in London so if you have had a few successful exits and cashed out big, this is the place for you. If you are a first time Founder or digital nomad, your cost of living will be prohibitive here and the startup scene is about an hour east in Old Street (aka Silicon Roundabout) so you might feel a little isolated. The space looks like an old English hotel that was converted into a coliving community.

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There is a coworking space on the way in and a very small lounge and kitchen. The bathroom was basic and a small room I saw was being used as a mediation room or office. I was not shown a bedroom by the community manager due to time constraints which was still disappointing considering that I am only in Europe about once every two years. I have to say that I was most excited to see Roam having seen their Bali location online. Their London location turned out to be the most underwhelming experience on the tour which was a shame.


Overall, it felt great to be back in Europe. I love the way you can jump on a flight or train ride and in an hour be in a completely different culture. I met some incredible people in the space of 3 weeks and am really grateful to many that gave up time in their days to either show me around, explain their business models or just have a beer with me and tell me about their startup company or travels. I am excited to come back in a few years and see how these coliving spaces are developing and changing in response to the needs of their community members. Maybe one day Qwerky will open a coliving community in Europe. If we did, which city would you like us to come to?!

LHR → SAN

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©David Lowe

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