weekly feature | May 25, 2016 |
WeWork-like concept for designers is more than a shared space

Forget the well-appointed space, the on-site reprographics facility and resource library, the stocked cafeteria—what’s perhaps most alluring about Fuigo, the first-ever collective workspace concept for designers, is something a bit, well, dry: bookkeepers and production managers. Fuigo isn’t merely a collective space cleverly marketed for interior designers; the cost-sharing concept aims to tackle the business minutiae that so many creatives love to hate.

Launched last week in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, Fuigo is the brainchild of Fortuny co-owners and brothers Maury and Mickey Riad, and designer Bradley Stephens. They came up with the concept as a way to streamline business processes via a cloud-based platform for bookkeeping and comprehensive financial management, offered in tandem with a Stephens-designed space outfitted with conference rooms, breakout spaces, private call suites, and that materials and resource library (librarian included).

“By harnessing the power of collaboration, we have created something that doesn’t exist anywhere in the interior design world,” says Maury Riad. “Fuigo provides independent designers with the same resources as the largest design firms. We discreetly maintain all the back-end technology support, freeing creative talent to do what they do best: focus on the art of interior design.”

Encompassing 18,000 square feet, the space, located at 304 Park Avenue South, is currently home to a dozen designers and firms: Stephens Design Group, Eddie Lee Inc., Benjamin Vandiver Interiors, Young Huh Interior Design, Handin Browne, Jessie Schuster Design, Bonnie J. Steves Assoc., City & Stone, Malcolm James Kutner, Sheila Bridges, Adams ID and Robin Henry Studio.

“A few years ago, I had the idea to start a business that gave independent interior designers powerful business management tools and first-class shared workspaces, through collaboration and community,” Riad tells EAL. “I knew a lot about the design business through Fortuny, my family’s company, which my brother and I had run for many years. I met top interior designers all the time, and I realized how much they could gain by pooling their resources and coming together.”

Of the idea’s origin, he says: “I had friends in different creative industries who would share stories about how they worked, what they needed, the challenges. So it was a natural, ongoing conversation among friends and people I worked with. The idea stayed with me for a technology that gave creative entrepreneurs business management tools and a premier working environment. I was able to put together the resources to turn a great idea into a viable business that’s much in demand, and here we are.”

How does it break down? Designers are offered month-to-month leases with four different configurations, each one a permanent residence that guarantees the same space each day as well as lockable storage. Designers can opt for open-environment spaces or private office for two or four people.

Seats range in price from $1,000 to $1,500 per month; that cost includes all amenities. Designers are also charged a monthly maintenance fee—a percentage of their projects—due only after they have been paid by their clients.

And how can designers sign up? The process is a scrupulous one. “Generally, our recruiting has been word of mouth so far. So other residents bring their colleagues to Fuigo and give them the tour,” says Riad. “If the designer seems like a good fit, they interview with me. We are very selective in our membership, seeking designers who take their art seriously and are looking to grow their business.”

The daily routine for one of Fuigo’s first tenants, designer Young Huh, hasn’t changed much, yet it seems as though there are more hours in her day: “The difference is the luxurious amenities and the additional staffing that is available around the clock,” she tells EAL. “We have a full-time library staffed with knowledgeable experts who help me source all of my projects and tell me what the latest and greatest products are. It’s no longer all on me to educate myself and take meetings to get important product information.” 

Another perk, says designer Benjamin Vandiver: “Most of my days are very, very busy—what’s refreshing is when I pass a colleague in the hallway who is also having an insane day. We can give each other a high five, grab a drink, and keep going!”

In a collective space, are there any concerns about privacy? Says Huh, “The thought had passed my mind at the very beginning, but I can tell you that would never happen here. This is a self-selecting group of the best established and up-and-coming designers with tremendous drive to innovate and pride in their unique vision.... Together, we hope to redefine how business can be done with authenticity, transparency and the best creative work. I think it would be obvious to the group if there were someone who didn’t respect the group and those values.”

Vandiver concurs: “I’ve never been concerned about protecting my ideas—what idea is really new? Fuigo has come to feel like a big family. And even though families share spaces, I’ve come to realize there is also an anonymity [here].”

By entrusting Fuigo to manage the daily nitty-gritty of running a business, says Riad, designers are freed up to focus on creative work. The Riads’ experience at Fortuny, he says, paved their way: “This is a natural extension of the work we do in the design industry, because it preserves the art of interior design by freeing designers to do what they do best, rather than spending their valuable time and energy on back-office tasks.”

Young Huh; Benjamin Vandiver; Maury Riad

“As a small business owner, in the design world, the constant juggle of my time is exhausting—client relations, designing, project management, sourcing products and fabrics, accounting, invoicing, thriving. I digress,” says Vandiver. “No, really, finding the balance in life and work is really hard. Fuigo has wrapped all of these challenges into a tiny, cute box on the seventh floor of a building in the heart of one of my favorite neighborhoods.”

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