Shared office spaces like WeWork are great for regular businesses, startups and entrepreneurs, but if you are a craftsperson who makes things, not so much.
“I make noise when I work,” says Justin Waldinger, founder of Bushwick-based Tap & Dye. The 38-year-old started his leather-crafting business in his Long Island City apartment nearly seven years ago. Not long after, orders for his custom, handmade camera straps came pouring in, so he expanded into his living room.
“The arrangement wasn’t ideal,” he says, noting that it wasn’t just lack of space that was a problem — hammering is part of Waldinger’s leatherworking process.
He needed a separate, dedicated work area, but it was hard to find something that met his budget and filled his needs, since “most industrial spaces are way too big,” he says.
Rafael Alvarez experienced a similar problem when he ditched his civil-engineering job to pursue his passion — renovating and handcrafting custom tables and countertops out of wood. Alvarez’s initial workspace was a barn in upstate New York, but it was too far away from his customers and his home in Woodside, Queens. He searched the city for the right working space, but all he could find were overly expensive artist studios in Soho, or reasonably priced places elsewhere that weren’t even up to code.
“They were dirty,” he says. “The bathrooms didn’t have toilet paper. The stairways were blocked, because there was no place for storage. They were basically fire hazards.”
In a city full of artists and makers, Alvarez figured that there had to be other people who were just as frustrated. Taking matters into his own hands, he searched the five boroughs for a building that he could transform into a co-working space to meet the needs of creative people.
Alvarez settled on a vacant 8,000-square-foot building on Stewart Avenue in Bushwick, which was once used as a knitting mill. He then set out to redesign it with dedicated work spaces where people could craft, design, hammer, paint, podcast, sculpt, sew, woodwork, create virtual reality games and more.
He imagined that his tenants-to-be would benefit from a small kitchen. A gallery would be needed where they could showcase their work as well as a conference room for presentations and meetings. A freight elevator and concierge services were a must so that tenants could securely receive supplies and mail, and have finished goods picked up by delivery services.
Alvarez named the business b[x] Spaces — the “x” is an intentionally selected variable to highlight that creatives of all kinds are welcome. The location opened in 2008, and he was his own first tenant, occupying 3,000 square feet consisting of a storage room for materials and finished goods, a woodworking shop and an office. He then built out spaces for other tenants, ranging from 300 to 800 square feet and with rents between $275 and $850 per month.
Jewelry designer Andrea Collins moved her business, Andy’s House of Design, into b[x] Spaces after her husband began working from home. “The hammering, the noise and the dust were too much for him,” she says. Besides, she is more productive making rings, earrings, necklaces and bracelets when she doesn’t need to share her space.
“It’s mine,” says Collins.
Alejandro Gonzalez, a custom printer who lives in Woodhaven, Queens, runs his business, Addicted Designs, out of b[x] Spaces, too. For years, he created and printed custom graduation stoles in his basement and was limited by how much machinery he could have, inventory he could keep and orders he could take.
Plus, “I was having trouble separating home and business, because my business was in my home,” he says.
That’s not the only benefit he gets at b[x] Spaces. During peak times, when Gonzalez needs to call in extra help, a commercial setting is better. Moreover, local customers can pick up their orders instead of having them shipped.
Kathryn Rose, an artist who paints photo-realistic oil paintings as well as commissioned portraits, rents a space along with another artist. “It makes it more affordable,” says the 23-year-old Los Angeles native, who opted to stay in the city after she graduated from Parsons.
“I have people visit my studio to see my work. It wouldn’t be professional to have them come to my house,” she says. She spends up to 12 hours per day at the location and appreciates how safe it is. “There are security cameras everywhere. The doors upstairs and downstairs are locked, and my studio has its own lock,” she says.
Alvarez invites his tenants to open their studios to the public three or four times a year to showcase their work to the community. “Last year, we had about 3,000 visitors come through,” he says. There are also monthly events where the artists can see each other’s work.
Collaborations happen, too. A few years ago, the team at Iris MediaWorks filmed visual artist Liz Jaff over a 48-hour period as she made a large-scale sculpture out of paper. They edited and added music to the film, turning out a 90-second-long, time-lapse video. “It was inventive and augmented my work process,” says Jaff.
What b[x] Spaces residents like is that the workplace was developed with their needs in mind. “The philosophy here is to help people be more creative. You don’t find that very often,” says Jaff.