One year ago Blake Beckelman moved to New York City from Texas and now lives in an Ollie apartment. His fully-furnished studio apartment in New York’s Carmel Place in Kips Bay, Manhattan has a nine-feet high ceiling and a juliet balcony.
Inside the apartment, he can adjust the height of the coffee table, pull up a bed over a couch or fold it into a wall, and use the clothing racks that accordion out from the closet. It’s a living room, bedroom, and dining room all rolled into one. Literally. With minimal, artistic design and transformative furnishing, Ollie has spared its residents from buying and transporting furniture when they move from one location to another.
But it’s Ollie’s added perks such as housekeeping, wifi, premium TV programming, and regular community events that makes the compact living luxurious.
Beckelman, for example, finds Ollie’s focus on neighbourhood connection its most attractive offering. He says that he has made friends in the building who now “have a group text” with him and “meet up at least once or twice a week to go out and grab a drink or dinner.”
This commune-style living has been made possible by brothers Andrew and Chris Bledsoe who founded Ollie in January 2012. Six years later, the NY-based startup has raised a $12 million seed funding led by London-based Aviva Investors.
From One Folding Bed to Another
In 2008, Andrew moved to a one-bedroom apartment in New York and found a way to reconfigure the living room to put two additional beds. Next, he advertised the space on Craigslist and numerous responses poured in. Over 90 people expressed interest in merely two days, but instead of sifting through the responses, Andrew revised the price and offered the space to those paying the most.
Naturally, the brothers cracked the simple demand and supply economics to come up with the idea of Ollie. The next few years were spent “combing countless pages of zoning text and building code, gaining an informal education in real estate from industry mentors, and eventually meeting with the NYC Department of Buildings”.
“The main pain point that we’re addressing,” Chris says, “is affordability.” Micro studios from 260-300 sq ft at the Carmel Place start from $2,775 and the company says that residents save $575 per month. The company makes big profits by claiming to reduce the individual cost of renting a shared apartment while increasing their own total rental income per square foot for that apartment.
It’s also the right idea at the right time. As coliving is catching on, New York City Zoning laws excused Ollie from building apartment that are at least 400-square feet. The Guardian reported that this was because the company’s design scheme was “thought to make up the diminutive floor plans, which include high ceilings, balconies and large windows that Bledsoe says provide sufficient light and air.
Ollie’s apartment rentals rise by the floor but even then, many find the costs to be unreasonably steep. The New York Post reported how if two people decided to rent an 800-square-foot one-bedroom, one-and-a-half bathroom apartment on Billionaire’s Row in Manhattan where an apartment price is $3,700 a month, they’d get 400 sq ft and a bathroom for for $1,850 a month – lower than Ollie’s.
A lot of other residential apartments in high-profile areas (which offer luxuries like gyms and jacuzzis) might fall in the same cost bracket, or lower, if shared by people. But Ollie justifies its costs by factoring in its design, the fact that each apartment is fully furnished and that it provides services like housekeeping.
As along with affordability, Ollie philosophizes its intersection of luxury communal living and lifestyle-related services. It advertises life with Ollie like living in a hotel room, albeit a small one, in the middle of the city.
The startup has buildings in New York and Pittsburgh and at a time when WeLive by WeWork has stopped its expansion, Ollie has plans to expand in Los Angeles, Boston, and New Jersey. Its upcoming 43-story tower, ALTA LIC, in Long Island City is being called the largest ground-up collection of shared apartments in the U.S.
More Hotel than Real-Estate
In trying to make the coliving worthwhile, Ollie appoints community managers whose job is to enrich the residents’ life and make them feel at home. Nicole Kelner, a community manager, has organized social club gatherings like wine tastings, visits to speakeasies, and even supervised a private theatre screening where residents enjoyed free popcorn. After the parties and numerous networking events, resident return to a well-made room with fresh linen, bath products, and even silverware.
The cost of these – housekeeping, wifi, and also social events – is included in the rent. While coliving has been endlessly called a millennial paradise, Andy Levin, the head of business development for Ollie clarifies that “~35% of residents in our Upper West Side building are of an older demographic: baby boomers looking to escape the suburbs.”
Ollie like other coliving startups avoids the hassles of owning and developing a real estate project, and instead, partners with developers. It also has a consulting and technical arm for developers looking to “enhance the performance of future and existing residential properties through coliving and micro-housing strategies”.
As apartment rents rise through the roof and cities get densely packed, coliving is an practical solution. A lot of energy is used in heating or cooling an apartment space but with a coliving apartment – which may house twice as many residents as another building – could help reduce carbon emission. But environmental engineers and scientists worry about mental health issues as we live busy lives in cramped spaces. People need open, green spaces which lounges and spas may not provide. But coliving, with its opportunities to socialize and interact, can solve another pertinent urban life problem: loneliness.