Sophie Wilkinson moved to New York from her home-town of Adelaide with a one-way ticket and plenty of optimism. Without a job in hand, her goal for moving to NYC was to work on complex high-profile design and construction projects. She fell in love with the city immediately and now works for Common, so let’s see how she made her dreams true in a short space of time!
What do you do?
I am the head of design and construction for Common, a coliving startup in the real estate industry. We are a residential brand and we design, build and manage homes specifically for living with roommates. I had just completed work on the Apple flagship store on the Upper East Side when I was introduced to Brad Hargreaves (founder and CEO of Common, and co-founder of General Assembly) by a woman I trust and admire very much. Brad and I hit it off, talking excitedly about what Common could be from our first meeting. I joined Common as their eighth employee. With my background in architecture and construction, I was charged with creating our homes and establishing and growing the Design and Construction team. Common is now in four U.S. cities and has over 390 members who live in our 14 coliving homes.
What are some differences to working in Australia?
The most obvious difference is the sense of urgency in business. The pace here is exhilarating and we get a lot done. Australians, however, do have it right when it comes to vacation and taking time off. A lot of New York businesses are starting to go that way, but switching off completely is a rare luxury. I have also learned to love the directness in communication, but that took some getting used to. If you can, write it in three lines, never 10.
Any advice for other professionals working in NYC?
Don’t feel guilty if you need to recharge your batteries. A friend once said to me: “You can get anxious thinking if you step off the (New York) train, it will be gone forever, but after you are here for a while you realize that the train is just running on the same loop”. If you need to hop off, do it. It will be there when you are ready to get back on. I really value getting out of town to refresh.
Where do you live? Why did you choose that area?
I live in Williamsburg. I really enjoy the extra sky and sunlight that the shorter buildings let in, and the beautiful views of Manhattan. The neighborhood is friendly and very relaxed with terrific restaurants and bars. It is lovely to catch the M train home over the bridge as the sun is setting. I lived in SoHo for the first three years which was fabulous and it’s great to have experienced both.
What do you like and dislike about living in NYC?
I love the awesome buildings, the opportunities, the skyline, the spontaneity, the pace, the energy, the world class food and entertainment, and the confident, crazy and ambitious people who live here. There isn’t a day that I don’t think about how much I love this damn town.
I dislike the distance from my friends and family, the expense and effort it takes to go to a “beach house” (if we can call them that here?), and those infuriating people who stop walking right in front of you.
Tell us an ‘only in New York’ moment you’ve had
I left a Halloween party one year around 2am and bumped into Beyonce and Jay Z at the end of my street. They were in full costume. That was awesome.
What was your biggest win this week?
I was featured as an “expert designer” for a Remodelista article. I love their blog and I did a little fist pump when the photo of Common and link to the article came up on my Instagram feed!
I am also 24 weeks pregnant, so a big win last week was speaking on an industry panel on the same day that I was physically sick that morning. Of course not ideal, but i did feel pretty hard core that evening.
What’s your favorite New York spot?
ABC Carpet and Home. It is my happy place.
Anything you miss about Australia?
Of course! I miss my family and my friends so much. I also miss our beautiful landscape.
What are your top tips for friends visiting NYC?
- In summer, head to the rooftop bar at The Met.
- Stay in accommodation downtown.
- Relax and enjoy the city. Don’t get too stressed about seeing all of the sights in one visit. So much of the city is in the food and the people-watching. Be sure to save your energy for some fun in the evenings as well!
Have you had any hard times in NYC and how did you get through them without your usual support network at home?
I’ve had plenty of hard times, absolutely. My husband and sister are both in New York so I am very lucky to have great support on the ground. I speak to my mum at least once a week, at a scheduled time(!). She keeps me sane. I also have wonderful friends who support me in different ways. When things get very hard, I remind myself that I came here for the challenge, and not for the easy. Finally, there have been one or two occasions when I just walked up to Central Park in the middle of the work day and slept. It was what I needed at the time.
Favorite NYC cocktail spot & cocktail of choice
I love the hotel bars. The Edition at Madison Square Park and their dill gin cocktail (with Pippa Lee). I also love a cold glass of champagne at the Top of the Standard or the newly opened Public in LES.
Any advice for people moving to NY?
There is incredible diversity in New York. Have an open mind, no matter who you are talking to, and you will get to know some seriously interesting people, and you will learn a thing or two. Almost everyone in New York City has moved to New York City. Keep it real, it is extremely cool to move here but you aren’t the only one to have done it. Real advice: Save up some money, you won’t survive here too long without at least a little to get you off the ground.
What’s the biggest challenge or road block you’ve been faced with since being in NYC and how do you overcome it?
The biggest challenge living in NYC is the distance from my family. The best way I found to handle that is to keep the communication high and to be truly and fully grateful for their love and encouragement. It does impact more than just me, my living here, and I am so lucky and thankful to have their support. Balance is so important. My husband and I both work long hours, so about three years ago we started getting up at 6am to walk to coffee together before the city woke up. We still do that now. It is a beautiful ritual to share.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given about living/working in NYC?
It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.
– Jimmy Dugan, A League Of Their Own
Who are some Aussie/Kiwi ladies doing awesome things in NYC who are currently on your radar?
Georgie Duckworth is an awesome woman who has built an impressive reputation for her work in the not-for-profit sector in London and New York. She is now with the American Australian Association supporting Aussies in the U.S. She is raising three divine boys in Chelsea.
Alice Wilkinson is another awesome Aussie women living in New York (and also my sister!) After graduating from architecture she joined the Hollywood scene, working on the set design for the latest Alien: Covenant (2017). She packed her bags for NYC once they wrapped. Alice now works as an Architect at Soho House making beautiful spaces for their uber cool clubs.
What do you like about being part of AWNY?
AWNY is a terrific network of strong and interesting women. I am inspired by the women I meet through the group.