Blackbird House: The Most Beautiful Place to Fly
By Latoya Coleman
Edited by Madeline Blue Schussel
Blackbird House is the perfectly decorated home of your Colorful American Dreams.
The seats are velvet. The plants are lush. The kitchen is stocked. The Kombucha is on tap. The theater room has a stage with elevated seats around the perimeter. There’s a guided meditation held Monday thru Friday at 3 PM in the Bird Loft. The multi-functional classroom has a whiteboard ready for meetings and lessons of all kinds.
When you arrive at 10600 Virginia Avenue in Culver City, the music, colors, smells, and textures welcome you as if you are a queen entering your palace. Instantly, you’ll notice that somewhere in the 12,000 square feet of this space, someone has thought of everything: there’s a water station that serves sparkling, lemon mint, coconut, and lemon water; there’s a fitness room with weights, cork floors, a bench, kettlebells, a wall with a mirror from floor to ceiling, and wall space for the soon-to-arrive TonalTM fitness system.
This royal sanctuary is Blackbird House, the first-ever private global collective geared towards women of Color and their allies. To founder/owner and Woman of Color Bridgid Coulter, Birdhouse is so much more than a pretty, Instagramable co-working space. “It’s a work home for Women of Color,” she explains. “I wanted to create a space that really integrated our three pillars–Productivity, Wellness, and Community–creating a holistic experience.” Bridgid talks to me effortlessly as she walks backwards, also effortlessly, during our 11-AM tour.
Bridgid and I have just wrapped up my VIP tour of this whole oasis, which she designed (along with her design team). It was an elevated version of what I imagine all new or potential members get to experience, but led by her staff, instead of the founder. I felt honored as Bridgid welcomed me in the waiting room, which has 5 full-length mirrors, a wall-length couch, and two plush velvet chairs. Bridgid took me through her meticulously-planned design elements, while explaining: “Everything is about two inches lower–the table, the chairs–just so that we have a little bit more of a lounge feel. So, it’s professional–you still get work done. But the whole idea is to, like, be at home. To be like a Blackbird House,” she says, lighting up.
Surprisingly, this large space manages to feel cozy. The color palette of teal, sea-foam, plum, tangerine; the textures of wood, velvet, fringe (Morrocan rugs) — all make the place feel sexy, regal and girly–but no too girly, so male allies can feel comfortable in the space as well.
I thank Bridgid immensely for the tour, as I sit down on a teal armchair in the open area that’s sandwiched between the patio and the desk-space area. “I mean, we need a castle if we’re going to be dealing with queens, right?” she winks, as she rests our drinks on the Mahogany table. With my pad and pen on my lap and my gingerade kombucha in my right hand, I have to confess, I do feel like we’re sitting queen-on-queen. Bridgid sits in front of me on a large, seafoam colored velvet couch that is big enough to be shaped like a bracket. She’s kicked off her flip flops and is sitting cross-legged with her cold brew, also from on tap, in hand. She has on a long, flowy, navy dress that cloaks her legs as she folds them in, and her honey-blonde highlighted afro glistens as the sun hits her through the glass wall that serves as our backdrop. Every detail here is so charmingly perfect that I secretly want to stay here and write all day–or maybe even sneak in a workout if I can.
“I wanted to create an elevated experience with textile and textual color,” she shares, “so that when you’re in your space, you feel like a boss–or that what’s going on inside is reflected outside.” Bridgid has been in the design industry for over 10 years, and as the owner and principal designer at Bridgid Coulter Designs (her boutique studio), she has most definitely developed expertise in creating spaces that bring delight.
Born and raised in Alameda, California, Bridgid spent her childhood running across the street to her grandparents’ house to get the “good food her grandmother made,” because her parents worked a lot. As a young girl, even though she didn’t have a lot, she realized the importance of curated spaces, and was always rearranging furniture in the living room and coming up with new things to do to the kitchen–but she never thought about it as a career. Eventually, she went to school for acting and graduated from UCLA’s Theater Department. After being an actress full time for 10 years (on hit 90s shows like Martin and A Different World), she got married and started her own family. With two kids, her schedule changed a lot, and she realized that she no longer wanted to act full time. So, she went back to school and completed UCLA’s highly regarded post-graduate Interior Design Program (a Master’s-level equivalent), through which she gained a deeper understanding of design complexities. After having her own studio in Santa Monica for 10 years, she moved her business into a co-working space owned by women. During her search process for the right collaborative workspace, she began to notice a void in what was out there.
