Introducing Supernuclear: A guide to Coliving

Home can either be the walls and the countertops or it can be the people within the walls and the magic you create with them.

San Francisco. 2015.

It was all going to plan. I met a girl, we fell in love, and we got to the “should we move in together?” conversation.

And then she threw me a curve ball.

I should have see it coming. Kristen isn’t a normal girlfriend. Kristen is a behavioral scientist girlfriend. It’s her job to think differently about questions like these.

Behavioral scientists study what makes people happy and healthy. And Kristen had ideas on what kind of home would make us the happiest and healthiest.

It had nothing to do with the home itself. Our ideal home, according to Kristen, was going to be one filled with friends we love and admire.

As a boy raised in the suburbs in a traditional nuclear family, the thought of living with other grown adults by choice (instead of out of the-rent-is-too-damn-high necessity) was foreign to me. I was brought up to believe that living alone was the real prize.

It turned out there was a bigger prize. It was living with close friends, guided by some shared intentions, and living with them well. Broadly, this is called coliving.

The goal of this blog, Supernuclear, is showing how to do coliving well.

Writing our own definition of success

Success, we decided, was surrounding ourselves with our favorite people.
That meant the real function of home was luring those people to us.

We went looking for lures.

At the point in the relationship when another couple might have rented a 1 bedroom apartment together, Kristen and I took out a master lease on a 9-bedroom mansion in San Francisco and invited 9 of our most delightful friends to share it with us. That place was RGB, our first coliving community.

Read our case study on RGB

Later, at the point when another couple might have moved to a starter home in the suburbs to prepare for kids, we decked out a large compound in Oakland and invited 10 of our friends (and their future kids) to join us. That place is Radish, our second coliving community.

Read our case study on Radish in Oakland

Both of these places are centered around a simple principle: Proximity.

Proximity: The Oldest Trick in the Behavioral Book

The principle of proximity is that we tend to do what is easiest.

Homes with TVs watch more TVs.
Homes with high fences are more socially isolated.
Homes with large closets buy more stuff.

Behavioral science is about how the environment impacts our behavior. What is it that your environment is demanding that you do?

If your home is filled with funny people, you will laugh more.
If your home is filled with motivated people, you will be more motivated.
If your home is filled with fit people, you will exercise more.
If your home is filled with people you admire, you will be the best version of yourself.

Surround yourself with the thing you want to be, and sure enough, you will become it.

Who will bring out the best in you?

We can all live on Bestie Row

The essence of this was captured in the widely-shared article on “Bestie Row,” which describes a set of close friends who all built houses next to each other. The universal reaction, at least among my friends, was “I’d love to live like that.” This was said in the same aspirational “maybe-some-day?” way that they might say “maybe I’ll write a book one day” — not something they actually think they can do now.

The goal of this guide is to show people YES this is an option and YES you can live like this. It’s not easy, but it’s very achievable.

Supernuclear: A Guide to Coliving

Gillian Morris and I have teamed up to co-edit a guide on how to create coliving. Between us, we’ve started three coliving communities and lived in seven of them.

Supernuclear is written for the instigators, the organizers, the creators. For the person in the friend group that has the vision and makes the amazing things happen. It gives you all the things we wish we knew before starting.

We are going to publish the guide in installments. The best way to get the content is to sign up below. We solemnly swear never to spam you or share your email with anyone.

We’ve divided the guide into two sections: The Hard Stuff and The Soft Stuff. What’s challenging about creating coliving is that it requires the best out of both the left side and right side of your brain. Someone in the community has to both know their way around a spreadsheet or legal structure AND know how to mediate conflict and instill a set of values in the community. Communities that succeed do both the hard stuff and the soft stuff well.

The hard thing about soft things

We are not putting this forward as the only way to do this (or ourselves as the sole experts on this topic … there are many other pioneers we’ve learned from) — just the way that we’ve seen it work from our vantage point.

Curious what’s coming? You can find a working list of the articles we plan to write in future installments here (and also ones where we are looking for readers to contribute). Again, the best way to get these is to put your name on the email list above.

A few notes on terminology:

1. We are focused on “DIY” coliving. DIY in this context means people building coliving from scratch for their friends and network rather than as a business for strangers. There are companies that also provide professionally-managed coliving (which we totally support and think fills an important need). But we also suspect the best communities are built by individuals from the ground up capitalizing on existing relationships and homegrown visions.

2. Coliving goes by a number of names. You may hear it also called intentional communities, cohousing, communes, co-ops, or compounds. We chose to call it coliving as the most inclusive … and the one least likely to be associated with FBI raids.

= The bigger picture =

We do have an ulterior motive here, but it’s not any of the usual suspects. We are not trying to make money off of this. We are not going to advertise. We are not going to give your email addresses to anyone.

The ulterior motive is changing the built environment.

We want cities to be different.
We want homes to be different.
We want people to live differently and live better.

This is about giving people tools to reshape their spaces to mirror their most rewarding social relationships. And if enough people do this it will start to reshape cities themselves.

We want people to look at two homes next to each other and think “imagine if we knocked down that fence.”

it’s a good start…

We want people to look at a big mansion and say 10 friends could thrive here.

Embassy SF: A coliving space in San Francisco

We want people to look at an empty plot and say “what if that was a circle of tiny homes around a large communal space?”

We want 10,000 of these moments to slowly reshape cities and the underlying logic of how we build and use space. We want our physical space to mirror our social relationships. We want cities to be more relational and interconnected.

And when the next generation thinks about home, we want them to first think about the people, not the space.

Home can either be the walls and the countertops or it can be the people within the walls and the magic you create with them.

May yours be the latter.

So I hope you’ll come along with us as we dive into what it means to go Supernuclear: to build a life surrounded by more than your immediate family. Sign up below to get the latest straight to your inbox.

You can find the directory of the articles we’ve written and plan to write here.

Want to slide into our electronic DMs?

Immense gratitude to the talented and generous Nicolas Solerieu for the logo and to Jason Benn for helping us put together the pieces.