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Shared housing: The sharing economy gives roommates a new image

The sharing economy is inspiring innovative shared housing arrangements: From millennials sharing rented mansions, to baby boomers sharing mortgages, increasing numbers of Americans are opting for a cheaper lifestyle, richer in companionship.

The sharing economy is inspiring new forms of shared housing from baby boomer couples sharing the mortgage on a house in Bothell, Wash. (below) to millennials sharing mansions like the Sandbox in Berkeley, Calif (top). This is the cover story of the Mar. 31, 2014 issue of The Christian Science MonitorWeekly.

Top: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff Bottom: Peter DiCampo/Special to the Christian Science Monitor

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Stirring organic lentil soup on the stove, Jay Standish is explaining why there are dozens of sticky notes plastered all over the walls of the Sandbox House, a rented Edwardian mansion just off busy Telegraph Avenue. The Web designer, who cofounded this six-bedroom shared home last summer with a pair of friends, is trying to describe the dynamics of "co-living" when the actual dynamics interrupt him.

Buddha, half Chihuahua, half miniature pinscher, tears through the brightly lit, well-appointed kitchen – which, among other appliances, includes two full-sized refrigerators (one covered with sticky notes) and two electric kettles. Buddha's claws scrabble over polished hardwood as he's pursued by his owner, Aaron Keller, who is in a rush because he's traveling to China later in the evening on business for his startup firm. Moments later, Wall Street dropout-turned-micro-entrepreneur consultant Zac Swartout pops into the kitchen to see who's around.

You might not know it, but this is a slow night in this house occupied by seven high-powered young professionals and one hard-to-catch lap dog. The home's founders, who call themselves "catalysts," describe it as a prototypical platform for shared living, where residents can connect, brainstorm strategies for social and professional enterprises, and even eat and sleep occasionally. It's just another "node" in an expanding network of experimental collaborative-living houses that have sprung up in the San Francisco Bay Area in recent years.

About 50 similar leased, high-end homes in the region now cater to a highly mobile, technologically driven generation of young professionals more interested in networking and peer mentoring than in renting or owning a private home. The sticky notes feathering the walls at Sandbox, Mr. Standish finally gets to explain, tell part of the story: It's as if everyone who lives here wants everyone else to know what's on his or her "to do" list. One note sequence on a wall in the chandeliered dining room is a kind of flowchart aimed at improving meal planning in the house; another note simply asks, "How equalize contribution?"


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