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Design That Scales: The Nooks and Crannies

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When a prospective coworking space founder walks into prominent coworking spaces in cities like New York City, San Francisco, or Chicago, they fall in love. They think, “We need this in our city.”

I once would have disagreed here. I once would have said, “no, you’re city isn’t big enough. It’s not dense enough.” Now, I’ve changed my mind and I’ll tell you why.

It’s all about the nooks and crannies.

See, when I first got into the coworking world I really only knew one model, which was big (actually I’ve since discovered that what I thought was big isn’t big at all). I’d seen smaller spaces and they really weren’t that inspiring. Usually they weren’t big enough to afford enough staff either. In my head the economics never worked out.

A lot of the problem had to do with the small spaces feeling sort of… underwhelming. You know what I mean if you’ve ever done a coworking “tour” in a city. You walk into one space and think “wow” then into another and can’t wait to leave.

This is where the nooks and crannies come in. People want to explore, they want to discover the hidden room behind the bookshelf, they want to wander through the secret garden. People want a sense of wonder. Your coworking space needs this too, small or large.

First impressions are everything. There’s nothing quite as bad as seeing the look on a tour participant’s face when they ask, “Is this… it?” They’re not being rude, they really are wondering where you’re hiding the rest of the building. With nothing left to discover, they leave feeling uninspired.

Large spaces almost naturally lend themselves to a sense of discovery as you walk around them because they are big and you literally can’t see the whole thing from where you’re standing.

If you’re running a smaller space (especially if it’s very open), think about how you can create visual interest with types of visual barriers like plants, art, furniture, temporary walls, secret lounges, etc.

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I just discovered The Wilds, a creative coworking community in Oregon, and the founders there seem to be accomplishing this sense of wonderment. The furniture is eclectic in places, but not lazy; it’s thought out. There are beautiful visual barriers erected. There’s a lot of stuff around that I want to look at and explore, but it doesn’t feel messy. I’m not surprised to discover that it was founded by three highly creative women and caters more to the creative worker.

The design aesthetic of The Wilds may not be your cup of tea, but take a lesson from the functionality of what they’ve built. If your space is just an open format, with no nooks and crannies, it doesn’t lend itself to much mystery and discovery. Try creating some.

Granted, this only matters if you want people to feel inspired. Plenty of coworking spaces get by without inspiring people. It’s something I like, though, and it’s always a factor for me when deciding to be a member or whether or not to work for a particular coworking space.

One last thing. This sense of discovery is most important for your open space members. They are the ones who want to wander the most. Even if they stake out the same spot every day, knowing that they could find two or three other spots that look and feel nothing like where they are sitting now is a comforting thought.


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  1. Pingback: Coworking Insights | Designing Spaces for Nomadic Workers (Like Me)

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