The Pyramid of Coliving Needs

The Pyramid of Coliving Needs

11 min read

Design made by the talented @_katherholt

This is a guest post from Jackson Steger, who leads Growth at Cabin. Cabin is building a global coliving network for creators and remote workers who want to live immersed in nature. He is also the author of Future of Living. He writes about the design space for living models at the intersection of changing social norms (remote work, gig economy) and an evolving infrastructure tech stack (satellite internet, renewable energy).


In a world where loneliness is a growing epidemic, coliving offers a solution by connecting people in spaces designed for community and personal growth.

But what makes a coliving space truly great? How can we create environments that meet our basic needs for shelter and security and help us grow as individuals? How might we coordinate to create an incredible living experience at a low cost? 

One way to answer these questions is by looking at the Pyramid of Coliving Needs. This visual framework results from recording 30+ interviews with leaders reimagining how we live (including both for-profit and DIY coliving contexts). My experience also informs it of coliving across multiple countries and a dozen US cities.

Good coliving is designed from the ground up and the top down simultaneously. In this post, we'll explore the different tiers of the Pyramid of Coliving Needs and what they mean for designing and building successful coliving spaces. I hope they prove helpful for folks designing a coliving property or building one with their friends.

Basic needs: The base of the pyramid

Adopt the following principles to lay a good foundation for a well-designed coliving space.

Don’t cheapen the essentials: For residents, a coliving environment is their home - providing a smooth and comfortable living experience is crucial. Beds, sheets, WiFi, and work spaces should be top-of-the-line. Knowing that folks are sleeping well and are set up for success when they work is a worthwhile investment. Get good mattresses. Splurge on the 500mbps WiFi speeds. Buy some standing desks. Many spend most of their day sleeping or working - these small touches will improve everyone’s day-to-day experience. 

Design for serendipity: Don’t hope for connection between residents - engineer it. A wishy-washy resident happy hour once a month won’t create the deep connections that fuel supportive and caring environments, but repeated organic connections will. Strangers become friends through a combination of shared interests and shared time. You can impact the latter by designing a space so residents more easily bump into one another throughout their day. To do this, the best coliving spaces embrace the architectural pattern of caves and commons.

Caves and commons are what it sounds like: You want a combination of private caves (where people sleep) surrounding common areas used by all. When folks leave their cave, they must navigate through the commons, where they can more easily interact with others in the community.

Don’t put shared resources on a roof or in a basement that nobody will visit unprompted. If your community spends significant money on great amenities (a worthwhile endeavor if you have a committed core group of co-owners), then you should place those amenities in the common spaces and walkways so they get used. When folks pass by shared spaces during their daily rhythms, there is a higher chance that they activate the spaces and foster unplanned group hangouts.

In short, make it easy to find friends and enjoy a space.

Enable high degrees of privacy: Contrary to popular belief, many introverts love coliving. Even though these can be highly stimulating and social environments, introverts appreciate that they can enter and exit their caves on their terms.

Private bedrooms are great. But some other coliving houses may opt for denser living accommodations to accommodate people with tighter budgets. Japanese-style pods or rooms w/ dividers are an equally affordable way to provide a better privacy experience. Even in the case of shared bedrooms, aim to design for as much audio-visual privacy as possible. 

I’ve found that thicker wooden walls effectively cancel noise from outside.

Create shared mobility: The best way to ensure someone doesn’t feel trapped is to give them a way to escape. As fun as coliving environments are, folks will still want to come and go as they please. For that, they need transportation options. As a resident, I always appreciate how access to shared transportation options (like house bikes or car share agreements) enables me to explore the larger contexts of the coliving community I’m visiting.

Many coliving residents might be too nomadic to deal with the logistics of owning their own vehicle or another form of transportation. Your community can expand the radius that someone can travel outside your coliving hub by providing shared bikes, scooters, and skateboards. You can even do this with cars or minivans in high-trust communities. Depending on your comfort level, you may want some written agreements here.

The middle of the pyramid (part 1): Amenities

Amenities usually are included on traditional apartment marketing websites or hotel Instagram pages but rarely are used (often because these places don’t engineer for serendipity, as discussed above).

But in the context of coliving, here are the amenities that I’ve found consistently add value, get used, and help make for an incredible living experience:

  1. An industrial kitchen for making meals for large groups. Two dishwashing machines are preferred to one. Large pots, good grill surface area, and ample fridge storage will help support the density of folks living near each other. For larger communities, Micro-kitchens scattered elsewhere across the property offer additional, more “chill” cooking spaces. 
  2. Saunas. This will run you about $2-12k, depending on your chosen model. It seems silly until you try it. Saunas lead to increased metabolism, weight loss, better sleep, improved muscle recovery, and reduced soreness. We built one at Cabin’s Neighborhood Zero coliving property, and it gets used almost every single night, year-round.
  3. A gym/yoga studio. This can be scaled up or down depending on the spending power of your coliving group. The low end is a bench and a pair of adjustable dumbbells you leave in a yard or multipurpose room. The middle end of this includes cardio machines or a shared Peloton. The high-end is a premium facility or a dedicated sporting complex. Whatever you choose, aim to offer something that allows residents to move their bodies! This is especially powerful when it's too cold or rainy for outdoor activities.
  4. A hot tub. Probably more of a hassle than anything else on this list, but who doesn’t like a hot tub?
  5. A cold plunge. The health benefits are well documented, and a cold tub pairs nicely with a sauna/hot tub. The minimally viable version of these is also very cheap.
  6. Creator spaces. Podcast studios and recording equipment ready-made for creators will surely attract artists, musicians, and many others who make content for a living. Just be sure that the WiFi works in those spaces, too - I once signed a three-month coliving lease and was excited to use a podcasting space, only to learn that the internet connection was too weak for calls. At Cabin, we intend to build a network of properties that are creator-first
  7. A movie theater or a lounge with ample seating around a TV. Don’t have this in the main social area; folks will inevitably be sucked into whatever passive content someone consumes. Multipurpose rooms don’t work. But there is something wholesome to a movie night with friends or watching a basketball game/reality show/live cultural moment together - so it’s nice to have as an option.

