In an unassuming, formerly abandoned building on North Loop lies the newest iteration in Austin coworking: The Commune, a 3,600-square-foot, artist-focused collaborative space opening this April.
Founder Lauren Cunningham, an artist and designer herself, got her first taste of coworking while renting a desk at The Refinery in January 2018, but soon “began entertaining the idea of creating a similar concept for artists.”
“I had recently started painting, so I needed somewhere that I could do both messy work and design work,” she recalls. “But I had a hard time finding a place that fit my needs.”
With the support of Refinery owner Hayley Wakefield, whom Cunningham credits for helping her “navigate this foreign endeavor,” she set out to find a team, soon hiring architect Nick Hunt of Hunt Architecture and interior designer Claire Zinnecker.
“Claire and I have been friends for five-plus years and have worked together on two of my residential projects,” Cunningham says. “When I first told her about this new project, she immediately suggested Nick Hunt who had recently moved to Austin from Brooklyn. His wife was Claire’s roommate at UT.”
When it came time to find the right property for The Commune, Cunningham ended up putting an offer down on the very building Wakefield had originally intended to purchase for The Refinery. While the dilapidated, graffiti-covered space at 101 E. North Loop Blvd., which was home to Mrs. Johnson’s Bakery from 1949 to 1975, was in need of major repairs — even part of the roof was fully caved-in — she could see the potential.
“We only looked at three buildings, and when I saw this one I knew right away that I wanted it,” she says. "We put an offer in immediately.”
While there was a lengthy construction period ahead, Cunningham had a clear idea of what her vision was for the space: to meld an artist’s studio with traditional coworking offerings. She wanted to make sure that everyone who came to The Commune had their needs met and began speaking with other artists.
“I knew what I would need, but I wanted to understand and predict the needs of other artists because there are so many mediums and work styles to consider,” she says. “I spent time at Canopy with an artist friend to understand what worked well for her there and what I could improve upon. These insights led us to having oil traps on our mess sinks, chairs at our community tables instead of benches, and white boards for brainstorming, among other things.”
In addition to those amenities, The Commune has an open and airy layout with plenty of natural light, a conference room/photo studio, phone booths, a design resource library, a professional flatbed scanner, seven private studios, 10 dedicated desks, and communal gathering space. There’s even a designated lounging area up front where guests can sit and enjoy a morning cup of coffee or get to know other artists.
“She thought of everything,” says Zinnecker. “It’s costly to be a creative. Say you’re freelance and doing a photoshoot, you’d have to rent a photo studio and professional photography equipment, but here it’s all in one place.”
Once completed, The Commune will have a workshop feel with white walls, wooden details, plants and pops of color, plus it will showcase the handy work of local Austinites.
“When I’m creating a space, I always think about the audience, and for this project it needed to appeal to artists and makers,” Zinnecker says. “Our banquette is made by a local studio ... and we have handmade tile from Fire Clay Tile in San Francisco. While it’s hard to be an artist, we wanted to show that you do get appreciated.”
By providing different workspaces, Cunningham believes those at The Commune will feel as if “they are part of a larger community of like-minded people” and have plenty of opportunities to ask for advice or network.
Slated to open in early April, Cunningham already has events in the works, a DIY happy hour on May 1 and artist talks during the WEST Austin Studio Tour May 11 and 12 and May 18 and 19.