Sometimes you desperately need a place to relax. Offices and apartments in large cities like New York are rarely tranquil spaces. So where do you go when you need to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city?
Countless books have been written on the subject. I even own one copy of New York’s 50 Best Places to Find Peace & Quiet. Some people go to the Highline, Central Park, or other well-known oasis of silence in this mad city, but that doesn’t work for those of us who want to lounge around on a couch, lean back in comfy chair, and have constant access to Wi-Fi while we chill.
Luckily, there’s a great service called Breather. Dreamed up by author and Jack-of-all-trades Julien Smith, Breather is an app that lets you reserve quiet, empty spaces in the city whenever you want.
“We think of ourselves as a layer between Starbucks and an office space”
I met Julien at one of the newest Breather rooms down near City Hall. I had reserved the room a day before, using the Breather app for iOS. I reserved the space in about three taps and was prompted to create a calendar invite. The app gave me directions and told me I’d receive a passcode to unlock the door once I arrived.
Sure enough, as I stepped up to the door, I checked in and received my code. I entered the number into the keypad on the electronic lock and walked into the room with Julien.
The space felt open and looked like a showroom for Scandinavian design with its minimalistic furniture and soft color palette of gray and light wood. The room held a comfy gray sofa with pillows, a slouchy chair under an exposed light bulb lamp, a conference table and set of chairs, coffee table, and a simple rug on the wood floor. Books, dry erase markers for the whiteboard, a yoga mat, and a canister of tootsie rolls added a sense of fun. One entire wall was covered in windows. It wasn’t the most spectacular view – there were a pair of offices directly opposite, but the natural light was welcome.
We sat down at the table to discuss the importance of a room of one’s own (to quote Virginia Woolfe) and the origins of Breather.
“I’m a huge to-do list guy and two years ago in May, I created a category called ‘a place to sit,’” Julien told us. “I spent a lot of time in cafes, but then I got tired of it. I thought, ‘There has to be a better way to do this.’”
While walking around in his neighborhood, Julien noticed that there was a lot of vacant space, just waiting to be filled.
”If you’re living in Iowa, there’s really nowhere to go. I think Breather could work there, too.”
“Every day I would work on this idea without really thinking about what it was. Then I realized it was a really big idea. That’s how Breather came to be,” Julien added.
After months of thinking and testing the idea out with his friends, Julien refined the idea until it was “so simple, it sounded stupid.”
“I turned it into the smallest thing it could possibly be: Having access to a door, wherever you want it,” he said. “Inside it’s nice and you can do whatever — act, charge your phone, do yoga, take a nap.”
Julien figured that it was either a stupid idea, or a really smart idea, so he put it to the test. He pitched the idea for Breather to investors and managed to raise a million and a half dollars.
“When I explained the concept to tech guys especially, they just thought it was a really great idea,” Julien said.
Business people, journalists, and other mobile professionals flit from city to city and meeting to meeting. A lot of the time they don’t have a chance to just stop and breathe. Hotel rooms, office spaces, and cafes like Starbucks can all start to blend into one void – they offer no solace to busy people on the go.
Breather aims to solve this problem by being easily accessible, reliable, always open, and completely quiet.
“We think of ourselves as a layer between Starbucks and an office space,” Julien said. “We wanted to create a sense of informality and accessibility.”
Breather requires that every room have a window, Wi-Fi, comfortable furniture, and an electronic lock on the door.
“Starbucks is trustworthy you know what you’re getting every time you go in,” Julien said. “Consistency is important – That’s why every Breather looks similar. You can book one in Montreal, San Francisco, and New York and know what you’re going to get.”
The rooms are cleaned after every stay, too, so you never have to worry about finding the space dirty or disordered.
Even though Breather has only been around for a little less than a year, it’s already wildly popular.
“We open space and then it gets filled – almost immediately,” Julien said. “We don’t even advertise the spaces. We get 100s of reservations a week and it’s still increasing.”
Breather hopes to add many more spaces in the three cities where it already offers rooms, but Julien has plans for expansion into many more U.S. cities, too, and perhaps even a few suburban places.
“Manhattan is the testing ground for everything, because it’s just so obvious – everyone here needs a quiet space,” Julien said. “Our Long Island City location is shockingly popular, though.”
“You would think that the farther out you get from super dense cities, that you wouldn’t need these kinds of spaces,” he added. “But when you think about it, if you’re living in Iowa, there’s really nowhere to go. I think Breather could work there, too.”
In the meantime, Breather is focused on adding more spaces and improving its app offerings. The iOS version is already well done, but the Android version will be spruced up in about 6 weeks.