Alameda’s first co-working space arises with artistic flair.
Saskia and Benjamin Winter opened PHOENIX this spring.
Photos by Clayton J. Mitchell
Benjamin and Saskia Winter were flying home to Alameda from the Netherlands last summer when they stopped to buy a chocolate bar at Iceland’s Reykjavik airport. “We chose the chocolate bar primarily because the design on its wrapper was so cool,” Benjamin Winter said. “I remember thinking, ‘This is the guy who needs to do the logo for our business.’”
The logo was for Alameda’s first co-working space, PHOENIX, which the Winters opened this spring opposite the Island’s main library on Lincoln Avenue. And there, hand-painted on the business’ charcoal-gray outer wall is a giant phoenix, wings outstretched in blue, yellow, turquoise, and gold geometric grandeur—solid proof the Winters had tracked down and hired Icelandic chocolate wrapper designer André Visage to create their eye-catching logo.
In Greek mythology, the phoenix is a bird that arises from its predecessor’s ashes. In Alameda, PHOENIX arose from the ashes of Redux, a collection of art studios and a gallery that opened in 2011.
The spark for the space’s newest incarnation was struck one night last July: “I had the idea for PHOENIX, name and all, the moment we were told Redux was closing,” Winter said. “It hit me like lightning.”
Winter’s original plan was to help save the art studios, where he and his wife were renting space. “At first, we were, let’s make a cafe, but then we did research and found Alameda is crying out for a co-working space.”
The Winters’ conclusions are supported by census data, which shows some 78,000 people live in Alameda, but many commute elsewhere for work. “The impact on traffic is horrible, the need for work on the Island is critical, and the coffee stores are smashed,” Winter said. “We’re at a crossroads: More people are working from home because companies are allowing them to, but there isn’t always a great space at home, and other people are part of the gig economy.”
The Winters, who have lived in Alameda for eight years and have three children, also want to help instill a sense of pride and identity for their city. “We feel like we have to leave the Island for either work or play, but we’re changing as a society, and we want to facilitate that change,” Winter said. “Right now, that change is a baby deer finding its feet. We want to be Bambi’s mother.”
Winter lavishes praise on all the people who helped make PHOENIX possible. “It’s a big communal effort, lots of friends as well as the resident artists,” he said. He acknowledges that, because of high real estate prices, it’s hard to be in business in the Bay Area. “But we have a 3-in-1 concept: namely, gather, work, and create,” he said. “Those three words are the mantra that inspires PHOENIX.”
European influences are also clearly at work in this space, which naturally divides into a main area, lounge, conference room, and patio, and transforms effortlessly for parties, presentations, and performances. Winter lived in Amsterdam for eight years, his wife hails from that famously progressive city, and PHOENIX reflects their shared cultural background. “We are bringing a piece of Amsterdam’s lifestyle here,” Winter said.
For an hourly fee, visitors can bask in the space’s bright airy atmosphere, which is designed in the word’s of PHOENIX’s website, “to help you have an inspired and efficient work day.” White walls and curtains, lemony fabrics, gray couches, ergonomic chairs, handcrafted wooden tables, custom-made phone booths, and indoor bike racks go a long way to deliver on that promise. As does the collection of interesting objects artfully placed on shelves around PHOENIX’s walls. “I curated a collection of stuff that I made or found,” Saskia Winter said of the paintings, photographs, plants, and weavings currently on display. “The plan is to refresh the area periodically, so it’s almost like a gallery.”
In an effort to maximize PHOENIX’s reach, the Winters initiated a shared makers studio, installed an editing room for photographers and videographers, and hired a workshop coordinator to schedule jewelry, print making, and other classes that draw on the talents of PHOENIX’s artists-in-residence.
Observing that co-working models lie somewhere between an office and a cafe, Winter said, “You can still weave your day with that of your family. If a coffee shop is 80 percent about coffee and 20 percent about work, then we flip it. And we’ve got nice coffee. And nice chairs. So, do you want to be in a traditional office space, work at home, or be in an affordable synergistic, networking situation? We built a skeleton and people’s ideas are the flesh and blood that bring it alive.”
PHOENIX, 2315 Lincoln Ave., 510-671-2166, PhoenixAlameda.com.
Published online on May 8, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.