Get to Know Fuigo, a Coworking Space Dedicated to Designers

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Chair of the Month

Natalie Grasso Cockrell
Natalie Grasso Cockrell
Natalie is a Workplace Consultant at Herman Miller and the former Editor of Work Design Magazine. She’s currently based in Pittsburgh.

As far as we know, it’s one of the only coworking spaces in NYC that caters specifically to one profession.

Fuigo’s new Park Avenue coworking space, dedicated entirely to supporting interior designers. Image courtesy of Fuigo.

With $4 million in private funding, Fuigo launched its upscale coworking space for interior designers in New York City in May.

The company was founded by Maury Riad and Mickey Riad, also owners of Fortuny — yes, that Fortuny, the famous Venetian luxury textile manufacturer. I don’t know about you, but when I hear “Fortuny”, I don’t necessarily think coworking. And yet! It’s exactly what inspired Fuigo.

Maury told us in an interview that the seeds for Fuigo were planted after a series of mentor/mentee dinners hosted by Fortuny, where they connected design industry veterans with promising young designers for intimate dinners and conversation.

“These gatherings showed us how much [the younger] designers felt isolated,” he said. “They yearned for more collaboration with their peers.”

With Fuigo, they’re supercharging the power of this collaborative community and providing small firms and independent designers with the tools, resources, and peer networks they need to successfully manage their businesses.

“We have created something that doesn’t exist anywhere in the interior design world,” said Maury. “Fuigo provides independent designers with the same resources as the largest design firms. We discreetly maintain all the back end technology support freeing creative talent to do what they do best: focus on the art of interior design.”

Scroll to learn more from our Q&A with Maury.

Image courtesy of Fuigo.

Tell us about how your work with Fortuny inspired the concept for Fuigo.

Fortuny was a big part of the inspiration for Fuigo. We were inspired to start Fuigo because of our passion for interior design. It was an industry we knew a lot about because of Fortuny, having worked with top designers across the globe and getting to know them and the way they worked. We found that most of the top designers we worked with were independent business owners, and they faced unique challenges as small business owners. These challenges were similar to the problems we faced at Fortuny.  Fortuny is a small business who still produces artistic textiles in an ancient factory in Venice, Italy. Small, artistic businesses have a difficult time accessing world-class resources and software. We wanted to change that equation and give these businesses a better chance to succeed. The thought of many of these businesses going extinct terrified us and we had to do something to help.

Small, artistic businesses have a difficult time accessing world-class resources and software. We wanted to change that equation and give these businesses a better chance to succeed.

We wanted to create something that would empower designers to focus on the art of design, and gave them the same competitive business advantage that much bigger firms had. Through conversations with friends and colleagues, we came to realize that we could use the power of collaboration to give these independent interior designers powerful business tools.

Image courtesy of Fuigo.

Talk about the value of having a coworking-type space — which often, like a WeWork, comprises workers from all sorts of different industries — but instead that’s dedicated to one profession.

The value of focusing on one profession is that everything we do, from the physical space itself to the technology and business management services we provide is tailored specifically to meet the needs of interior designers. By focusing only on interior design, we can provide them things that are much more valuable to them than a more generic space. For example, we knew it was important to have a very well appointed, impressive physical space for our designers to bring clients to. So our space has a Park Avenue address, which tends to matter in this business. Also our resource library is a kind of showroom for vendors, so our designers have instant, on-site access to the best and newest materials and resources. That’s something you could only get through an industry-specific space.

Tell us more about the Fuigo software solution. Is it specific to interior designers, or could you see it working for other types of companies, too?

The software we designed is specific to interior designers. It fits the way they work, and has all the functionality a designer would need in building a project and managing the workflow. But because we designed it ourselves, we could see it being adapted to other industries, too.

Image courtesy of Fuigo.

Tell us more about the mentor/mentee dinners that you used to host, which inspired your idea for Fuigo.

As a way to give back to the community, Fortuny used to run dinners where we would connect some of the most accomplished designers in the industry with promising young firms over an intimate dinner conversation. These gatherings showed us how much designers felt isolated. They yearned for more collaboration with their peers. They all suffered from similar business issues (even the mentors!) and could not get enough of each other’s advice and wisdom. The dinners were scheduled for two hours, but would usually go over four hours! We got two massive takeaways from these dinners: designers want to seek each other for help, and they all had similar business problems.

Is there a sense of competition among members or is it a more supportive environment?

It’s a supportive environment of friendly colleagues, and part of that is a healthy dose of challenging each other and driving each other forward. Our membership tends to recruit other members, and there’s a big advantage to that. Designers at Fuigo are highly motivated to bring in like-minded colleagues, because they’re really developing a community here. While the designers here are certainly competitive and want to grow their businesses, this is a self-selecting group that has tremendous respect for each other. If there was someone in the group that did not respect the privacy and clients of another member, than that would reveal itself. In general, any designer joining believes the power of collaboration is much greater than competition. Through sharing, we can all have a lot more (including clients!).

Image courtesy of Fuigo.

Do members share resources, i.e., someone has a graphic designer on staff — would they ever help another company?

This has not come up yet.  Our firms are smaller and do not have full time members on their staff for such specialized tasks.

Are members able to just use the app, and not actually physically work from the Fuigo space? If not now, would you consider that in the future? Or do you see the two as going totally hand-in-hand?

There has been great demand for our platform solution and we are currently in beta for an off-site program where we can service designers that would like to work out of their own offices.

Image courtesy of Fuigo.

Who designed the Fuigo space and what did you look to for inspiration, what were some of the guidelines you gave the design team?

The Fuigo space was designed by Bradley Stephens, a co-founder of Fuigo along with myself and Mickey Riad (my brother and partner at Fortuny). The space had to feel open and spacious. Designers have lots of samples, large plans, and need room to spread out. Color is so much of what we do, so the space had to have great light.  It also need large community spaces so designers can gather.

How many people are employed by Fuigo? Do they work from the Fuigo space, too?   

We have 12 people on staff including our engineering team. We work right in the space side by side with the designers.  It is an incredible way for us to get feedback on what our clients want and what they need to succeed. This is especially helpful on the software side as we get direct, immediate feedback when we add new features. Being in the same space as the designers has given us incredible feedback to continue improving our product.

What are your plans for growth?

We expect to grow to 30 resident designers within our first year. Looking further ahead, we think there are opportunities to bring the Fuigo concept to other cities in the next few years as well as a deeper roll out of our off-site program.

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