Today is located in Hackney, just a few minutes walk from Hackney Central Overground station. Downstairs, there is a cafe, a seating area and a small event space which looks out on to the building’s courtyard. An adjoining room houses 29 desks, lockers, a kitchen area and two soundproof booths for private meetings or quiet study. On the first floor, there is an open plan office with space for up to 40 staff, which can be rented out to one or two companies.
Décor is minimal – Accept & Proceed worked with Aldworth, James & Bond to design the interiors – with white walls, black kitchens, grey flooring and tables and chairs in unfinished wood. 3D icons signpost facilities such as bike storage and printers, and retailer GoodHood has curated accessories and toiletries for the building, including lighting and plant pots.
Accept & Proceed founders David Johnston and Matthew Jones say they wanted to create an understated environment, giving creatives a blank canvas while providing all of the facilities they would need to work (such as 1GBps internet speed, bike storage and printers). Branding is restrained – Today’s logo is no-where to be seen, aside from on staff uniforms and signage outside.
“We wanted to create a space that supports creatives, but in a way that’s not overbearing”
“From our research, we found that a lot of co-working environments that exist have a very strong brand presence, but I think that would jar with me, taking clients to a space like that,” says Johnston. “We wanted to create a space that supports creatives, but in a way that’s not overbearing.”
Desks cost £350 a month – it’s more than other studio spaces in the area, but a great deal less than some of the co-working spaces available in Shoreditch and the West End. Accept & Proceed hope to rent desks to people from a range of creative backgrounds, placing freelancers who’ve just started out alongside small teams and more established entities. Current tenants include a programmer, a journalist and a children’s book illustrator. The space will also host regular events for tenants and local creatives, including talks from people running successful studios or businesses.
As well as designing interiors with Aldworth, James & Bond, Accept & Proceed worked with the company to create furniture for the café, and with designer Christopher Raeburn to create a smart black-and-white sweatshirt for staff. Johnston says the studio aims to create more products with other designers, using Today as a testing ground before putting ideas to market. “When you’re creating products with a real vision [or brief] in mind, there’s a danger the design process can become quite self indulgent – but we’ve got the opportunity to use Today as a test bed for products that we create. Anything relating to this environment is a potential target – from furniture through to stationery, through to products in the café … and we’d love to design an office chair,” he explains.
“Often, ideas just sit on the drawing room floor”
Accept & Proceed has taken on a number of self-initiated and multi-disciplinary design projects. Since 2013, the studio has curated exhibitions and creating interactive and digital installations for 43m3, a gallery space in its Haggerston studio which looks on to the street. It has also worked on a diverse range of commercial commissions, from a clothing range for Rapha to impressive digital installations and data visualisations for Nike.
Today is in part an extension of Johnston and Jones’ desire to work with designers from other fields on more varied projects, says Johnston. Renovating the building has been a huge undertaking – while Accept & Proceed has experience of fitting out buildings (it renovated its own studio), creating a business offering workspaces to other creatives has been a learning curve and a major investment.
“It’s the biggest thing we’ve ever done and invested in, and there has been some trepidation, but we all really believe in what we’re doing,” says Johnston. “I think [it helps] if you really understand who you’re speaking to, which we do. We’ve been this person at every stage – I went from setting up the company in my basement flat in Brighton, to working at someone else’s studio in Farringdon, to trying to find a studio space in Bethnal Green – and I’m using that experience to create this. I’m really proud of us all [at Accept & Proceed] because often, ideas just sit on the drawing room floor and you never actually follow them through, because they’re too daunting, or it’s too much hard work. I’m really pleased we’ve persevered and got to this stage.”
“I think there’s a real need for independent co-working spaces”
With soaring rents creating huge demand, the number of co-working spaces in London is growing rapidly. Specialist companies like WeWork and CoWorks operate multiple buildings across the capital; the Soho House Group opened a luxurious workspace for creatives in Shoreditch’s Tea Building earlier this year, complete with a bar, photographic studio, library and workshop, and US start-up Breather – described as an Airbnb for office space, which allows users to rent desks for as little as 30 minutes – has just landed in the city following successful launches in San Francisco, New York City, Boston, Chicago and Montreal. The co-working industry is now hugely profitable, and even big brands are getting involved – KPMG has recently taken over a space at the Interchange building in Camden, offering mentoring to local creative businesses, while Google runs a partnership with TechHub, which runs workspaces and events for entrepreneurs in seven cities.
But alongside vast co-working spaces run by global companies, Johnston believes there is still a real need for smaller, independent studios which are run by creatives, for creatives – and that don’t exist purely to make a profit.
“I don’t think these big, commercially run enterprises are necessarily good for the creative industry, because I don’t think it allows individuals to really be able to thrive creatively,” he adds. Likening the rise in vast co-working spaces to the trend for offices filled with private booths in the 70s and 80s, he says: “It [the modular office layout] was meant to be a liberating design that allowed people to configure different environments, but it ended up being this kind of battery chicken set up, where you would try to fit as many people as possible into a space … and I think if we’re not careful, we could end up creating a similarly homogenised environment that is quite overbearing, and doesn’t enable people to find their creative forte and try something new,” he says.
“We’re a small independent design agency which allows us to be quite limber in the way we operate, and we’re taking that same approach with co-working. Just in the same way you need big and small design agencies, I think you need big and small co-working environments. If our concept grows, we want to be mindful of where it came from and not be running it for commercial reasons first and foremost,” he adds.
“The fact that London is becoming so expensive … is a big concern”
Today has space for less than 100 people but for the tenants it rents to, Johnston hopes the building will provide them not just with a space to work, but access to a support network and community of like-minded creatives. He also hopes the building will provide a more affordable alternative to central London workspaces, which are often out of reach to new businesses and people just starting out.
“The fact that London is becoming so expensive, that students are facing issues with living and working in the city, I think is a big concern. It’s a much bigger concern than we can tackle with this one project, but hopefully we’re helping in some small way,” he adds.
For more info about Today, see todaystudios.co