Somewhere between the coffee culture of California – hosting freelancers and start-ups – and the Russian tradition of private artist gatherings sits Ziferblat London, a pay-per-minute space where the precious commodity of time is revalued. We head over to enjoy a coffee, face the clock and take note of the time.

The self-confessed “treehouse for grown-ups” is located on a traffic-heavy, busy corner of Shoreditch. A small ground floor window filled with curiosities invites equally curious souls to ring the bell and ascend to the realm that is Ziferblat.

After all, and strictly speaking, Ziferblat is not a café, nor an office, nor a tree house, for that matter. It is something else altogether. Instead, guests call it “a living room” and the familiar community feel certainly reminds us of a private lounge.

Face the clock

Ziferblat translates as clock face and with ticking specimens lurking in each corner, facing the clock is definitely the name of the game. Clocking time, individually and collectively, and paying for the time spent inside, is all part of this social project: Back in Moscow, what started out as a joke soon became an inventive way to keep their artist hangout running – and turned into Ziferblat’s global signature.

Born out of an organic need, the Ziferblat concept constantly adapts to the suggestions of its visitors. So it started out some four years ago in Moscow, and so it remains several years later with 13 Ziferblats in four countries and plenty of plans for more satellite spaces.

Still playing hard to get – or hard to pin down – Ziferblat might be a co-working space of sorts, but visitors enjoy equal work and play with plenty of interaction between guests. According to David Blackwell, the in-house curator, Ziferblat is a space where people actually talk to each other. “There is no hiding behind a cup of coffee or a certain way of behaving. Staff, as well as visitors, are only expected to be themselves.”

And it is obvious that David Blackwell’s warm and outgoing persona certainly encourages this in his visitors and volunteers. Regulars include start-ups and freelancers, but also a charity that holds its weekly catch-up meeting here. David Blackwell serves as both curator and host, upholding the creative space as much as the communicative balance inside of this cushy den.

smart magazine Cafe Ziferblat London
smart magazine Cafe Ziferblat London
smart magazine Cafe Ziferblat London
smart magazine Cafe Ziferblat London

Be yourself, make your own

Ziferblat may not be a café per se, but the coffee is certainly good. You just have to make it yourself. Besides hot and cold drinks, the open kitchen offers plenty of goodies, from a stocked fridge to a table filled with cookies and bread. As we speak, David Blackwell spreads a piece of toast with homemade jam donated by a visitor. “Contributions buy time,” David Blackwell explains. A culture of generosity and community is thus upheld, as ‘time’ is given to those who give. Guests are actively encouraged to participate, contributing their unique selves – and maybe a homemade cake or two. Time, and pricing as such, is negotiable, based on what people bring to the table.

This also extends to food for thought. Sasha Padziarei, Ziferblat’s manager, reveals the many future plans for London’s ‘living room,’ including an ‘Everyday Heroes’ project that will feature Ziferblaters talking about their unique lifestyles to acquaint others with alternative purposes and life plans, perhaps motivating them to find their own.

Fair fare

When some Ziferblat Manchester regulars come in, David Blackwell heads over, welcoming and introducing them to the London crew. Without a fixed protocol, all staff start out as volunteers, underscoring the organic approach to growth and evolution.

The overall ‘fare’ per minute is determined by rent, staff wages, and the cost of stocking the fridge. So, could one lose track of time and end up with a massive bill? David Blackwell assures us that people tend to watch the clock they receive upon entering and says that, either way, time is free after 5 hours, so even an entire day will never set people back more than ten pounds. Considering how much the surrounding trendy cafés charge, that is a fair fare indeed.

smart magazine Cafe Ziferblat London
smart magazine Cafe Ziferblat London
smart magazine Cafe Ziferblat London
smart magazine Cafe Ziferblat London

Revaluation, reappreciation

It is an evolved concept of sorts, splicing the idea of London’s fashionable member clubs with the on-trend quest for more mindfulness of time and space. By taking time and money literally, Ziferblat seems to have tackled both issues, showing us how a space changes when a commodity does.

As the cars, buses, bikes, and pedestrians pass us by, the living room itself remains static in a way, almost nostalgic, as if time really has come to a stop. Perhaps paying for time makes us take more note of it. And in a world where things are constantly speeding up and deadlines are our biggest timekeepers, being right here, right now means shutting out the hustle and bustle outside as well as some of it inside – one minute at a time.

All pictures, incl. the header image: smart magazine