Makeshift Society backstory

Today Rena Tom and her team are opening the doors of the Makeshift Society in San Francisco. It’s a 1000 square foot private clubhouse where members can make, learn, teach, and think.

A big congratulations is due to the team, who’ve done a great job realizing their vision. And I should mention up front that I’ve made a small investment in the project, so I’m not completely objective in what I write below.

Makeshift Society is about building creative ideas more than it is building businesses. This is what sets it outside the usual grouping of coworking spaces like the Hub or General Assembly. Business may happen at Makeshift Society, but it’s not the driver. What it does borrow from co-working spaces, however, is a recognition that density of activity is important. Being around other people pursuing similar goals increases the interconnectivity of partially formed thoughts, and that’s where good ideas come from. It’s the primary ingredient in what Brian Eno calls “scenius,” the genius of a scene.

Shared studios are common in the creative communities of many cities, so what I find interesting about Makeshift Society beyond colocation is that it introduces within the tech-focused microcosm of San Francisco a place to be serious about matter; a place to remember that atoms exist and although software may eat the world, it won’t necessarily digest it. I hope that Makeshift Society is a place where we can start to make sense of what that implies.

That Rena would end up creating something like this is almost a forgone conclusion if you know her, because she’s both a hyper-connector and an effortless host. The most convincing evidence I have for this is a visit to her home. At Rena’s place an afternoon tea with friends is simple but never plain.

I’ve been lucky enough to watch at close range as Rena traced out the concept for what has become Makeshift Society and then dragged it from the pristine peaks of Good Idea, through the bogs of Reality, and up distant slopes to dry out on the far side, pointing us to new ways of being creative together.

While writing this post I took the opportunity to dig up old emails, some of which are pasted below because I have a soft spot for backstories.

From: bryan Boyer
Subject: Re: Pitching a salon?
Date: October 18, 2011 1:39:22 AM GMT+03:00
To: rena tom

[…]

About space: because you want flexibility for different uses by different groups concurrently, the circulation is almost as important as the square footage. Where are the entrances? How many? How do you move from one room to the next? These are critical. It depends on the specifics.

[…]

Clubs have records. Guilds have important but opaque books, and tools of the trade. So, yes, I am drawn to this and I think it plays into a larger movement that is going on. Have you been to the Hub there? It’s pretty cool here in Europe. Not the same as what you’re talking about, but worth you having a look: http://bayarea.the-hub.net/public/

I think you might be creating a guild for people who think with their hands, make with their heads, and vice versa.

From: rena tom
Subject: Re: Pitching a salon?
Date: October 18, 2011 5:47:02 AM GMT+03:00
To: bryan Boyer

[…]

haven’t checked out the Hub but i guess i will do some visits this year.

what i’m thinking now is: front desk/small selling area, book area, lockers and kitchenette, and then one seating area that is comfy, with coffee/side tables. i don’t even know if i want full-size tables because i don’t want it to be laptop central. i could bring out a nice large table/chairs if people want to rent the space for powwows but i don’t think i want it out all the time.

From: bryan Boyer
Subject: Re: Pitching a salon?
Date: October 18, 2011 9:06:48 AM GMT+03:00
To: rena tom

[…]

Laptops: just have a rule. We don’t do that here. This is a place for another ritual. You could even ‘offer’ to check peoples’ phones at the door (inside a Danish teak desk, I think). Cubby holes! Adam jokes about opening a cafe called Faraday’s—not far off!

A large table with room to spread out books and things is so so nice. I love large tables with few chairs.

Your space is for time travelers: it’s one for people who appreciate the best parts of the past, who enjoy living today, and are building tomorrow. Seems to me there’s something deeply non-linear about it.

[…]

I think you probably need some sort of short but not too short (and very clever and passionate) explanation of what the space is for in simple terms. Like: it’s for not working when you’re not at home. Or: it’s for thinking with other people. Or: it’s for conversation. If libraries were massively supported by Rockefeller as a way to spread knowledge, Contrariwise is started by rena to…..?

From: rena tom
Subject: Re: Pitching a salon?
Date: October 18, 2011 7:49:35 PM GMT+03:00
To: bryan Boyer

customer service is expensive and very awesome. though in the bay area, people are so used to doing things for themselves (proudly whipping out their iphone etc) that i have to make sure things are efficient, yet luxurious, right? like getting a fancy cocktail made.

[…]

i don’t know if i can enforce laptop check. would love to though. i could have charging station concierge for phones like banana republic used to do though, that would help a little. if there are no tables for laptops, it will cut it down tremendously.

so ok, we leave the large table in – but no laptops and no outlets. just nice reading lamps.

i like “think with your hands, make with your heads” very much. might steal that. i guess i should start writing all of this down, huh?

From: bryan Boyer
Subject: Re: Pitching a salon?
Date: October 19, 2011 8:46:43 AM GMT+03:00
To: rena tom

This is so good!

There’s still room, so go have a peek and then sign up if you need a thirdspace in San Francisco.

3 Comments so far

  1. [...] am happy to announce that my newest project has moved from theory to reality. Makeshift Society, my gathering space and experiment in community, collisions, and [...]

  2. Hello, Brooklyn - etc on September 17th, 2013

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