Neighbours

Space is an issue for small businesses. In the early days Petalon operated out of James and Florence’s flat. This meant flowers on the living room floor, leaves in the dog’s bed and a build up of bits of hessian down the back of the sofa cushions. It sounds idyllic, and in some ways it was, particularly when you’re just glad to be able to keep a business afloat. But after a year or so Petalon was able to afford a bit of rent, and to be honest even if it hadn’t we would have paid it anyway for our own sanity. Not ever being able to leave work can become wearing.

This was the beginning of a journey through very wet railway arches, a frostbite-inducing tram depot and a very humid former electrical store. The amount of space we (and most small businesses) need is difficult to come by. We’re all aware that desk spaces like WeWork are becoming ubiquitous, making it very easy to rent enough space for a couple of people with computers. Equally, if you need a couple of hundred square metres there’s quite a lot of that around too. But most small businesses need a lot less, somewhere between 10 and 60 square metres, and because the demand for this kind of space outstrips the supply these businesses end up dedicating a very significant portion of their costs to rent, often for a property that fails to satsify their needs. That has certainly been the case for us.

A couple of months ago we resolved to find a solution to this. The answer we came up with was to take on a big space ourselves, then share it with some like-minded friends. That way we can all take advantage of the cost effectiveness of a larger space while not bankrupting ourselves. The process of finding a space like this is a bit of a rollercoaster. When you’re looking for a flat to rent you’re one of many, many people doing the same thing and looking for broadly similar stuff. This has an equalising effect on the market, meaning everything tends to find about the right price. Because the commercial property rental market for warehouse spaces in relatively central London with 200-300sqm of space is a lot smaller, you get some pretty wild variation in prices, which often don’t seem to directly respond to the quality of what you’re getting.

But 3 weeks ago we found our unicorn. It’s a big brick warehouse in Cambridge Heath at the south end of Hackney. We even had that amazing feeling when we walked in where you’re totally sure it’s perfect even if it’s blatantly not. Florence said something along the lines of “Yes. This one”. Cue a couple of weeks of frantic refurbishment before we move in this weekend. We’re only actually using a quarter of the space, so the next stage involves finding some friends to come and share in the fun. Our plan is to keep the space open so as to be able to enjoy the light and airiness that places like this are unique for. That means a level of intimacy between the people in the studio that you wouldn’t get in a more partitioned, sterile atmosphere, but we’re hoping to create something that benefits from that communal feeling.

We’ve reached the end of long road of studio-hopping and we’d love to find some people to really settle down in our new home with. We’re hoping to be there for a long time.

If you or a someone you know would be interested in sharing some of the space James would love to hear from you on james@petalon.co.uk.

The studio (pre-refurbishment):

2550 sq ft - 256 Cambridge Heath Road (1)-page-001.jpg
Florence Hill