If you’re one of the thousands of workers who had to go remote during the pandemic, chances are you’re pretty familiar with your colleagues’ kitchen tables, living rooms and home offices.
Meaghan Reinecke, who works in high-tech, had one colleague who would take calls from the quietest place in his house, which happened to be his five-year-old daughter’s bedroom.
“Whenever he called, there was this beautiful, big, Barbie-pink castle in his background,” Reinecke laughs.
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It’s a sometimes uncomfortable situation that Reinecke herself was lucky enough to avoid during the pandemic. Her husband, Carl-Peter Reinecke, works in sustainable construction and had built them a backyard studio some years ago.
Before COVID hit, the studio saw only occasional use — but then, the tides turned.
“(The studio) was a godsend,” Reinecke recalls. “It was a space that was outside of the house where we can actually work. We didn’t have to share the dining room table with the kids doing their online (schooling).”
The chic office background didn’t go unnoticed by Reinecke’s colleagues, who wanted to know where she was sitting. Before long, a business idea started brewing for Reinecke and her husband — what if they could build these offices for others?
Despite being in the first year of the pandemic, the couple launched Blackbaer Sustainability Inc., a social enterprise specializing in building sustainable studios. The company also works on larger home and renovation projects.
The studios are 108 square feet — about the size of a large shed — and don’t require any arduous logistics or building permits. After a customer purchase, Blackbaer builds pre-fabricated wall panels, which it delivers and installs on-site. While the walls take several weeks to build, the installation itself only takes around four days.
Each studio is made with natural materials and zero off-gassing chemicals. Large, triple-pane windows let natural light in and, thanks to a heat pump, the studios stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Plus, each studio is soundproofed for privacy.
“It’s a gift for your mental health to have separation between work and home,” says Reinecke, who feels especially strongly about it as a working parent. “It’s really, really nice to have a space that is yours, to be a productive contributing employee.”
For Reinecke and her husband, it was important that the business have a social impact.
“Not only is it good to be able to build a product that is mentally, physically and environmentally healthy, but baked into this (is giving) back to the community,” she says.
Blackbaer’s net profits from the studio business go to Habitat For Humanity Greater Ottawa. To push the positive impact even further, Reinecke and her husband are looking to build strong community partnerships.
“We don’t have to have (urban) sprawl,” Reinecke says. “You don’t have to create a giant addition (to your home) or move to the suburbs. You can make great use of the space that you already have and you do it in a healthy and sustainable way.”
Looking ahead, Reinecke hopes that Blackbaer will be seen as an educational platform for others who want to learn how to build using healthy and sustainable materials.
“It’s early days, but every single time we connect with somebody, they’re so enthusiastic,” Reinecke says.
The Bright Side of Business is an editorial feature focused on sharing positive stories of business success.
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