How to Understand Co-Living for Interior Designers

man and woman in the kitchen area in the morning

What are Coliving Spaces?

You might have heard of coliving, but what the term draws up is a little hazy. Something to do with co-sleeping, parents might wonder, or living with aging grandparents?

It can be hard to keep up with all the terms, but we’re here to help. Co-living is actually a new property development trend, but the concept has been around for awhile and comes in different configurations, as you’ll see. We think that interior designers should know about it!



What Does the Term Coliving Mean?

Coliving is a new term used by property developers in recent years to describe housing arrangements where residents of varying affiliations and family backgrounds voluntarily share some housing facilities and amenities. Which commodities are shared often depends on the intent of the design and also on the type of residents.

Coliving developments have become especially popular with start-up companies who are tapping into a growing greater trend. This new housing trend sees individuals who are unrelated sharing flexible housing and community amenities. Coliving can be seen as a contemporary concept for shared dwelling arrangements across single and micro family units. 

For families raising children the concept promotes the sage notion that “it takes a village to raise a child”, and that people are their most productive when cooperating with one another.


Coliving comes in a variety of methods and arrangements, but for our purposes we are talking about new developments and how through design for cooperation they can be planned to encourage smaller, closer and more interwoven communities with smaller footprints.


Coliving and the Housing Crisis

Access to the shared neighborhood is probably coliving’s greatest benefit. Coliving is a way for people to coexist with neighbors who share their values in a closed and secure community. 

As we’ll see a little further on, on the interior design side one of the ways this is accomplished is with common living areas that are fully furnished and custom-designed to foster interaction and shared experiences.


For city planners and property developers coliving developments represent the most direct way to solve a number of problems in cities with ongoing housing crises.

The solutions coliving provides include:

  • Attaining ideal city density
  • Providing inexpensive dwellings

In places like New York and the San Francisco Bay Area, especially, co-living arrangements may be seen as a viable alternative and solution to the urban housing problem which gets worse every year.

Coliving presents new opportunities for builders in the property market. And where property trends set in, interior designers will feel the ripples!


How Does Coliving Work?

Co-living spaces are built in strategic locations near workplaces. Usually these businesses are located near to tech parks or busy commercial districts.

One of the benefits to coliving is that the lengthy daily travel that one might anticipate in a big city is greatly reduced. With more time dedicated to working or recreation rather than to commuting, residents of coliving communities can theoretically be more proactive and effective!

Affordable co-living spaces are way less expensive compared to renting an apartment, for example. In fact, the gap between these two solutions can reach 60% or 70% in some places!


woman standing beside red train
Cutting down on commute time is a big factor in choosing smaller, more compact and flexible housing options like co-living communities.

Because co-living spaces are designed to include more communal amenities, individual housing units do not have to be as big and consequently amenity costs are not outrageously high, either.

Coliving is especially popular with the younger Y and Z generations, who see the benefit in being greener and having a smaller foot print. Upon moving into a coliving community new residents find that everything is mostly organized for them, so only minimal set up (such as laundry, cooking and some furniture and recreational installments) is needed.


Who Should Consider Coliving Spaces?

People from all walks of life who appreciate both community and individuality should consider coliving. It provides a way to be social, while also having adequate privacy in the living arrangement.

Smaller coliving communities encourage more interaction. In coliving spaces residents might come together around the shared desire to pick up knowledge and skills from others around them. This comes easily and naturally with shared communal space.

Residents in coliving communities also respect how sharing expenses and resources may decrease waste and positively influence the environment. It’s possible for habitants to collaborate on shopping, carpooling, and community maintenance, for example.


Coliving is ideal for a wide subset of the population

  • Those looking to reduce living costs and waste
  • Parents starting new families or with young kids
  • Multi-generation households
  • Employees moving to a new career
  • Students going to an undergraduate or graduate school
  • Professionals working from home
  • Entrepreneurs launching a new business
  • Seasonal visitors
  • Digital Nomads
  • People who want to live in smarter, greener and more self-sufficient homes

A flexible and unfurnished lifestyle benefits young people, business owners, artists, interns, students, tourists, remote workers, and many more.  Coliving has benefits for them personally as well as for their community and the environment.  Win-win!

