In the Company of Creators
Meet the makers behind Austin’s newest creative coworking community
by Kathryn Stouffer
Interior photographs by Leonid Furmansky
Maker photographs by Claire Schaper
While some notice a need and wait for it to be filled, others feel a need and make sure it’s met. Lauren Cunningham falls in the latter camp. A trained designer, mother and budding painter, Cunningham found herself craving space from the distractions of a busy home and needing a community specific to her work. “I was noticing there weren’t very many options for creatives in Central and North Austin, so I said, ‘I guess I’ll create my own,’” she recalls. Enter The Commune, a coworking space and communal art studio housing a slew of Austin’s finest creatives.
Cunningham admits that the concept evolved over time: “At first, I thought I would just find a spot, put up a few walls and share it with some creatives to make it financially viable. Then I thought, I might as well buy a building, and that’s where I decided to marry the two ideas of an art studio and a coworking space.” In the search for a structure to give life to her idea, Cunningham laid eyes on 101 East North Loop Boulevard, and the decision was made. “This building had been vacant for 10 years, and I immediately knew this would be perfect, because this neighborhood is so creative and eclectic,” she says. “I started mapping up a basic floor plan and a super-initial business plan overnight.”
Notwithstanding the expected and understandable neighborhood challenges, given Austin’s current pace of development, Cunningham and The Commune were welcomed as a natural addition to the North Loop district. “I made an effort to attend neighborhood society meetings, to get to know how the community would respond, and they were more than receptive,” says Cunningham of The Commune’s neighbors. “I wanted this to be a space for community, not solely confined to members.”
From $30 day passes and $200 monthly coworking access to premium rates for dedicated desk space and a wait-listed private studio option, tiered membership provides flexibility for a range of needs. In addition to the typical coworking perks like craft coffee and community tables, The Commune is equipped with specialized amenities like canvas and art supply storage, mess sinks, a photo studio and a design resource library, all to accommodate the creative audience.
In order to execute on her vision of a space meant for makers, artists and creatives, Cunningham teamed up with Nick Hunt of Hunt Architecture and interior designer Claire Zinnecker. Hunt transformed a bare-bones, neglected building into the spatial achievement it is today: a beautiful clean slate for makers of all kinds.
“We felt it was very important that the space itself felt ‘made’ and not too precious,” notes Hunt. “We filled it with thoughtful details and materials shaped by local fabricators like Dusty Whipple and Petrified Design. Petrified Design was a huge part of the project, outfitting the space with steel windows, skylights and sliding-door systems, as well as the custom tables, banquette and entry desk.”
From the custom windows and concrete work surfaces to the dynamic office partitions, The Commune is refined yet not lacking in character. “The architecture of The Commune represents the ethos of making,” Hunt says. “We made sure that the space retained a sense of character and imperfection.” On what sets The Commune apart, he says, “The space provides both a place to work but also a place to create a community. The social spaces of the project are what tie it all together and make it unique.”
Cunningham and Zinnecker worked closely to complement Hunt’s structural finishes. This was the pair’s third project together, and according to Zinnecker, their “brains are pretty much in sync, making for a fluid design process.” A selection of organic materials and calming colors fosters a bright environment. “Since it caters to artists, we wanted the space to invite inspiration with every detail,” shares Zinnecker.
The palette of light-toned woods and soft neutral elements provides a backdrop for the multitude of artists buzzing among desks and studios to showcase their work. This coworking space for artists is now a hub for the creative community in north-central Austin, hosting workshops, private events and studio tours under one very well-designed roof.
By making good on her own need, Cunningham and The Commune are allowing artists, makers and designers to make in community, for community.
Zanny Cox is a born maker. “Whether it was my own jewelry creations or clothing embellishments, I usually figured out how to do it myself,” she admits. Starting with jewelry collections for local shops and art fairs, Cox has grown her business as well as the scale of her work. Cox says, “[I] didn’t feel as if my true creative expression was in these [smaller jewelry] pieces. Once I learned to translate my woven jewelry into large-scale textiles, it was like I found my voice. I process so much emotion and energy when I sit at the loom. My work is always evolving, but always a collection of adornment for the body and home.” Cunningham actually met Cox when Cox was searching for a space to showcase her weavings in Austin’s WEST studio tour. She describes the serendipitous meeting as “magic” and has since joined Cunningham in marketing and growing the culture and community of artists at The Commune. Cox is passionate about sharing her skills with the community, hosting DIY Happy Hours and weaving workshops in the multifunctional space.
Moulton is a jewelry design studio tucked inside The Commune. Jen Moulton, founder and maker, creates pieces that are deeply meaningful while still fit for everyday wear. On the personal significance of jewelry, Moulton says, “My grandmother taught me that jewelry fosters connection. She modeled that we collect jewelry over the course of our lives, wear it with love, pass it on to our loved ones, and they wear it in honor of their loved one.” Moulton jokes that Cunningham is the “RA bringing us together,” and while Moulton has outfitted a private studio for handcrafting each piece, she draws inspiration from her environment, both in and outside The Commune. Among the influences on her work, Moulton nods to “taking solo sojourns to reconnect and explore, curves and angles in everyday objects, the sun and stars, and wide-open spaces in nature.” Her sensitivity to her environment allows for beauty in the details in a minimalist gold cuff or custom heirloom piece.
Amanda McKeever and Khiem Nguyen, a humble duo, are the hands and minds behind A&K Woodworking and Design. The master makers have crafted everything from custom dishware for the Tatsu-Ya restaurant group to 30-foot bar installments. “When we moved to Austin in 2012 from Boston, we didn’t have any furniture to bring with us, so we ended up making it all. Our work was well-received from friends, so we decided to turn it into a business.” Since that time the couple have seen great success, including Nguyen’s win on last year’s NBC reality show “Making It.”
Regarding the range of projects, Nguyen explains, “Having special projects that we care about is really important to us. We like having a mix of scale, too.” The two have had a natural flow collaborating on creative projects since their days at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and their unique strengths keep A&K thriving. “Khiem studied woodworking and sculpture in school and specializes in our larger furniture pieces and build-outs, while I am more focused on our smaller line of goods, pop-up events and marketing,” says McKeever. The large-scale projects like a bar shelving installment and a 9-foot armoire are built in the couple’s garage, while smaller-scale home décor items like frames and serving platters are laser-cut in their studio in The Commune, available for viewing (and purchasing) by all visitors.