Alfonso Araujo: Greenhouse dreamer

29 Apr

Everyone has a story. Close to Newington Green, on the Islington-Hackney borders an old clothing factory has been turned into a fabulous work space for hot-deskers and creatives. it also hosts Saturday markets and is opening a public cafe from May. One of the five business partners, Alfonso Araujo, takes Islington Faces on a tour of the newly opened Greenhouse. Interview by Nicola Baird


Alfonso Araujo from the Greenhouse co-working office space, 49 Green Lanes, N16; “Life is so short and there are so many things to try – you need to pick a few and make the most of it.”

“Amazing stuff can happen here,” says the extremely charming Alfonso Araujo who is part of the team running the Greenhouse – an already busy collection of rentable offices, desk space, hot desks and digital media studios at the Newington Green end of Green Lanes. “Before we opened I went to see lots of co-working spaces in London. It was all cubicles. It looked like a factory from the industrial revolution – I would never work in those places! The Greenhouse is more like the arts and crafts movement for the freelance and self-employed,” he says passionately showing the former clothing factory off.

The Greenhouse, just off Newington Green on Green Lanes is a huge meet and work space.

The Greenhouse offers creative comforts –  in the office space there are sofas, armchairs and floor cushions to help workers get creative – but the star attraction on the ground floor, near the newly open Green café, is the ideas cocoon lit by green light, wipe down surfaces and its own sound system. If it’s not in this pic (on the left) or when you visit, it’ll be on tour on the festival circuit, see more about the artist, Peter Little’s outdoor sculptures and rental pods here.

The entrance to the Greenhouse screams creativity. The yard’s walls are covered with plants and bikes (hanging from hooks), and in the corner is a moss-covered pod known as the ‘ideas cocoon’. There’s a café – due to open to the public in early May – serving delicious salads and good quality coffee. This space transforms at night into a cosy place to host pop-up restaurants. Also on the ground floor is the wellbeing studio already used for regular yoga classes and massage, but also bookable for meetings for up to 30 people. It even has a plywood stage that can be unfolded from the wall.

2015-04-20 13.30.41The building has three floors, two rentable meeting rooms (one with a board room style table big enough to fit 16) and a media-edit suite. As a nice touch there are booths outside the two main shared working areas, to allow Skype and mobile calls to go ahead without everyone else listening in. The Greenhouse has a higgledy-piggledy layout that adds to the creative feel – there’s even a secret outdoor garden full of daffodils.

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Manager Tara is the face of Greenhouse “she really understands the vision,” says Alfonso Araujo.

Manager Tara is the face of Greenhouse “she really understands the vision,” says Alfonso Araujo.

“We opened over Christmas 2014,” says Alfonso, 37. “Already we have more than 50 members including a life coach, Project Love facilitators, a group of architects, the man behind Love Smoothie Bikes, a charity promoting fairtrade – Better Cotton Initiatives, website designers, freelancers and two music projects – EXYT Music and Curve which cuts vinyl.”

Ask for prices but a permanent desk with storage is around £250 a month and a hotdesk option £80 a month.

“The partners (Ben, Chris, Rob, Tom and I) normally turn warehouses into live-work spaces but when we walked in here, we thought ‘this is so big. We’re not going to turn it into units! We wanted to create a space for work that was about vision and friendship. The name Greenhouse came naturally, we are on Green Lanes after all. We like converting but this new venture has been a challenge as we learn to work with the community and bring people together in the area creatively,” explains Alfonso, who grew up in an oil-city in Venezuela then came to the UK to do a postgraduate in arts management back in 2001.

T&Shop, Green Lanes on the Stoke Newington-Islington border.

T&Shop, Green Lanes on the Stoke Newington-Islington border.

Places Alfonso likes in Islington
Greenhouse isn’t Alfonso’s first Islington project – a couple of years ago he took over the management of the Florence pub [now closed] on Florence Street.

“I’ve spent part of my wages at Flashback at 50 Essex Road for years. It’s one of my favourites places to buy vinyl.”

I love Criterion Auctioneers, 53 Essex Road, N1 – it has all sorts of interesting stuff. We bought there when we did up the pub and I still have some French style sofas and a few armchairs. I’ve been doing an upholstery course, at this stage mostly focusing on dining room and nursing chairs (with no arms). I love the tools, the sweat and the blood. See the Islington Faces interview with Criterion auctioneer Peter Ball.

Also at 105 Essex Road is Get Stuffed where they do taxidermy. I love antlers too.

Camden Passage is good. I love the antiques and art. The Breakfast Club is really nice – but I go there for the chicken burger not breakfast.

T&Shop, 78 Green Lanes is a really cute café with nice coffee and pastries, just opposite here. I also like Green Lanes Larder organic shop at 145-147 Green Lanes.

Talkin’ ’bout my generation
“My background is in art and my passion is music,”Alfonso explains – but clearly has a very practical streak as he helped build all the desk spaces and the many plant shelves and is learning upholstery (see box above).

“I’m part of a generation of people who have always been freelance or self-employed – people who like to create their own opportunities. And because it was difficult to find jobs Plan B is Plan A. That’s why you get so many new ideas, starts up. People don’t want to get stuck doing one thing forever – they want to balance their work and happiness. And they want office space they can afford. So at Greenhouse we’ve provided a fresh feeling environment where you can work, but where we are also promoting wellbeing – with our healthy food and classes – and are doing cool stuff for the community like markets, education, films and documentaries.”

Green Markets at the Greenhouse
The first Green Market was just after Easter and more than 300 people turned up.

Next market is due to be held on Saturday 9 May, with another special market on Saturday 23 May in collaboration with Digital Shoreditch Festival, and then every second Saturday of the month. “There’s food, jewellery, arts and craft, massage, baby stuff, a busker playing and Digital Shoreditch is bringing oculus glasses [so you can try out immersive 3D/virtual reality],” adds Alfonso who reckons the Greenhouse open day is also a good place to eat. “At the last market there were Spanish tapas, tacos, and the best club sandwiches from Room Service who produced a glamorised version of the ‘80s club sandwich.”

Nicola soaking up inspiration in the ideas cocoon at the Greenhouse.

Nicola soaking up inspiration in the ideas cocoon at the Greenhouse.

Now that so many of us are freelance, and so many offices provide slightly less desks than employees communal workspaces like The Greenhouse are a brilliant way to put in your hours in a very focused, creative environment. Why not visit one of the upcoming Green Markets and have a look around? And if the pod/ideas cocoon is near the cafe, do try it!


Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via at Thank you.

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This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola


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