How One Designer Creates Spaces Where 10-Plus Roommates Live in Harmony
Yes, you read that right.
Updated Aug 23, 2021 6:45 PM
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Roommate living comes with its own particular sets of challenges and benefits. Sure, you’ll likely save money and you have a built-in group of people with which to mull over what show will replace the Game of Thrones–size hole in your life. But you’ll also probably deal with a few snags—over kitchen storage space, clutter, and the color scheme of your living room. Common, a co-living startup with properties in seven cities, aims to decrease those tiffs.
You see, Caitlin Gury, Common’s associate director of interior design, has mastered the art of designing homes where roommates can live in harmony—like, a lot of roommates. In Common Grand, the company’s 27th home in the country, a historic Brooklyn building has been refurbished to accommodate 23 people, with 10 roommates in one section and 13 in another.
The design of the home, which mixes Restoration Hardware with Target, is sleek and contemporary, with plenty of traditional elements. It’s meant to have mass appeal without looking boring. And, most important, it’s designed to eliminate any possible roommate tension. “My starting point for design is always empathy, and then next making sure it’s as functional as it can be for everyday life,” Gury says.
That said, most roommate situations exist on a much smaller scale. So when you take some of Gury’s advice for co-living into consideration, you’re bound to create a harmonious home—no passive-aggressive sticky notes needed.
Don’t treat your home as temporary
Just because you might only be staying in your home for a year (or even a few months) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hang art on the walls and even install a few shelves.“I think one of the biggest mistakes that renters make is treating their space as if it’s transient,” Gury says. “Regardless of how long you stay in a home, ultimately your space is your refuge from the city, from commuting, from work. We should all approach our homes as if they’re a landing pad for our own well-being and recharging.” A little extra effort will make your home feel like, well, a home.
Find your focal point
If you and your roommates have varied tastes, try to agree on at least one decorative accent to start off with. “What I have done with previous roommates is to settle on one piece that can act as a narrator for the rest of the home,” Gury explains. “So if you’re shopping together and you find a piece of art that you love or a pillow or rug, that can dictate the rest of the color story in your space.” If you all decide you love a multicolored rug from IKEA or a print from Society6, get it! It will make decorating everything else much easier.
Prevent passive aggression
The best way to deal with roommate arguments is to prevent them from happening in the first place. “When it comes to fridge space, we make sure we provide enough storage for people. I also provide stickers. You mark which things you’re willing to share, like ketchup, and what things you think might need to be tossed out,” Gury advises. “We tried to design to eliminate any opportunity for passive-aggressive note posting.” Preventative labeling might just be the peacekeeping strategy you need.
Consider the classics
“When it comes to spaces like lounges, I try to orchestrate an environment and an atmosphere that just creates ease and comfort and relaxation. A lot of companies that design for co-living skew a bit young and trendy, and through their design, they’re sort of always looking for that Instagrammable moment, like a poppy wallpaper or a neon sign. I don’t want this to feel like a young commercial space,” Gury says. Sure, an Instagrammable moment can be fun, but if you’re investing time and money into decorating your home, really consider the things you’ll appreciate long-term.
If you want it to feel trendy, choose your purchases strategically to save money and make sure everyone is satisfied. “Whether you’re shopping at West Elm or CB2 or Target, there’s always an opportunity to take a super-trendy, brightly colored silhouette, but ultimately, that furniture can be polarizing,” she adds. “Items such as decorative pillows you can swap out seasonally, but things like a couch you have to live with for a while, so it’s best to stay classic when it comes to those pieces.”
Vary texture and silhouette
Common’s homes may be primarily neutral toned, but they’re hardly boring—all thanks to their balance of traditional and contemporary styles. Comfort is also key. “When you are choosing furniture, it’s always ideal to pick a silhouette that’s not stiff,” Gury advises. “Go for a silhouette that invites you to kick off your shoes and put up your feet.”
Another way to prevent a lackluster interior? Mix it up! “What’s so important is varying both your materials and your silhouette. I think rooms immediately skew stiff and formal when everything looks like a rectangle. I need to vary it and include some circle-shaped furniture,” Gury adds. “I also believe contemporary design is all about making a space that is super-tactile. Include natural woods with leather and a woven blanket—that helps create a space that has a tactile memory.”
Know when to splurge and when to save
News flash: If you’re thinking of shelling out for a plush white rug…don’t. “In terms of rugs or materials that are super–high traffic, I would always advise on the Wayfair option or the Target option over something expensive like West Elm,” Gury says. “A West Elm price point for textiles in your home is fine when you’re in your own private space, but when you’re living with roommates, just go for the low price.”
That said, investing in things everyone will use isn’t always a mistake. “I think a sofa is always worth a little bit of extra money, just because that is your place to find refuge, relax, and discover a connection with the people whom you live with,” she adds.
When you live with roommates, more often than not that means having to figure out how to store your belongings only in your room, which can be a bit of a challenge. “I always utilize under-bed storage, and an often-missed opportunity is a storage bench at the bottom of your bed,” Gury says. “I think it provides additional seating if you want to just hang out with one or two friends, but it’s also the best place to store all of your summer shoes or sweaters.”
In bathrooms, too, fights over medicine cabinet space can feel inevitable—unless you strategize with extra shelving or hooks. “Umbra is a company that I go to often for smart storage. It has these shower caddies that hang over the showerhead, so that creates a really great space to sort shampoos and soaps,” Gury adds. “It also has over-the-door storage for towels.”
Invest in special things
You might be tempted to get a matching set of dishes or shell out for wineglasses, but Gury says that it’s better to save your money for items that are a little more special in the kitchen.
“It’s nice to invest in a couple of things that you guys love together. That can even be a DIY project: In previous rentals, I’ve actually removed kitchen cabinet doors that I didn’t find so attractive, and my roommates and I lined the cabinets with paper that we picked out together,” she says. “It’s fun to go all in on decorative pieces that make your kitchen feel light and happy. I think those items are more worth investing in than matching silverware.” Who knows? Maybe a roommate crafting night is in your imminent future.
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