The Common Room
The Common Room is an open plan studio with ten desks used by creative people sharing the space. There are nine full time desks and one hot desk available for daily rental. The office is home to Graphic Designers, Illustrators, Animators, Architects, Digital Content, Marketing and PR Managers all working as independent contractors, coming together on various project such as websites and exhibitions. The Common room is a partnership and any income generated from rental is returned to the space.
“We all work as independent contractors, but can come together on various project as they arrive. Much like a common room in high school, hence the name.” Jeremy Ley
How was the space first identified and who was contacted to secure it?
The four of us used to share a studio together in Melbourne Central, “No Studio”. Unfortunately the place was shut down to make room for an escalator, so we were forced to move back home and look for another space. We all worked well together and wanted a place where we could all move in, instead of getting a desk at another studio. While walking around town after nearly four months of looking, Amanda and Eveline spotted a sign in the window of Mitchell House. They contacted Gills property then booked an inspection.
What was required to secure the space?
After the application process, a month's rent and a month's bond was needed before work started on the space. We also needed to negotiate and sign a contract. It was two months between signing the lease and moving in.
What needed to be provided by you as hirer or user of the space?
The room needed a lot of work. There were wooden partitions from the 1970’s dividing the space into seven tiny rooms. Plus there was some really ugly grey carpet, probably also from the 70’s. We negotiated to get the space if the landlord paid to get rid of the partitions and the carpet, plus give us two months free rent if we put floor boards down.
The landlord and the agent were really understanding. They prefer to have tenants stay a long time in the building rather than get new people in all the time. The tenant down the hallway has been there for over 30 years.
What were the costs?
Having four of us on the lease made it financially easier to set up. The floor boards were the most expensive thing (even though we got an extremely good deal from a friend of Nick’s). Then there was a painter, a solicitor to write our contracts, an accountant, internet, a P.O. Box, insurance, the electrician, ten desks to be made up, a lounge area, a kitchenette, shelves, and a meeting table (which ended up being a ping pong table!)
What were the resources available to you?
Amanda pulled favours from her cousins, father in-law, husband, sisters, mafia, etc. She's a very handy person to have on our side. Eveline and her friend, a furniture maker, built a cupboard to store our kitchen supplies. Nick had a friend paint the space for a fraction of the cost.
For our lounge suite we looked on eBay and became obsessed with getting Danish style furniture, which we found at Chapel Street Bazaar and Lost and Found. We scored some old architecture drawers from my uncle, who's company was just throwing it out.
Then to advertise the place we listed on Creative Spaces, Gumtree, etc. But also asked friends of friends if anyone was interested. Word of mouth is always the best.
Who helped you to fit it out?
We did it all ourselves. We were all going crazy working from home, so we needed a pet project. The Common Room was perfect. We were really sick of moving studios so much in the past that we wanted a place that we could stay in for a long period of time.
A studio like this should develop organically, depending on who moves in. We didn't want to fit out the place completely so that when people moved in they didn't have room to move. The place is kind of half finished at the moment, due to some desks being free, but that will change over time. No rush.
What were/are the obstacles?
Never underestimate setting up a studio. It takes a long time and there are always setbacks. Luckily everything went pretty smoothly, everything apart from the internet. There were some complications with dealing with TPG. Some advice when dealing with TPG - tell them you only speak to managers with names and direct telephone numbers.
What were/are the risks?
We tried to mitigate as much risk as possible. The last thing we wanted was to lose our friendship over a disagreement that could have been prevented from the start. We paid a solicitor to write up a 'partnership agreement' so everyone knew where they stood. It was expensive but it gave us a peace of mind.
That said, there wasn't that much risk involved. It cost each of us about four grand to set up the place, which will be covered by the money we save in renting out the space and using the office ourselves over the first year. Filling the space was never an issue as there are always people needing office space in the city, especially on the corner of Lonsdale and Elizabeth.