“I visited about 30 [co-working spaces] between LA, San Francisco, and New York, trying them out when I was on the road. And I really loved it,” she says, playing with her necklace. “There’s something exciting about entrepreneurs and strivers and other people doing their thing [together]–even if it’s just to say hi at the water station and get back to work. My team got a lot of work done [when I found us a place, and there] were People of Color who were buying in and were members, but it was pretty…” she ponders, “the diversity was lacking, and really, we weren’t represented in a meaningful way.”
“And I wanted to see and be around People of Color doing this thing,” she continues. “I thought: ‘well–let me find that.’ And I didn’t find it existed. And it didn’t exist [until] at least last April.”
From there, Blackbird formed. Last year, Bridgid started talking to the “boss women” in her life about an idea to start a collective for Women of Color, and these women would later form Blackbird’s Advisory Board. The entirely WOC Board includes Dayna Lynne North (writer and executive producer of HBO’s Insecure), Valeria Hernandez (community organizer), Christina Gomes (social entrepreneur), and Toni Thompson (tech and entertainment media strategist).
Finally, two months ago, following endless paperwork involving 35 lawyers and countless advisory meetings where she had to show her bank statements to support that she could fund the space herself, Bridgid secured 10600 Virginia Avenue. She signed the lease and launched this innovative hub amidst demand to get things up and running as quickly as possible.
The demand was so high, in fact, that she first had her own personal furniture in the space while everything came together. Reports like those from Vice.com highlight the enormity of the need for a Blackbird: only 56 co-working spaces in the past decade have focused on community for POC. That’s a tiny fraction (barely 1%) of the 4,000 coworking spaces that currently exist across the country. It’s also a scary tiny number considering that the Global Co-working Unconference Conference (GCUC) reports that memberships at co-working spaces will double to well over a million, with physical environments reaching over 6,000 nationwide by 2022.
As cityscapes start to gentrify, safe spaces for People of Color are dwindling, and there has been a recent upward trend of White people calling the police on Black people at Starbucks, public pools, and dormitories. The #MeToo movement has also unveiled a “frat boy” culture in the workplace, making it ever-more important to find work sanctuaries for women. Even in some inclusive spaces, there have been reported incidents of micro-aggressions that have led Black members to openly quit. This lack of diversity in the entrepreneurial landscape, as well as in the more predictable corporate setting, sparked Bridgid to merge her philanthropic passions with her design degree to create the work collective that was missing.
Blackbird landed in Culver City on Saturday, October 26th. After being open for only two months, it has 135 memberships made up of 10% men and 90% women. Bridgid emphasizes the importance of the WOC and their allies working together, especially considering Blackbird’s 5 and 10-year global expansion plan. “You can really have a global impact if you’re open and inclusive. And I didn’t want to be exclusive, even if it’s private.” As of right now, you can become a member by going to Blackbird House’s website (https://www.blackbird.house/) and answering their 90-second,13-question survey. They offer four membership levels: Bouquet, Ensemble, Branch, and A Glittering that start as low as $195 per month and go all the way up to $8,000 per month. Outside of their programming, like town halls and B-talks, they also have a mentorship program that connects members with other like-minded people. Bridgid’s 5-year national expansion plan includes building more Blackbird Houses in three more LA locations, and in other big cities like Atlanta, Chicago, DC and maybe even Philadelphia. After that, the plan is to build Blackbird Houses across the pond in London, Acura, Paris, and South Africa. “You know, the idea is to continue… nurturing,” she says. “I was going to say ‘balance,’ but I don’t know if anything is [truly] balanced. But the idea is to keep building these nurturing homes, all aligned to productivity, wellness, and community–the things we want in our [very own] homes.”
The concept of ‘home’ is ingrained in the name of Bridgid’s space. It was inspired, she tells me, by the world-renowned song Blackbird by the infamous Beatles. Inspired by the rising racial tensions in the US during the Spring of 1968 following the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and The Little Rock Nine, the Beatles wrote Blackbird in rhythmic support of the Civil Rights Movement, and to praise Black women, in particular, for their strength. Bridgid admits that once she learned the meaning behind the song, she knew it would be the perfect name. “I never knew they were talking about us. That idea that, as Women of Color, your moment has come. Powerful. ‘Take these broken wings and learn to fly. All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise. Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly.’”
Bridgid explains the impact of those lyrics: “All those words in that song…are so hauntingly beautiful. [The song] means it’s your time to fly, so you should fly to the most beautiful place you can.”