“We commissioned an artist to design the exterior of the building and, as you can see, it’s quite eye-catching,” said Jonathan, speaking to Allwork.Space.
“We wanted something bold, to give us an identity that you can recognise. It’s definitely become something of a talking point in the area. So it’s doing what we wanted it to do.
“We keep seeing it on Instagram – people love using it as their backdrop.”
The Coalface has become synonymous with art, but not just because of its unusual exterior.
Through a partnership with Creative Debuts, a platform that matches emerging artists with coworking and other commercial spaces, The Coalface has become a gallery for up-and-coming artists by enabling them to showcase their work to the local community.
All the artwork is available to buy, but the coworking space doesn’t take any commission on sales. “We just provide a great exhibition space and, in return, get some very cool artwork from some great up-and-coming artists.”
The art is rotated regularly, which also creates an ever-changing aesthetic for workspace members.
“When I originally selected the artwork for the first rotation it was very early days for us so the decision was just on me, without any member input. As with the mural on the outside of the building, I wanted to create something that reflected my vision for the personality of The Coalface and the initial art is all very colourful and bold and modern.
“Thankfully, this seems to have gone down well with our members – we certainly haven’t had any complaints! And of course, as we prepare for the next rotation, they can feed into it if they want to.”
Members are invited to vote for their choice of artwork ahead of each rotation, which gives them greater control over the aesthetic they work in.
The placement is arranged in a gallery style, so each wall displays a different artist and ensures rich variation in style, colour and texture throughout the space, which is amplified by the building’s high ceilings and natural light.
“When we undertake viewings with prospective candidates, it definitely helps leave an impression of who we are and what we are about.”
Is it worth the extra effort?
Art may be a passion for Jonathan, but running a coworking space already demands a significant amount of time and resources. Is managing an art portfolio worth the extra effort?
Jonathan has found that by partnering with Creative Debuts, he is able to offload any time-consuming admin, such as purchase enquiries or payment transactions, to their team.
“Creative Debuts manage pretty much all of the logistics involved. For example, they manage any sales – we just put interested buyers in contact with them and they take care of it. My role is simply to choose the art that we want to display, and where we display it.
“It’s a brilliant project. You have to make a lot of decisions when embarking on a project like The Coalface, but this was definitely a good one.”
While most design elements of a coworking space are fixed for the long term – such as decor, flooring, and furnishings – artwork can be moved and changed quickly and easily.
“Overnight we can change the artwork and create a whole new look; it means we can evolve our environment and keep it fresh.
“That’s the beauty of being an independent space. We’re in control of our own environment.”
Building interactions through art
In addition to creating a unique look and feel inside the space, Jonathan has found that the art triggers conversations between people and helps their members form closer bonds.
“Art is so subjective. It opens discussions, engages people, and encourages conversations.”
Case in point, five members of The Coalface, each working for different companies and initially sharing open space, have since joined forces and are now renting a large office together.
“That’s what we have been working to create – a community style environment with like-minded people, working together,” added Jonathan.
“This shows it’s working.”
Based north of London, The Coalface is the only space in the area. While this may seem a disadvantage, it has benefited from people who have been priced out of central areas and, on visiting, have appreciated The Coalface’s quirky and unique style.
“When people see the space here, it’s a mind change. We have a successful niche, and word of mouth has definitely helped us grow.”
Like any new space, it takes time to build connections with the local community and educate entrepreneurs on the benefits of coworking. The Coalface is no exception. But six months in, the brand is steadily gaining traction and its shared space is already reaching capacity.
Looking ahead, Jonathan is focused on continuing to build on their positive culture at The Coalface. In the same way that the team asks members which pieces of artwork they like to see on the walls – and which they don’t – The Coalface focuses on “encouraging feedback and two-way conversations.”
“We have a ‘hands on’ approach and we’re always looking for ways to bring our members closer together,” added Jonathan.
“That’s the advantage of being a small and independently operated space. We have the freedom to be what people want us to be.”
Jo is Allwork.Space's Senior Editor for the UK and Europe. Jo has worked within business centre and coworking circles since 2009, researching and contributing written features for numerous industry publications. She reports on the latest market news and delves into local issues with one main objective: to champion the flexible workspace industry and its members.