Young people, particularly millennials, have embraced the idea of exchanging rides, activities, and homes in today’s sharing economy. In big cities, coliving only makes this more convenient and approachable.


What are the Benefits of Coliving?

people inside the hall

Coliving for Different Types of People

The benefits of coliving are many, but keep in mind that the idea of coliving can mean different things to different people.

For some business people living in upmarket coliving developments, it’s an opportunity to grow their networking skills or practice teamwork in a novel setting. For others living in more informal coliving arrangments it coliving might be more about fostering friendships.

For extraverted types coliving can be an opportunity to restore equilibrium to a hectic work schedule or a chance to build new connections through sharing.


Millennials and the Growing Shared Economy

Today’s workforce is more skeptical than ever about employment’s purpose and logic. The younger generations, as we mentioned, including those of generations X, Y and Z have been forced to accept change and quickly adjust to less-than-ideal economic conditions.

However, the upside to this is that the demand for quick change has resulted in beneficial developments like the growth of a vibrant worldwide co-working scene and, in more recent times, a renewed interest in cooperative living.


As cooperation continues to drive society forward there is already a global network of professionals that would prefer collaboration over the competition, and this idea has grown more mainstream. This new adaptable and creative workforce is willing to share more than just a workstation, and is eager to push the limits of the current workforce.

Workers want to introduce the fun of the weekend to work rather than just continuing to work for the weekend. Cooperative and coliving spaces mix well with shared office spaces and the flexibility of being able to work from anywhere. Nothing wrong with that!


What are the Different Types of Cooperative Living Concepts?

There are many traditional variations in communal-type living, from planned communities for families with small children to businesses that construct brand-new structures for businessmen and digital nomads to enjoy. These arrangements include:

  • Informal (or “traditional”) shared housing: In informal or traditional coliving, several persons share a rental agreement and equip a house. They can connect through their networks or through sites such as Craigslist.
  • Adult dorms: Although they might not identify as such, this type of coliving is comparable to a hotel or college dorm: a swath of modest (but typically private) bedrooms line halls that lead to communal areas shared by a large number of individuals. Hundreds of people can live together in this type of dwelling.
  • Co-ops: Residents in cooperative housing agree to work shifts during which they share the chores of cooking, cleaning, and managing the home. Co-ops are often democratically run, and members choose the board of directors during their house meetings and vote on other matters. Co-ops typically have more than 100 residents and are larger houses.
  • Co-housing: As a way to foster community and divide responsibilities among families, co-housing became popular in Denmark in the 1960s. Single-family homes are arranged around a common area in co-housing communities, which are often multigenerational and have shared green areas and planned events. In some countries, like South Africa, gated communities offer additional security.

group of people standing inside room

What Types of Coliving Homes are Available?

Coliving in the contemporary sense is often a full building with separate apartments.

Arrangements with 30 to 90 units are most prevalent in new coliving developments. A studio or one-bedroom apartment fully furnished with standard household items is referred to as a unit. These types of units are perfect for those who want both community life and also solitude. 

Who it’s for: A couple that wants privacy and a certain level of seclusion but doesn’t want to live alone will find this arrangement suitable, for example.


Apartment Buildings with Common Spaces

These are usually buildings containing between 3 and 10 units. They generally comprise 2 or 3 bedrooms, where you may choose between a private room for one person or a bed in a double room for two people. Even so, the entire structure is geared to residents and has communal areas like a patio or community hall, or pool. 

Who it’s for: This is perfect if you want to avoid remaining alone while living alone in a new city.


