Two years ago, we talked to San Francisco local Rena Tom who had just cofounded the Makeshift Society, a coworking clubhouse for creatives. Today, we caught up with Rena to talk about how the community has grown, where she’s found new inspiration, and why she continues to put people at the center of her work.
We chatted back in 2013, but would love to get your early story on the record. How did you get to where you are today?
Circuitously yet fortuitously! I wandered from web design to print work and jewelry design, to owning a store and finally to coworking. I really have no idea what’s next for me, though I am looking for work if anyone still wants a generalist/community builder/event planner. 🙂
The Makeshift society has grown so much since we last talked. But tell us: when did you first develop the idea of a place ‘for creatives, by creatives’?
I sold my business in early 2011 and was ramping up my consulting business. I found myself working at cafes, trying to find a quiet place to call clients on Skype, and a bit lonely. Basically, I need a place to work and socialize so I invented it with the help of Victoria Smith and Suzanne Shade.
We wanted to provide a safe, creative space for people to be their best selves.
What has been the most rewarding part of running the Makeshift Society?
It’s been great finding the best way to explain to people what we do — basically fine-tuning our mission statement every time we talk to prospective members.
The members have truly shaped our results, and I’m proud of that. I’m also super proud that they continue to do so, to find ways to collaborate and enjoy their own work while supporting others’ work too.
How have you continued to find freelancers, creatives and teams to fill the beautiful space?
We have great word of mouth and because we are friendly to all freelance fields who touch the creative industry, it’s a nice diverse mix of people and professions. We’ve learned to use social media a lot to showcase the space and the members and that brings in new people all the time for our classes and events. We’re indie and very “human” and it shows with our words and images.
How do you describe the vibe and people at Makeshift Society today? What kind of person is drawn to the mission and the space?
San Francisco has come to reflect the West coast well — the vibe is very casual, DIY, and a little bit bohemian. The community started at the maker/blogger/photographer end of the creative spectrum but now includes more design studios and programmers.
When the Brooklyn location was open, we had more writers, architects, and the like — they loved the more polished, industrial and modern feel of the space. It’s not surprising that the SF space was a little more like me, while the NY space a little more like my business partner there, Bryan Boyer.
Last time we spoke, you told us about the business side of owning Rare Device, a design-led shop in New York City and San Francisco. We’re passionate about curation, so we’d love to know: how did you curate the acclaimed in-store selection?
Rare Device really came from searching the Internet as I initially scoured the web to find products from small designers and international makers who were not represented in the US. Eventually, I attended the trade shows — but doing as much independent research as possible made Rare Device quite unique.
I’m a fan of minimalism, so simple, functional shapes in a limited black and white palette was my signature, as well as incorporating textures like wood and felt to warm things up.
When I partnered with artist Lisa Congdon for our second shop, her vintage sensibilities meant more great graphics, patterns, and bright colors, while still hewing to the Rare Device look.
Which designers, curators, shops, and museums are your favorites?
For influences, I’m currently a fan of MOMA, Canoe, and the ladies at Sight Unseen.
What events and classes do you love and recommend in Brooklyn or San Francisco?
In San Francisco, I like Workshop Residence and the artists they choose for their residencies. They make work for sale but also hold workshops so you can learn techniques, too. Brooklyn (and NYC in general) has a great design festival, NYCxDESIGN, and I read http://whrw.hn/ for a curated view at cool events.
Which Makeshift Society classes have been most valuable to you in the last couple of years? Why?
I liked taking our calligraphy class and a ceramics class. The hands-on classes let me get out of my head and let my hands do the thinking.
Where can we find you online today?
Mostly I’m on Twitter and Instagram, but you can also find me at renatom.net and makeshiftsociety.com.
Last, how do you like your coffee?
I used to drink it with a little cream and no sugar, but lately I’ve switched over to chai. My stomach thanks me!