Do you need all of these? Absolutely not. IMO, the kitchen is the only required amenity from this list because everybody eats daily, and a large, well-stocked kitchen can become a practical social space and serve an essential function.

But one of the reasons why coliving is so special is because the density and many residents pooling their money allow many premium amenities to suddenly become affordable because of economies of scale. If your community can share these costs, you can deliver a higher-value living experience for everyone.

The middle of the pyramid (part 2): Community Norms

Cool perks like the ones listed above can only get you so far - the true magic of coliving comes from having cohesive communities. Roommate bickering is nothing new, and coliving introduces more housemates than many have had before. It’s imperative to have principles or norms that a community upholds and that each resident agrees to follow.

Each coliving community should have natural and organic norms - no one-size-fits-all exists. Below are some examples that I have seen work well, but this is by no means an exhaustive list:

  1. Chefs rotate and co-create. Coliving communities should either split the cost of hiring a private chef (surprisingly affordable after 15+ housemates) or have a rotating schedule of cooking shifts. This way, everyone knows they can count on a warm meal with friends at the end of each day, but without the overhead of committing to making meals every night. Nothing is more special than when a resident cooks an old family recipe to share with the group. Encourage folks to bring these cherished, nostalgic tastes to the group.
  2. Chefs don’t clean. If you want coliving members to cook for the community each/most nights, whoever cooks on any night should not have to do dishes.
  3. Cheer the opt-out. Some people mistakenly think that just because you live in a coliving community means you must do all the activities and participate in all the meals. That should not be the case at all. While paying members should be welcome at all events, nobody should be required to attend. Everyone has different commitments and energy levels.
  4. Adopt do-ocracy. Do-ocracy encourages community members closest to a decision to make any small, cheap, and easily reversible decision. Group decision-making runs the risk of being slow and overcomplicated. “Do-ocracy” (Cabin member Phil Levin writes about here) effectively counteract these flaws and empowers residents to act on the to-dos the community needs most.
  5. Utilize a brag channel. We make the mistake of stigmatizing bragging. If you create a culture of bragging when you complete chores, it enables two things. 1) You get props for doing things that help the community, and your work doesn’t go unnoticed. 2) Other people notice chores being done at a higher rate and feel compelled to contribute to the common good. 

Norms should be minimal and bottom-up. Have community members introduce them in response to situations native to your coliving hub, and then communicate the norms clearly to new members as they enter the community.

The top of the pyramid: Community Intention

A governing community's intention helps to tie the pyramid together. It helps to attract a specific community of individuals who share a common interest or goal.

I mentioned earlier that strangers become friends through shared interests and shared time. A community intention is a way to get members of your coliving hub to self-select their shared interests. For example, a coliving hub focused on wellness might attract residents interested in a lifestyle filled with yoga, meditation, and healthy eating. This can create a sense of camaraderie and support among residents, contributing to a positive living experience.

Cabin is building a coliving network for creators who love living in nature. Here are a few more example themes that different coliving communities might adopt:

  • A space for musicians to collaborate daily
  • A hacker house for founders and entrepreneurs
  • A place for dancers to always have the opportunity to improve their craft
  • A group of nutrition-conscious roommates could design their environment to best support their diet
  • A space for environmentalists to live sustainably
  • A coliving community that promotes social justice and activism
  • A community of pet owners
  • A space for fitness enthusiasts to train and work out together
  • A hub for spiritual seekers and practitioners
  • A coliving space for seniors
  • A community of gamers and esports enthusiasts
  • A space for outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers
  • A space for makers and DIY enthusiasts

A governing intention can also help create a cohesive community culture. When residents are aligned around a shared intention, it can help develop a sense of purpose and direction for the community, which can lead to more meaningful interactions and collaborations between residents.

A specific intention can also help to differentiate a coliving hub from others in the market. By offering a unique value proposition, such as a focus on wellness or creativity, a coliving hub can attract residents specifically seeking that type of experience. This can help create a loyal community of residents invested in the coliving hub's mission and values for the long run. 

Let’s Build

The Pyramid of Coliving Needs provides a visual framework for designing and building successful coliving spaces, from the basic needs of shelter and security to the amenities and community norms that make a space truly great. By embracing these principles, groups can design incredible living experiences that enrich the lives of their residents and foster new friendships in an increasingly lonely world. 

We need the next generation of gatherers and caretakers to become these communities' leaders.

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