On a sunny, warm morning in May – one of New York’s first this year – I sit on a sidewalk bench in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, observing a quiet stretch of what has come to be, perhaps, one of the hottest neighborhoods in the borough. Next to me is Hunter Vurbeff, community relations manager of Pure House. He’s explaining to me what exactly Pure House is: In short, a collective of communal residences, mentorship opportunities, events and even amenities like cleaning, laundry, and dinners for an membership-only community of, as Hunter says they’ve come to be known, “creators.”
Pure House currently consists of thirteen apartments, all in Williamsburg, in buildings ranging from artist lofts to six-bedroom units with large communal apartments. All are within roughly five minutes walking distance from the community’s kitchen facility, which has come to be used as a clubhouse where Pure House hosts events like acoustic music concerts (recent performers include one of Thievery Corporation’s lead musicians), dinners with celebrity chefs, and yoga classes, among other functions. The lower level of that building is decorated with plush furniture, uniquely crafted coffee tables, and the walls are adorned with original photography: The product, of course, from an alumni of Pure House’s artist residency program.
And who are the residents who go through the application, interview and somewhat impressively rigorous vetting process? “People range from directors, to actors, to entrepreneurs, to social activists,” Vurbeff says. In other words, yes: creators with a passion.
“Why don’t we take away all the menial stuff they have to do,” he continues, “so they can just focus on the passion project?”
Pure House carries a very avant-garde model: One that’s reminiscent of the original purpose of the Soho House and, while perhaps raising the eyebrows of some entrepreneurs, makes many secretly jealous. It’s the brainchild of founder Ryan Fix, who, since the age of 14, says he has known what he wants to do.
“It was a kid’s vision,” he says, “and it was that I wanted to help people live their dreams.”
Some kid, really. The aspiration largely stems from Fix’s near-death experience early in life, when he had a brain tumor and accompanying surgery, during which he was constantly surrounded by a very close, very supportive group of friends.
“My mom would ask, ‘Ryan, you’ve got this second chance on life. What are you going to do when you grow up?” he explains. “So, at 14, I thought, ‘I’m going to help people make their dreams come true. I didn’t know how, but I did know that I was going to make a bunch of money, retire young, and invest in people’s dreams.”
It’s the road that led Fix to New York: Where there’s Wall Street, there’s money, leading him to work in finance, followed by stint in real estate: Both experiences he describes as “miserable” and “ethically challenging.” After a sabbatical spent writing and meditating, and a few years of working on various passion projects, a thought occurred to Fix: “Wow. I would really like to build a house where we can do this stuff.”
Today, Pure House is 100 percent occupied, with a waitlist for applicants: One that grows such each day that it’s hard to say how many people are on it, at any given moment. Roughly fifty new inquiries are received each day, ten of which result in applications. The only reason why that latter number isn’t higher, Fix says, is “because they think it’s too good to be true. It’s a common thing we get: ‘This sounds like a scam.’ And it’s because our pricing is a bit low.”
Right now, resident membership is priced between roughly $1800 – $2000 per month; practically pocket change in New York, especially considering the services and amenities.
“In order to attract our core audience, we’ve had to price things at the bare minimum,” Fix explains. “Right now, we’re just doing it at a break-even, but eventually, as the program gets stronger and we start to educate our target audience and attract people that understand what we’re doing, we’ll be able to raise prices.”
It’s also important to note that Pure House is, first and foremost, a social enterprise with a similarly natured goal. “Our passion,” says Fix, “is to support people in being successful at living their passions.”
It’s not entirely unrelated to what the community has discovered to be the entrepreneur’s – or creator’s – lament: Investing so much care into the passion, that one forgets to care for him or herself.
“One of the undertones that’s driving this,” Fix elaborates, “is that with a lot of creative people who are super, super passionate, they tend to be up in their heads all the time, just thinking about how they’re going to make their dreams happen. Just, ‘go, go, go, go, go,’ and their bodies start to fall to shit.
“We’re helping to create a lifestyle that helps them to address these things in a very accessible way,” he continues, “even if it’s having all of the fridges stocked with healthy food, or having a nutrition program, or having a laundry service so that they don’t have to worry about their laundry.”
As a small business owner myself, it’s hard to deny: This all sounds totally rad. Here’s the thing: I, like many other industrious entrepreneurs, enjoy living in my own space. I like spending the occasional Friday night with my sweatpants, carbohydrates, British murder mysteries, and dog. Those amenities, thought: How can I, the selective recluse, sign up?
“Right now, our members are all residents, but we’re hearing from more and more people who want to have access to this kind of programming,” Fix says, engendering a moment of glee. “We want to offer a membership where this space can be their clubhouse. We’re going to offer that as a membership, as well.”
Those rates, too, will be “super-accessible,” at a $200 – $500 per month.
What does Pure House look for in members, anyway? Simply put: “People who are really committed to following their passion, and willing to do the work,” Fix answers. “There’s also a lens of doing good in the world; so, people who, whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it because they want to make the world a better place.”
I ask if he’s ever met anyone who was able to follow the direct road to his/her dream from the very beginning, without the detours to which so many of us fall victim. It’s not a myth: His answer is yes.
“The common thread, for the most part,” he says, “is they were raised by two parents that were very, very supporting and unconditionally loving. And, the relationship between the parents is really great, as well.”
What’s next for Pure House? Fix, of course, is thinking big, but approaching it patiently. “We’re not trying to push a model of massive scale,” he says. “However, we have intentions of where this will go, and we know that by focusing on really serving our members in a powerful way, that opportunities are going to come to us.”
And those intentions, naturally, are far from modest. “I’m exploring building a technology layer that allows people to upload their properties onto a platform, but focusing on this Pure House experience, and having an application process that’s all member-driven, but that members can upload their properties.”
For example, a Pure House resident living in New York, but owns a property in Missouri, can upload that property to the platform. Another, more social example? A social entrepreneur working in Haiti, and in need of housing.
It goes back to the social intention of Pure House. Really, it seems, this model is intended to extend to developing parts of the world; to those members who do what they do to achieve improvement on a global scale.
“The vision is that I see,” Fix states, “is a global, distributed network of these communal living spaces.”
I like the sound of that. From one entrepreneur to another: Perhaps the British murder mysteries can wait.
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