A Day of Work at CSTM HAUS in the Meatpacking District

My plans last Monday were simple. First, I was going to go to the Whitney Museum in lower Manhattan to see “La Vida Americana,” the blockbuster exhibition about the influence that Mexican muralists had on American art. The less fun part of the day was that I had to read a book manuscript on my computer. That was somewhat unusual for me. Usually I am writing, not reading.

But do you know, I just couldn’t face the idea of going home to do the reading. I knew that if I read the book at home, I’d be distracted. I also knew that if I sat in some quiet space that was not home, I’d be able to knock off the reading with more speed and focus.

So with that in mind, I left the Whitney and walked over to Hudson Street to check into KettleSpace’s CSTM HAUS location. It would be the first time I ever went to that KettleSpace drop-in work location.

CSTM HAUS is unusual and groundbreaking for KettleSpace, because it is located in a large, loft-like showroom kind of facility, not in an eatery or hotel. How would that be? I wanted to find out.

Getting into CSTM HAUS is kind of like getting into a speakeasy. You ring the buzzer that is located next to an unmarked steel security door and when somebody answers, you reply with a password. The door is then buzzed open and you walk up to the fourth floor. (An elevator is also available, but I didn’t look for that or try it.)

While I was walking upstairs, two women were walking down. They were holding laptops, so I figured they had been working.

“Is there a KettleSpace up on the fourth floor?” I asked,

“Yes, there is,” one of them answered, so I kept climbing.

I walked in. There was a lot to see. CSTM HAUS is a very bright, airy-feeling loft, with large windows on three of its four walls. Even though you are only on the fourth floor, the views out across the Meatpacking District are unblocked by other buildings. The floors are light-colored wood, which contributes to the brightness.

A leather goods company occupies the space alongside KettleSpace, and that is neat. Elegant valises and duffels are on display on shelves in one corner. There are couches in that area too and three people were on them, pecking away on their laptops.

On the other side of the room there is a spanking new restaurant-style luncheon counter with stools. Two people were sitting there, munching food from snap-open plastic take-out containers. Coffee, hot water for tea, and a jar of cookies sat on a table by the counter.

But the biggest thing was that 35 people (rough count) were sitting at large tables, quietly working away. A few people were chatting by the lunch counter. One guy was leaned against the south-facing wall of windows, talking quietly on his phone.

The other big thing was that a dog named Chili, the cutest little black-and-brown doggie you will probably ever see, was there working the crowd in a very subtle, unobtrusive way. Yes, CSTM HAUS has its own site-specific doggie. This dog has excellent people skills. Chili is not going to distract anyone from working. Somehow, he has that down. A minute after I walked in, Chili tiptoed under a work table and fell over onto the feet of a large guy who was working there. The large guy continued working. I am pretty sure I was hoping that when I started working, Chili would come over and fall onto my feet too.

‍ But . . . where to work? I didn’t need to type, I only needed to read that book manuscript on my computer, so I didn’t think I needed to claim a chair at a table. I was looking for comfort, hopefully someplace I could slump and spend two or three hours reading.

A thought flashed across my mind that if I got too comfy, I would probably fall asleep. So I poured myself a cup of coffee and looked around.

Aha, one of the KettleSpacers who had been occupying the end of a couch near the duffels was just leaving, so I headed over there, sat down, and started my work.

I have to say, it was a great place to spend a few hours reading. It was quiet, but not library-silent. Everybody seemed to be really focused on their laptops and their work. Even though it was quiet, there was a lot of energy. The fact that other people seemed to have important things to do was a vibe that I liked. I fell into it too.

An hour later, a second cup of coffee. The dog never did come fall on my feet. Maybe Chili was sizing me up and that will happen on my second visit. I hope so. Ninety minutes later, the sun was dropping lower over the Hudson River to the west, the color of the sky had changed, and the light coming in the windows had that late-afternoon feel to it. Some of the seats at the tables were now empty. I guess people had done their work and left.

A little later, I decided to leave too. I had gotten most of my reading done, probably a lot faster than I would have at home, and it had all felt easy and energetic.

When I got to the sidewalk on Hudson Street, the two women I had met when I was walking upstairs were out there chatting.

“You weren’t kidding me,” I said, “there really is a KettleSpace up there.”

“Have a nice afternoon,” one of them said.

But she didn’t have to say that, because I already had.

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