Travel up to the first floor of Lisbon’s 19th-century Mercado da Ribeira food market, up a set of stairs topped with red and yellow Perspex, and you’ll find a pretty cool place to work. Walking into Second Home Lisboa, the first thing you see is the bar. The next is the view from windows that line the space: on one side, the market where women in aprons sell fruit and vegetables, fish and legs of ham; on the other, the vast Tagus River glittering in the sun. Below, on an artfully jumbled collection of vintage chairs, people chat over coffee served in enamel mugs. If I was in Lisbon longer than just a couple of days, this wouldn’t just be my go-to spot to hunch over my laptop, it would be my new favorite hangout.
It’s the first international outpost of London workspace provider Second Home, co-founded by Rohan Silva, the brains behind Shoreditch tech mecca Silicon Roundabout. It is betting on Lisbon’s growing appeal to digital nomads from Europe and beyond. The city has a buzz about it these days, and Second Home is one of a few exciting cultural happenings recently: the new art museum MAAT, a new art fair, ARCO Lisboa and influential tech conference Web Summit 2017.
But let’s get one thing straight: Second Home is not a “co-working” space. Rather, “it’s a community where members can share knowledge and experiences,” Iris Lorenzo, member experience coordinator at Second Home, tells me as we walk through the open-plan work area. It’s an urban jungle filled with 1,100 plants and undulating shared desks designed to help people connect and spark ideas. The plants improve the air quality, and architects SelgasCano worked with environmental design expert Adam Ritchie of Ritchie+Daffin to create an advanced radiant heating and cooling system that produces fewer carbon emissions than typical air-conditioning.
In the bathroom (which are mixed gender and include showers with fresh towels and Malin+Goetz products), I notice a poster that says Wellness Programme. Iris explains that part of the ethos at Second Home is that people work better when they look after themselves. So it provides yoga, meditation and a bus that takes members to the coast to surf. There are also talks and a library filled with everything from self-help books to Federico García Lorca’s poetry. Resident membership costs €275 ($292) per month.
Sitting in the bar, which has an Yves Klein blue ceiling, British member Tariq El-Asad tells me he moved to Lisbon for the lifestyle. Having lived in London and Sao Paulo, he describes Lisbon as “paradise” with its low costs, laid-back vibe, great food and beautiful beaches nearby. His last office didn’t match his new business — helping foreigners invest in Portuguese property — or his personality. “This place fits the energy of my work and the city,” he says.
Later, I wander into another part of the market, a foodie heaven of stalls filled with luscious offerings. I see four women having a meeting over pasteis de nata custard tarts and spot Tariq at a table chatting with a client. Light pours in from the glass ceiling high above, and I order a coffee from a young guy in a beanie. “There you go, darling,” he says, handing it over. I get the strong urge to go home to London, pack up my shit and take the next plane back to Lisbon.
Who knows? Maybe I still will.
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