Nolii Works | Ziferblat, Old Street

NWks002 — Co-working, hot-desking and café-perching. In Nolii Works, we explore the spaces, places and people supporting the world’s mobile workforce. Today, we visit Ziferblat in Old Street, East London.
1 Evlan6A123 Glykwduwyug

“I think the key word here is feel.”

I’m standing in a modest, bohemian kitchen, chatting to a friendly stranger as he unpacks a box of misshapen fruit. Light streams in through two tall windows, and a small and well-loved coffee machine rumbles in the background. It’s calm.

Though I feel a world away from the Nolii offices in Soho, I’ve only gone as for as Shoreditch in East London.

“People say they feel something when they walk in. I think it must be a residue of all the people who have come through here. All the people who have loved the space.”

On what I hope will be the first of many sunny Spring days, I’m standing in the kitchen of Ziferblat— a social space, cafe and ‘treehouse for adults’, which has occupied a lofty space above Old Street’s thriving junction since 2013.

The stranger is James (Co-Manager of Ziferblat London), the misshapen fruit is from London’s own waste-food delivery service Oddbox, and the coffee machine is still best described as ‘well-loved’.

Amidst all this, I’m curious to find out what it takes to build a thriving, grass-roots creative community in a city known for its intimidating scale and pace of life.

It’s no mean feat, but Ziferblat seems to be doing just that.

1 Ah7Nba5Wzhrkgk98Rz6Tvw

One of thirteen branches around the world, including two others in Manchester and Liverpool respectively, Ziferblat London occupies a cosy but open space in an area becoming known for its digital agencies, tech startups, nightclubs and high property prices.

In spite of this, Ziferblat cultivates a relaxed cafe atmosphere which has become home to a rotating cast of creatives, freelancers and social groups on the hunt for something altogether different.

But what is the difference?

“It’s social interaction.” James tells me. “People don’t want a transaction.”

He’s quick to point out the usual state of affairs faced by mobile workers — often a tradeoff between the home office (if you’re lucky), and the local cafe. The former can quickly begin to feel like a stint of self-enforced solitary confinement; the latter totally dependant on your ability to knock back consecutive flat whites in order to earn your seat.

Ziferblat, however, operates on a pay-per-minute scheme —once a joke from its earliest iterration as a poetry gathering in Russia, the model now sets the standard for all branches. It’s a novel divergence from the norm, and its presence is felt in the way the space is constructed and used, and the type of people who call it home.

For starters, the removal of a transactional agenda frees patrons up to use the space as they wish. Guests are free to linger in the space, working and lounging for as long as they like without being subjected the piercing stare of a cafe manager.

It’s ‘co-created’, I’m told. Guitars, books and paintings, donated by patrons past and present, adorn the space, and guests are free to work on group projects and even host events of their own.

Such events take place most evenings and range from intimate gigs and yoga to the monthly ‘Ziferblab’ sessions, where guests are alloted 10 minutes to talk about a subject of their choosing in front of an audience.

The strangest event they’ve had? A month-long run of what James calls ‘Death Cafe’ — an open-forum discussion on the subject of life and death. Seeing my expression, he urges; ‘It was actually really popular’.

1 N Uerd6Ctnelmn5Gvbbdtq

While this branch of Ziferblat has recently introduced a monthly membership option, the pay-per-minute model is still the bedrock of the business.

With your clock ticking, food and drinks are complimentary — the sight of a Rude Health Almond Drink in the fridge suggests they know their audience — and guests move in and out of the kitchen to make tea and toast, bowls of cereal and do their washing up.

The furniture looks like it has been sourced from a range of op-shops and vintage markets, and the music is approached in a similarly adhoc fashion.

Various instruments are free to play (dangerous) or you can draw from a selection of records on display. Today, the staff iPad is in control, spilling out a mix of classic soul, Japanese indie music, underground EDM, and other ‘world musics’. Somehow, it works.

Each element is a reflection of the communal ambitions of the original Ziferblat concept, and guests are welcome to involve themselves wherever possible in the curating and running of the space.

1 P Ya1Mk5Fyt Sybv4Byaw

For those looking for a retreat from what usually qualifies as a hip London cafe, Ziferblat offers an excellent space for work and for play.

Not only that, but the sense of community that comes with the space is infectious, and it’s easy to wonder who you might meet and what you might learn or experience while occupying it.

“I think that’s what’s interesting about physical spaces,” James muses over a wonky aubergine. “You’re introduced to things that you may not necessarily search for yourself.”

It’s a fine thought, and if Ziferblat’s goal is to facilitate this introduction then they’re certainly moving in the right direction.

Words by Huntly Gordon

Photography by Marek Dorcik

You may also enjoy

View all entries