Mr Joshua Abram

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Mr Joshua Abram

Words by Mr John Brodie | Photography by Mr Bill Gentle

7 October 2015

Sick of the office? The NeueHouse founder and co-CEO offers a more stylish alternative.

When Mr Joshua Abram, co-founder and co-CEO of NeueHouse, was nine years old, his mother was on the co-op board of the landmark Manhattan building The Dakota. Mr John Lennon and Ms Yoko Ono wanted to move in. “I remember that there was this massive resistance,” he says. “‘Oh, there will be people gawking outside the building. They’ll be noisy.’ For whatever reason, the interview took place in our apartment, and my mother (saint that she was) let me hang around,” says Abram, as he drinks a coffee in one of NeueHouse’s video-conference rooms on a Friday afternoon. In the background, a food trolley delivers snacks to members busy pounding out business plans, scripts and novels on MacBooks. He continues: “John and Yoko arrived, and they were bourgeois perfection. They looked like they were going to have tea with the Queen. I was just sitting on the floor agog and then my mother said, ‘Mr Lennon, I hope you won’t mind, but my son is such a fan of your work, would it be all right if he asked you a question?’ All I could think of was the negative conversations I had heard over the past few weeks about the Lennons, so I just blurted out, ‘Are you going to throw many wild parties?’ There was awkward silence.”

Today, Mr Abram is subtler when interviewing potential members for NeueHouse, a shared Manhattan office space set in a five-storey, 1913 industrial building, just a short walk from Madison Square Park. A branch in Los Angeles in the old CBS Radio Building on Sunset Boulevard opened in October, and a London outpost in the Art Deco Adelphi building near The Savoy Hotel is scheduled for a spring 2016 opening.

The ground floor of the 50,000sq ft Manhattan flagship includes a café, a lecture space and conference rooms

Other expansion plans are afoot. Having recently raised $25m from a Hong Kong-based real-estate investment trust, the management team envisions opening 20 more NeueHouses in roughly a dozen creative capitals over the next five years.

The interiors of the New York flagship combine industrial chic with mid-century modern touches. Starchitect Mr David Rockwell designed the space, working with Ms Cristina Azario (Mr Abram’s wife), a former creative director at textile company Frette, and Principal of the NeueHouse Design Studio, which directs the company’s approach to design. The first floor features long, library-style tables, crackled-leather sofas and The Canteen, a café that serves a full menu through to a light dinner. A new bar called “Downstairs” serves drinks after gin o’clock.

The basement has a full broadcasting studio and a screening room. The upper floors bear a slight resemblance to Sterling Cooper’s office during the penultimate season of Mad Men. These floors are divided into small studios designed to permanently house teams of between four and 20 people. In the evening and on weekends, there are cultural activities: painter Mr Walton Ford, author Sir Salman Rushdie and designer Sir Paul Smith have all given talks. Unlike Soho House or The Groucho Club, you get the sense that folks here prefer networking to drinking and hooking up (sigh).

There are degrees of membership. Annual membership ranges between $250 a month (primarily for evenings, weekends and access to cultural programming) to $1,500 a month per person for those who maintain their permanent office at NeueHouse. Members from one location can access all Houses around the globe. By contrast, desks at WeWork (a less stylish communal workspace) start at $350.

Private offices feature sliding partitions to create flexible workspaces

Conceptual art appears throughout the space

Demand has been steady since the New York flagship opened in 2013, and within 90 days the club was oversubscribed with several hundred members. (The LA branch is on a similar trajectory.) Its popularity speaks to the different ways that professionals in the club’s core industries – film, publishing, advertising, architecture and the arts – are approaching their careers. Either by choice or through attrition, many of these “solopreneurs” are no longer part of big media companies, so they are taking advantage of the ability to build a business with little or no staff. Or, as Mr Abram puts it: “Twenty five years ago, if you wanted to do something really ambitious and grand, you had very few options that didn’t involve going to work for The Man who controlled the distribution, the platforms and the capital. And we all know that is a very different situation now.”

The membership roll includes Ms Julie Gilhart, a fashion consultant who formerly led the buying team at Barneys; Mr Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records; Ms Judy McGrath, who was chairwoman and CEO of MTV Networks; Mr Jefferson Hack, co-founder and editorial director of the Dazed Group; and Mr Michael Hainey, author of the bestselling memoir After Visiting Friends. Fifty per cent of the firms based here are led by women; 40 per cent of the members hold foreign passports.

The idea for NeueHouse came to Mr Abram and his co-founder Mr Alan Murray during their time as tech entrepreneurs (their greatest hits include Dstillery [sic] and Integral AdScience). Coming out of the recession, they noticed a collision between big city real estate and the entrepreneurial moment. “Alan and I thought it was an interesting time to rethink what would be the ideal experience for people running or starting firms in the creative industries globally,” he says.

Workers share communal desks beneath the gaze of an artwork by Y.Z Kami

The four posts of NeueHouse’s business philosophy grew out of the desire to bring hospitality to a place where Mr Murray and Mr Abram felt it was needed the most: the workplace. They had seen the way that Google, Facebook and other tech companies had brought hospitality to their workers, but they felt the Day-Glo colour schemes and unlimited Cocoa Puffs infantilised the workplace. Instead they aspired to create a work environment that had elements of a boutique hotel and a great dinner party. “Our beliefs are: design matters; very strong programming, which we think of as food for the curious – if you don’t have time to go to the gallery or museum, we’ll bring it to you; hospitality; and, the last of the four, an invitation community. We think the magic happens when people are not just showing up with a cheque but when we’re putting together people from different backgrounds, united by a common curiosity. We want people to collaborate.”

The lounge area's chandeliers can be lowered to change a working atmosphere to a more club-like one

The NeueHouse logo was created by international branding agency Base Design

The tenets reflect the way that Mr Abram grew up and his personal taste, which he describes as “pizza and caviar”. Despite The Dakota being a posh address today, its Upper West Side locality was pretty ramshackle back in the 1970s. The building was replete with artists, literati and the politically active, such as Abram’s parents (his father Morris was a lawyer and civil-rights activist who argued the Gray vs Sanders case before the US Supreme Court). As one of five siblings, spirited debate was often the main course at family dinner. (“The only way to get into trouble was not having something to say,” Mr Abram recalls.) He likes old-world craftsmanship with modern touches. His first car was a heavily used MGB. He has his suits made by Michael Andrews Bespoke, a small custom tailor that works out of Great Jones Alley in New York. He also likes English tailors Gieves & Hawkes. His glasses are Warby Parker. He is also something of a global nomad. His full-time residence is Miami. He and his wife keep a flat in London, and the couple also have a renovated townhouse in Harlem.

Asked to describe how that “pizza and caviar” aesthetic plays out when it comes to who gets in and who doesn’t, he gets tongue-tied for a moment and I watch the wheels go round and round in his brain, before he replies, “The first rule is: be nice.”

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