Modern offices can be so soulless that it’s hard to focus on the task at hand, says Roddy Campbell. It’s one reason why the hedge fund manager-turned-digital entrepreneur launched Vrumi, a “day rental” version of Airbnb.
Rather than hire out your home overnight to people on a city break, with Vrumi you hire it out to people looking for an affordable, pleasant workspace while you are out at work yourself.
Vrumi connects people who need extra working space — from writers and photographers to hairdressers and yoga coaches — with those who aren’t using their homes during the day.
The renters may be regulars or they could be looking for a one-off space — head-hunters needing somewhere to hold interviews, perhaps, or actors wanting to stage a script read-through.
Campbell launched Vrumi last year with his friend, entrepreneur and philanthropist William Sieghart, who co-founded Forward Publishing — sold to WPP in 2001 — and created National Poetry Day.
Campbell’s own big rambling house in Pembridge Villas, Notting Hill, doubles as Vrumi’s HQ. Downstairs in the kitchen, smart twentysomethings on laptops help to match requests with interesting homes.
“I had a big mortgage and my property sitting idle all day long,” explains Campbell. “Taking idle residential space and using it as productive workspace seemed to me to be something which would suit everyone.”
Vrumi came about after Campbell broke his leg in a skiing accident. Chatting to his physiotherapist, he realised the physio could rent a comfortable room in a house more cheaply than a cramped space at the back of a gym.
Some 600 Londoners have registered their homes, offering everything from space at a kitchen table in a house in Kingsbury, north-west London — £30 a day with use of the coffee machine and living-room sofa — to a basement in Chelsea with a pool and sauna for £150 a day. Even Campbell’s own living room is listed, at £70 a day.
One of Vrumi’s absentee hosts, project manager Corina Lee, 30, travels daily to her Canary Wharf office for 7.30am, and used to leave her two-bedroom Victorian house in Islington standing empty for 12 hours. Since discovering Vrumi, she has had a steady stream of bookings, from market research companies to an advertising agency which needs a place for meetings. She charges £60 a day and estimates she has earned about £300 a month since joining late last year.
Working in someone else’s house means you won’t get distracted by your own household chores, or by having to walk the dog. Plus the clock is ticking, “so your subconscious is saying, ‘Get on with it’,” says Sieghart.
The Vrumi website carries hosts’ room details and manages the payments, taking around five per cent of the rental fee. There is a system of reviews and feedback.
The income Vrumi hosts make is taxable, says Campbell, but he is lobbying to have the service included in the Government’s Rent a Room scheme, under which people taking a lodger can earn up to £4,250 per year tax free, rising to £7,500 from next month.
Vrumi’s founders say the “sharing economy” business model fosters mutual trust and community recycling of empty buildings. Lasting friendships have emerged from Vrumi, while Londoners get pleasant, affordable, flexible places to work.
“The way people work is changing fast,” says Sieghart. “So many corporate office spaces are windowless, with no natural materials. I think it affects your psyche and the way you think and behave.”
He gestures around Campbell’s living room, with its leather armchairs and eclectic art collection, and adds: “In a space like this, there’s no limit to your imagination.”
Turning other people’s houses into music video backdrops
Singer and composer Katherine Gillham finds different spaces through Vrumi to perform and film new arrangements with film-maker Anton Nelson (both pictured at top).
After shooting, Nelson, who works under the name AHTOH, colours the film, influenced by the décor and Gillham’s costume choice.
“If you’re working in people’s houses you get that natural light, which is different from a recording studio,” he says.
We catch up with them at designer Tamara Tymovski’s flat in Holland Park Gardens. She runs her company Sybaris Interiors there, but enjoys having others around.
“Vrumi is a huge antidote to the loneliness of working from home,” she says. “It’s almost like a creative club.”
Her flat has high ceilings, original fireplaces and a huge blue sofa that she designed. “We can create an environment to work in that suits us much more than an office, where you have zero privacy and mustn’t disturb colleagues,” she adds.