Coworking space Neuehouse blends work and play for jetsetting digital nomads

Mar 31, 2014

FORTUNE -- The first thing you notice about Neuehouse, a private coworking space for the modern day “solopreneur,” is about what you’d expect: The space is impeccably hip. Designed by architect David Rockwell and interior designer Cristina Azario, it’s got all the elements of the contemporary boutique hotel aesthetic: exposed brick, industrial lamps, wingback smoking chairs, kilim throw pillows, cowhide rugs, giant palm fronds. A magazine rack displays The Economist amid obscure literary journals, pricey art magazines, and the latest issue of Vogue. It’s eclectic chic.

The second thing you notice? Everyone is nice. Really, really nice. In a stylish Manhattan private club with hundreds on its waiting list, you’d expect at least a little snobbery. After all, Neuehouse (pronounced “new-y-house”) started out as invite-only and employs a committee to decide which people on the waiting list get in.

But as it happens, “being nice” is the first rule of membership to Neuehouse. (The second: “Have good manners.”) It's easy to wonder if the over-the-top niceness is all a bit fake, but Oberon Sinclair, a partner at the company, insists as she walks me around the airy, 50,000-square-foot facility that, “It’s real.”

Neuehouse opened its doors in May 2013, with the thesis of building a diverse community that would benefit from cross-pollination with each other. That aim for diversity is why a committee carefully handpicks members, rather than admitting them in the order they applied. As a result, half of the companies in Neuehouse are run by women, and 40% of the space’s 800 members hold an EU passport, Sinclair says. The coworking space's investors are "a sophisticated group of HNW individuals." ("HNW" stands for "high net worth," in case you were wondering.) Prominent members include Julie Gilhart, a fashion consultant; Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records; Nathalie Streng, regional director at SpaceX; Jefferson Hack, a publisher of British fashion magazines; and Michael Karnjanaprakorn, the founder of the startup Skillshare.

The point is to avoid concentration in any one area. “We don’t want to be a tech ghetto. We don’t want to be a fashion ghetto,” Sinclair says. “This isn’t WeWork. We’re not the backpack brigade.” One thing that will definitely keep backpacks out is the prices: Neuehouse has some of the most expensive desks in Manhattan. An "Atelier" membership, which grants unlimited access to the office's open plan area, costs $1,300 per month. Permanent desks with private offices cost $1,600 per person per month. (Cheaper options include a $600-per-month "Gallery" membership, which is good for 10 weekdays per month, and a $200 per month "Gallery Noir" membership, which is only good for evening access.) By contrast, desks at coworking space WeWork’s eight New York locations starts at $350.

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In exchange for shelling out, members get access to the cold-presses juices and broccoli raab sandwiches from The Canteen restaurant, a state-of-the-art recording studio and green room, a moving screening room, a lounge, and a robust schedule of programming that aims to be like a “really cool cultural magazine” with film screenings, musical performances, science lectures, and artist talks. It’s a bit like members-only club Soho House, but with desks instead of swimming pools.

And like Soho House, which has 12 locations in the U.S. and Europe, Neuehouse has plans for aggressive global expansion. The company will open buildings in Los Angeles and London this year, says Joshua Abram, a partner with Neuehouse and co-founder of adtech startup Integral Ad Science. By 2020, Neuehouse wants 20 locations around the world. A big part of Neuehouse’s mission is to be available in whatever city its jetsetting members find themselves working from.

In some ways, Neuehouse embodies the natural progression in the new work style of young, affluent freelancers, consultants, and entrepreneurs. This new class of digital nomads can -- and does -- work from anywhere around the world. Airbnb founder Brian Chesky has predicted a world where people don’t travel; they’re just permanently mobile. “In the future, when people move, they’re not going to move their furniture with them,” he said in an interview last year. “When that happens you can move more freely, and you’re more mobile.”

Chesky’s vision may be a long shot, but if any group is suited for that kind of modern nomad lifestyle, it’s the members of Neuehouse. They're part of a new breed of professionals who travel in style, appreciate upscale environments, work remotely, and have no division between their personal and professional lives. “The way people work has changed,” Sinclair says. “You’re no longer asking someone to a meeting in your office, you’re asking them to get a coffee or a drink. This encompasses all of that.”

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