One of my first jobs out of college was with a public-relations professional whose office was in her New York apartment. It was just the two of us. We worked in the apartment’s second bedroom. Office supplies mingled with her off-season clothing in the closet. She had a desk, while my work surface was a small end table in front of the couch. Such was the live-work arrangement of the 1990s.
I thought about that job as I toured the new e-lofts in Alexandria this week, a concept that intentionally blurs the lines between living and working. You can have an apartment, an office, or an apartment that serves as your office—The choice is yours. They asked me to work there for a day and document my experience for this sponsored post. I will also moderate a panel discussion on this concept on Dec. 1—more on that below.
How I wished I could have escaped that small New York bedroom to go downstairs and work—as I did this week—at a long table in an airy lobby, music playing and CNN visible from multiple TV screens. I wasn’t allowed to use my boss’s personal kitchen, so it would have been nice to come down and eat in a cozy booth or at a long island in the building’s communal kitchen.
My boss, too, could have hosted client meetings in the glass-walled conference rooms, or given media presentations with images and video in a room furnished with a comfy sectional for viewing the drop-down screen, below.
It’s unclear how many people were working from home in the early ’90s, but e-lofts are designed for an ever-growing population of professionals like me who are self-employed or telecommute on a regular basis. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 24 percent of employed people did some or all of their work at home in 2015, up from 19 percent in 2003. The numbers are even higher if you just count those in the management and professional categories: 38 and 35 percent respectively.
e-lofts occupies a former office building, which Novus Residences has transformed into 200 one- and two-bedroom units.
Gensler handled the interior architecture, leaving exposed the ductwork and concrete columns and ceilings. Those elements, along with long window walls and lacquered cabinetry in the kitchens and baths, provide a great jumping-off point for contemporary design. The designers at West Elm, which furnished the building’s model units, have used it to great effect here—the palette even works with some of the orange spray-paint markings on the original concrete slabs overhead, which you can spot in the images below.
The expansive lobby, with its conference rooms, lounge areas and booth seating, is the product of designer Holly Polgreen of Carlyn & Company, which caters exclusively to condo and apartment buildings. I love how colorful and comfortable the spaces are—she’s made a homey atmosphere out of commercial-grade elements.
The serpentine table where I sat (below) has built-in outlets so I could keep my phone and laptop charged. WiFi was never a problem, inside or outside, due to the building’s commercial infrastructure. The lumbar-friendly office chairs (a far cry from that old couch in New York) kept me comfortable all day long. And the staff was nice enough to keep water and juice in the communal-kitchen fridge just around the corner.
For those who thrive on working from a coffee shop to escape the solitude of a home office, this lobby is perfect—and if you live here, you never have to step outside for the change of atmosphere. The people who passed through here during the day, plus the rock music playing on low and the screens posting updated headlines throughout the day, sent enough good-vibe energy for me to be extremely productive. Five o’clock came very quickly!
Gensler published a workplace survey this year that found top performers have access to—and use—“a greater variety of workspaces in and out of the office.” That means having WiFi and plugs everywhere, plentiful meeting spaces, and access to outdoor spaces, according to the report. Did I mention that e-lofts has Ping-Pong tables outside the lobby, an expansive lawn and lounge chairs, a grilling area, and plentiful outdoor seating?
I’m writing this post back in my home office, which is Very. Quiet. in comparison. It made me think about e-lofts again—if I were single and freelancing as I do now, I wouldn’t hesitate to sign a lease there.
Frequently, I’ll talk to an interview subject for one of my magazine articles, or a client for whom I create content, and they’ll ask if we could meet at “my office.” I’m always quick to suggest a local restaurant or coffee shop, because my house just isn’t set up for that. If I lived at e-lofts, I could readily say yes to a meeting in one of the lobby’s several public or private areas. I could choose to work in peace upstairs, or come downstairs for more community.
And here’s the best part for small businesses or startups: The zoning allows you to live and employ people in the same space. Of course, you can simply live there—or simply locate your office there and live somewhere else; there are features for all three here, whether it’s restrooms and water fountains in the hallways like office buildings have, or the pet spa and a lawn for summer movies like a high-end condo has.
As for the work aspect, General Manager Melat Molina explained that while most commercial-space leases require a 5- or 10-year commitment, leases here are just 12 months. “It’s high value, low risk and low commitment,” she says. Sounds like a winning plan to address the growing ranks of home-based businesses, at the same time making use of growing commercial vacancy rates. I’m not surprised to hear Novus is already planning to open more e-lofts in unoccupied office buildings here and elsewhere.
Want to learn more? I’ll be moderating a panel discussion, called Designing for the Modern Loft, at e-lofts on December 1. The panelists include Jiyoung Park of West Elm, Holly Polgreen from Carlyn & Company, and Melanie Domres, executive vice president of Novus Residences.
Click here to register—I hope to see you there![Disclaimer: I received compensation for my post and review. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are my own and not influenced by E-lofts, and/or its affiliates in any way.]