Coworking spaces are cropping up all over the country and in all kinds of spaces. While a few have opened in new buildings, most have found homes in repurposed structures, from firehouses to print shops. While they share common elements – WiFi, coffee, tables and chairs – the best of them feature design elements that add to the creative atmosphere.
We talked to owners of two coworking spaces to find what went into their decisions about locating and designing their enterprises.
Location is everything
You don’t find many coworking spaces in office parks or in the exurbs. They work best in downtowns, walkable areas with a palpable energy, places with a concentration of people and amenities, such as restaurants and cafes. Public transportation also is a plus.
“Davis Street was my first choice, in downtown Evanston, surrounded by shops, restaurants and near transportation options,” says Angela Valavanis, who founded Creative Coworking in Evanston, Ill., with her husband Stel. “We stay in the heart of things to attract and retain members.”
“We are located in downtown Sarasota,” says Rich Swier, founder of the HuB in Sarasota, Fla. Rich’s wife, Assunta Swier, is the HuB’s CEO. “We believe urban centers bring a vibrancy of ‘collisions’ happening inside our building and out on Main Street.”
After the location is decided, the right building is essential. “We found a skinny little three-flat over 100 years old,” says Angela, who is the primary manager of the space. “By exposing an original brick wall, a staircase railing and two tiny stained glass windows on the third floor, we kept its original character. The building was a boarding house for railway workers, then a boarding house for women.”
By contrast, Sarasota’s HuB was designed and built from scratch. “We were fortunate to partner with an entrepreneurial building owner who was renovating and who loved our concept,” Rich says.
Coworking spaces work to balance personal space and community. “We designed our space to have a large open area surrounded by private offices, to allow people to freely flow throughout the day,” says Rich. “We don’t have desks in the open areas, but rather couches, chairs and open tables. We have a full bar and event area which allows for us to bring in other people throughout the community to come experience the space as well.”
Angela says, “We have 40 desks, four meeting rooms, six private offices, and two small event spaces. But I noticed lots of blank walls not conducive to productivity. So I started reaching out to artists and now have art by over 35 local artists on display with a creative, inspiring feel to it. Housing art helps create a sense of community here, a very important aspect of our business model.”
Angela designed a gender-neutral environment that is comfy, but professional. “We added a rooftop deck for taking a lunch break or even for hosting clients,” she says. Rich describes designing “intentional eves-dropping,” by not putting ceilings on the offices for an open and transparent culture. “We wanted people to hear what other people were working on, to find synergies to work together. Some people don’t understand the huge value in collaboration, so we try to encourage this type of activity in our space.”
Rich says, “We are fortunate to have created an ecosystem where many of the startups in our space have access to talent and resources in the building. We also have a team of people who help startups through our incubator program and seed fund.”
“I also try to help my members connect with the right people to succeed in their industry—my network becomes their network, which is an added perk of membership,” says Angela.
Starving for community
“We always say the people who don’t like the space (e.g. colors, noise, vibe) don’t belong here,” says Rich. “But we think it’s the best way to attract the right creative people. Most people (especially geeks, nerds, hippies and artists) love it. We believe coworking is simply the appetizer to a better way of life for creatives. We are all starving for a community to belong to and ultimately help build.”