Bed and breakfasts aren't usually the subject of much excitement, but the communal living experiment behind downtown Brooklyn's 3B has garnered its share of buzz (doesn't hurt that it's owned and operated by attractive twenty-somethings). Together, eight young Brooklynites (writers, musicians, artists and even a massage therapist) renovated a 19-room home on Lawrence Street and opened up four of them for guests. We asked co-founders Catherine Lacey, Matt Keesan and Dave Ferris what exactly they were thinking...
The L Magazine: Can you remember the exact moment when someone said, "Hey, let's start a B and B!"? Were you drunk/stoned/sleep-deprived at the time?
Catherine Lacey: Not at all! Back then we used to all sleep a lot more. We had done a tremendous amount of work improving our communal living space and so when the unit upstairs opened up our landlord was happy to see us expand.
Matt Keesan: I was thousands of miles away on vacation when I got an email from one of the other founders of the house. We talked about all sorts of awesome and totally unaffordable projects before settling on the bed and breakfast.
THE L: Was there much actual renovation work entailed in the transformation, or did you just kind of buy some flowers and change the sheets?
CL: I get exhausted just thinking of how much work happened—everything is different. Everything. The renovation and design process took many months. Karen (Holmes) conceptualized the décor and did an amazing job tracking down quirky stuff, refinishing furniture, building lamps, and on and on. We re-did the floors, painted every wall, built a kitchen...It was a huge undertaking.
MK:To put this in perspective, we're talking about 3,000 man-hours of renovation before we opened. Two tons of trash had to be removed from the roof and apartment before we could even start painting. There were no working lights in any room. The plumbing was blocked solid. The exhaust fans in the bathrooms hadn't functioned in years. Beyond gross.
Dave Ferris: It was gratifying work, though. I spend most of my time in my head, and this gave me a chance to work with my hands and see concrete results. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is—especially in today's consumerist society—to have the opportunity to create your environment from raw materials and space. I built a kitchen!
THE L: How are responsibilities divvied up?
MK:There are two work areas: daily chores and tasks that are slightly less time-sensitive but still essential. There are shifts per day: breakfast, changing rooms, evening cleaning, and a 24-hour on-call. The other responsibilities (book-keeping, marketing, food inventory) each have someone who bottom-lines. We make major business decisions by consensus.
THE L: How many work hours does each person put into 3B?
DF: We each spend 10 to 15 hours doing B&B work on an average week. The business is cooperatively owned and run, so we aim for rough equality of shift work, but we have created a flexible business model where equity is proportional to cumulative hours worked.
THE L: What's been the worst thing about opening your house to paying strangers?
MK:There's certainly no more answering the door in your underwear, brushing your teeth. Or am I the only one who does that? And I can't wait till the morning to fix a leaky faucet anymore. Though you might think having the occasional bad guest is the worst part, usually they just make for great stories. Like the pathological liar who claimed he had been commissioned by the mayor to build a fifty-foot-tall robot in Central Park.
CL: He was amazing! He'd literally fall out of his chair when he wanted to compliment a breakfast I'd made. And he left creepy notes for us. I was happy to see him go.
THE L: What's been the best thing?
CL: I love meeting people while they're traveling and it's awesome that my main job has so much flexibility. I am my own boss and my commute is about eight seconds. I love how much we've all learned over the last year—everything from health and building code to legal partnerships to effective communication.
THE L: Have private boundaries ever run into public space? E.g. guests drinking milk from the carton in their underpants at 4am?
CL: While 3B is part of our home, we have our own private kitchen and living space. Thank God. We'd all go crazy if there weren't some boundaries.
THE L: Have any of you considered abandoning your primary vocations for a career in the hotel business?
CL: I'd personally never stop writing, but I am much more drawn to entrepreneurship now that I know a little about how the business side of it works. A collaborative business with flexible, self-made hours is basically the perfect thing for someone who has a writing habit (or a painting habit or music habit, etc). It gives me the time and security to write. It seems like becoming a full-on hotelier would make writing time scarce, and defeat the main purpose of this for me.
THE L: What kind of future do you see for 3B? Expansion plans? Exciting new amenities?
MK:We can't really expand in our building (there's no more space and the rules for B&B occupancy in New York are pretty strict). We've talked about using 3B as a foundation for other projects elsewhere, but I think that's far down the road. That being said, the most important future for me is one in which any and all of the founding partners can leave for new adventures without threatening 3B's survival. I believe it's possible to make something that lasts, that isn't predicated on any one of us, that continues to support young artists, writers, musicians, students, healers—anyone seeking the freedom to live an unconventional lifestyle—for years and years into the future. That, for me, is success.
Experiments in Living: A New Kind of Brooklyn B&B