The Barnfox genesis got started nine years ago as co-founder Frederick Pikovsky was transitioning from a media company, Off Track Planet, towards the renting of desk space in the offices he’d rented in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood. A few years later, furniture and interior-space builder/designer Tim Tedesco found himself wanting to start building tiny houses as work spaces. The two men met, bought some property together in the Catskills, and started dreaming up entrepreneurial ideas.
“I’ve long been into the idea of spending more time outside, away from cities,” said Pikovsky, a Brooklynite with years spent in L.A. “I enjoyed doing the office share, called the Dumbo Start Up Lab, and was noticing how remote working was starting to take off.”
“We began to talk about creating work spaces Upstate,” added Tedesco. The two men looked at an 80-acre property with a main house, on which smaller work spaces could be added.
“I’d done the Dumbo workspace before Selina (a worldwide shared-workspace phenomenon setting up shop in Woodstock now) was operational, back when WeWork (a huge global-shared workspace phenomenon) was just getting going,” Pikovsky added. “We realized that remote working was a growing culture.”
For their business, the pair were inspired by the good-humored flexibility of the Raoul Dahl character in Fantastic Mr. Fox creating a barn for basically wild creatives looking for community. Tedesco and Pikovsky started criss-crossing the Hudson Valley getting a sense for locations.
The original idea of a rural Barnfox campus would take too long. Investors who came on board wanted a quicker start-up. Main streets in gentrifying cities, where foot traffic would become part of the equation, made better sense to them,
A spot on Hudson’s main drag, Warren Street, became available, directly across from the classic bistro-like artist hang-out Red Dot and next to a popular new bakery. Pikovsky got a home nearby, while Tedesco increased his commutes from his new home in the Sullivan County hamlet of Parksville.
By last November, the first Barnfox was up and running, signing on members at a variety of use levels, from weekenders to daily regulars in need of a permanent desk.
The membership model
“Barnfox is a work and retreat club for creatives, innovators and industry professionals. A space and community to work, gather and play — elsewhere,” reads the copy that Tedesco and Pikovsky came up with for their website, which is filled with images stressing the Hudson workspace’s clean aesthetic design. “A Place Elsewhere. One membership. All destinations.”
The site addresses those wishing to get away from New York City. It augments locations in (or coming to) Hudson, Kingston and The Catskills with promises of future Barnfoxes in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Austin and Washington, D.C.
The website pitch speaks of a curated community as well as of outdoors getaways and community events for all. “Cozy, modern, and thoughtfully designed. The Barnfox clubhouse is a beautiful space found in places — elsewhere. Work, connect and play with an inspiring community of like-minded creatives, innovators and professionals. Always supplied with fiber-optic Internet, work and lounge spaces, private meeting rooms, as well as complimentary coffee and kombucha bar.”
Members get exclusive mid-week booking rates to accommodation partners in Barnfox destinations everywhere. “Take your desk with you — work, play and discover new places. Barnfox away.”
Pikovsky and Tedesco say they’re far from being “trust-fund sorts” or connected to a big corporation utilizing local tax credits. “We built this with a hybrid model, like a WeWork but also like SoHo House (a collection of house-like settings in major cities with rooms, work space, pools and the like, started in London in the 1990s),” Tedesco explained. “We’re based on a more modern idea of a workspace that’s more like a hotel lobby, yet where you can get your work done.”
The concept comes to Kingston
Tedesco’s been busy working on the Kingston location on the top floors of the corner Clermont Building at the corner of John and Wall streets. The space is spacious, elegant, well-built. But already, there’s been controversy after an Instagram brouhaha after Barnfox put out a single promotional post a few weeks back.
“We are elated to announce our new Work & Retreat Club will be opening its doors in the Stockade District soon!” the website promised. “Right across the street from our friends @hotelkinsley in the historic Clermont Building. A 4000-square-foot space featuring beautifully designed lounge & workspace, craft beer & wine bar, private meeting rooms, complimentary nitro cold brew, and organic kombucha from local makers @Seeknorth.”
The two dozen social-media comments from 15 commentators have run the gamut of anti-gentrification snark. The entrepreneurs now admit wishing they’d spent more time talking to people in the community before they started work on their Wall Street location and posted that single statement on Instagram.
Pikovsky noted that the local hospitality partners allow for places where people can stay while getting away from New York or other cities. And those charges of exclusivity, once leveled at men’s clubs known for their Scotch, their quiet sense of power? “It’s just about us wanting to know who we’re giving the keys to for 24-hour use,” Tedesco said.
Meeting kindred spirits
The Hudson location has a capacity of 35 to 40, based on the different memberships and their frequency of use. There’s never more than a dozen people in the large, long space, and usually quite a few less. Kingston, at more than double that size, will have similarly equated capacity levels, as will a third space on Livingston Manor’s Main Street, just now at the start of its construction phase.
Has Covid and the Instagram brouhaha in Kingston hurt membership prospects? Not at all, contended Tedesco and Pikovsky. The quarantines and closing of regular offices in urban areas has actually upped the attraction level for Barnfox’s concept, they said. While the negativity after the social-media mess hurt, interest was high to start with and has recuperated noticeably since. “People need spaces to work where they won’t be bothered, but can also meet others like them,” Tedesco said.
“We have always had ambitious plans for this concept,” added Pikovsky. “People want to have places they can get away to while still working.”
Any lessons learned? Both men spoke over each other about how much they’ve come to appreciate the communities in which they’ve located Barnfox, and about the hardships they’ve recognized and heard. They’re working on adding greater transparency to their website, they say, and on reaching out to the community to offer spaces for events, a studio for podcasts.
In the end, Pikovsky says, the identification of the enterprise has been much like the false impressions a Barnfox creates. Are they chicken killers, a varmint, or something far nobler? A George Clooney character with a new idea?