Private home or Apartment with Shared Living Areas (Cohousing)

Typically, these are standalone three to four bedroom condos in separate structures. The autonomous building is designed for independent living; it’s more of a private house shared without gender constraints. You can choose between a single separate suite or even share one.

Who it’s for: This is perfect if you want to avoid being alone after moving a new city.


Many Choices

Cities across the world serve as the centers of both burgeoning and established businesses. They are often a melting pot of cultures due to the influx of people from across the nation and even the world.

There is a clear opportunity for co-living providers to take advantage of this potential and offer inclusive, reasonably priced, and adaptable housing for professionals and students.  It is likely that more housing developments will be built with coliving in mind in the future.


Why is There Renewed Interest in Coliving Housing?

The idea of co-living has existed for a very long time, but it has only recently gained popularity on a global scale. The prominence of the digital economy, and millennials’ search for alternative living arrangements are largely responsible for the trend.


The idea of a “home away from home” is being redefined by the new housing concept, and this is especially appealing to the younger working-class crowd. A co-living arrangement offers young people access to others who share similar values and interests, all living together under one roof. It’s a great way to make friends.

Residents of coliving houses can share amenities and common areas, and often come to treat each other like family. This is especially true in a foreign city when their own families and friends are thousands of miles away!


What is the Difference Between Coliving Spaces and Shared Housing?

modern multistory apartment building in city

Coliving can be thought of as flexible living.  It describes a situation in which several people share a single residence which has been created with that purpose in mind. Residents would share common areas like the balcony, kitchen, and living room, but each has their bedroom (and occasionally restrooms).

Shared housing (or flat-sharing), on the other hand, involves several individuals living together in a regular house that presumably wasn’t constructed with that purpose in mind.

Takeaway: Though the terms coliving and shared housing may have a similar sound, they are very different. Coliving spaces are well designed for the purposes of sharing, shared housing units are often not adequately designed for sharing.


Area and Facilities

Each tenant of a coliving (or flexible living) space will have a separate room of varied sizes constructed around common community facilities, including indoor or outdoor living spaces.

On the other hand, shared housing is your typical suburban home or apartment constructed to house families.

Each tenant will have a separate room, similar to coliving, while the kitchen and bathrooms are located across the entire house. However, there is only one “main” bedroom available, which may or may not have an ensuite, and most bedrooms are a little bigger than a study.

Rental Costs

One of the big appeal factors when it comes to coliving is that the rental costs for are all-inclusive. Coliving facilities include all necessary services and conveniences, like Wi-Fi, water, energy, maintenance, weekly room housekeeping, etc. You won’t have to think about paying your electricity bills on time, setting up a Wi-Fi mesh network, and paying up when the hot water system malfunctions.

Shared housing arrangements depend on the agreement between tenants and can vary from month to month.


For Interior Designers: What are the Opportunities for Interior Designers in Designing Co-Living Spaces?

a man working imside an office

If you are a commercial interior designer looking to expand into this niche or specialty, it’s helpful to know a few key things when considering your design direction.


1. Use Interior Design to Foster Community

What sets a coliving space apart from a typical hotel or any short-term residence are primarily the people who live there and the friendships formed. While many already perceive design from an aesthetic perspective, it plays an especially critical role in the growth of co-living and the creation of communities.


Ultimately, the design must contain unified elements that communicates specific ideals and draws a particular type of person who will identify with them. By attracting the right residents through attractive design coliving arrangements can create likeminded communities over time. These communities form social groups that are much more likely to experience positive dynamics.

To ensure that the coliving concept’s message is understood, designers must continuously consider branding and work closely with the marketing team. Sometimes coliving developments have a logo or brand aesthetic that can inform an interior design concept for a coliving development. Modern and eclectic designs do best for coliving concepts.

Some studies have shown that more traditional interiors will likely appeal to a broader range of people. In the end, for the expense traditional interiors will have far less to contribute, regardless of how beautifully put together it could be. And without creating a sense of community, co-living becomes meaningless.


2. Design with Greater Versatility and Impact

After determining the message to transmit and the visual representation, a designer must also take flexibility into account. Co-living situations offer a lot of unique design challenges and in turn, interesting solutions.

Interior designers understand what it is means to be flexible to adapt their designs to any space. Whether it’s brand-new construction or renovating an ageing restaurant, retail, or another facility.  Designers who are able to come up with good co-living designs will no doubt be able to carve out a niche for themselves in this evolving space. Whether its working with developers or doing their own co-living renovations, there is yet much potential to be explored.


Co-living has become increasingly popular in recent years, with short-term rentals by single young professionals being the primary target of specially constructed buildings in this market.

During the lockdown, many renters around the UK discovered that their social lives suffered dramatically, endangering a crucial aspect of their mental health.

Although many co-living buildings already have common areas like lounges, gyms, and sun terraces, developers will likely elevate these features to a different level in the post-COVID future.

The goal is to establish a community inside every building where inhabitants may decide how much or how little they want to connect, allowing them to retain a healthy relationship despite their hectic schedules and other limitations.


Less Separation Between Home and Work Life

Alongside residential zones, coworking spaces are anticipated to be seen in more Co-Living locales. This seems like a logical next step, especially in light of the increasing use of flexible work environments and remote or hybrid working instances.

Smart Technology

The COVID crisis has also highlighted the need for cutting-edge technologies in residential settings. For instance, increasing numbers of shared buildings are investing in smart locks, keyless & cardless entry, and another network scanning.

A growing number of people are utilising remote & automatic services for tasks like scheduling maintenance visits and paying rent.


Examples of Co-living Communities

Above: A successful coliving community was designed in Bali by German architect Alexis Dornier, who converted three run down apartment blocks into one large shared living and working arrangement. Image Credit and original story at Arch DailyOpens in a new tab.

This co-living community in Ubud was dubbed “a paradigm of a micro-society” by German architect Alexis Dornier. Renters have access to shared rooftop lounge areas, a sunbathing deck, a pool house, a shared kitchen, a cafe, a yoga studio, and a BBQ garden, in addition to renting serviced apartments with private bathrooms.

In Nagoya, Japan, there are 13 bedrooms in a combined coliving and coworking space called SharehouseOpens in a new tab.. The 7.2 square meter rooms are built around voids that house communal open-concept living, eating, and kitchen facilities.

The Collective Old Oak CommonOpens in a new tab. is a co-living space in the UK which boasts more than 550 beds and is billed as the largest co-living property in the world. It has been designed to provide residents with so many activities that they’ll never need to exit the building. The property includes apartments with shared common rooms and a coworking area, restaurant, gym, theatre, spa, and laundromat.


WeLiveOpens in a new tab., the first co-living initiative from the global coworking giant WeWork was converted from vacant office space and featured 200 fully equipped and serviced residential flats.

Young professionals living in the four-story block intended to experience a student-like lifestyle over four house-shaped volumes, with long balconies offering an unusual outdoor area in the crowded Bokjeong-Dong neighborhood in Seoul, South Korea..

Salva46Opens in a new tab. Two live-work spaces with a combined kitchen, dining area and living space were created in a 65 square meter co-living flat in Barcelona, Spain. The occupants can invite each other into their homes thanks to sliding partitions.

To learn more about these and other interesting co-living developments read “Six of the Best Co-Living Developments Around the WorldOpens in a new tab.” on Dezeen.


This concludes our discussion on how to understand co-living for interior designers. Would you consider designing with the needs of multiple families and generations in mind? Multi-generational living is on the rise and interior designers who can design these types of spaces should see higher demand in future.

Co-living communities represent an important part of the push toward revitalizing inner cities and creating smaller, safer, cleaner and more flexible spaces.

Are you excited for the future of urban and interior design? We are. We think design can change the world.

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vonsassy

Designer, writer & educator living in East Asia since 2001

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