Let's work together

Coworking spaces are on the rise in Rhode Island
By PHILIP EIL  |  March 12, 2014

0314_Cowork_Design_Sp_top.jpg 
CREATIVE HUB The Design Office.

Grind, Ensemble, Con Artist, Secret Clubhouse, and AltSpace in New York. Citizen Space, NextSpace, and PARISOMA in San Francisco. Oficio and WorkBar in Boston. Enerspace in Chicago. Miami Shared in Miami. Indy Hall in Philadelphia. CoLab in Nashville. CoCo in Minneapolis. Jellyfish Cartel, Flip Work, and Blankspaces in Los Angeles.

We’re talking about coworking spaces, those 21st-century gathering zones where people pay by the day — or week, or month, or year — for access to shelter, a desk, climate control, coffee, wifi, and the general feeling they’re participating in a profound shift in the way we think about work.

The existence of these places isn’t news. As long ago as 2008 — ancient history in the Internet Age — The San Francisco Chronicle gazed wondrously at a “communal drop-in office space called Sandbox Suites — an example of a new and growing work arrangement called coworking.” But here in Rhode Island, well. . . we’re not San Francisco. And though we’ve had versions of coworking spaces for almost a decade, it appears the Ocean State recently reached a critical mass. (CriticalMass is, of course, the name of a coworking space in Boston.) Over the last six months, four coworking spaces have opened their doors on this speck of turf we call home — enough for us to take notice and start asking questions.

What is a “coworking space”? Why are they popping up so frequently here? What do they cost to join? Why join one at all? Is there anything distinguishing them from one another?

The answer to the last question is, “Yes, absolutely.” Come along for a statewide tour de coworking and we’ll find some answers to those other questions, too.

 

THE DESIGN OFFICE

LOCATION | Downtown Providence

OPENED | November 2007

SQUARE FOOTAGE | 2600

RATES | $175/month (part-time), $385/month (full-time)

ONLINE |thedesignoffice.org

OUR TAKE | The Design Office seems to be the oldest coworking space in Rhode Island and it feels fittingly dignified. There’s nothing forced or kitschy-“cool” about the place. With its wood floors, high ceilings, long tables, jigsaw piece-esque desks, and walls lined with uber-sleek graphic posters, it’s a space that asks, “Why wouldn’t a space in a building in downtown Providence be reconfigured and reimagined by the smart, creative people that make the city distinct?”

At the Design Office you’ll find architects, graphic designers, photographers, programmers, professors, industrial designers, and even a font designer. You’ll also find a brain-tingling wall of books, ranging from The Pocket Book of Dinosaurs to Understanding Comics to Design and Form to Kosmos: A Portrait of the Russian Space Age to former RISD President John Maeda’s Maeda @ Media.

WHY COWORKING? “I think the general feeling in the last five to 10 years is that, working for a big company, you don’t just retire with a great pension and mow your lawn and hang out with your grandkids. There’s nothing guaranteed on the other end of that full-time gig, whether you’re laid off or the business closes or what have you. I feel a great deal of excitement around the possibility that we can reinvent the economy, and I think something like coworking is one piece of that.”

_Design Office founder, owner —  and RISD Graphic Design department  head — John Caserta

 

KEESEH STUDIO/ANCHOR

LOCATION | West Side of Providence

OPENED | June 2008 (Keeseh), June 2011 (Anchor)

SQUARE FOOTAGE |  Almost 14,000

RATES |  Desks available for $150/month; artist spaces starting at $300/month; office spaces starting at $400/month

ONLINE |  keeseh.comanchorprovidence.com

OUR TAKE |  Asher Dunn started his first Rhode Island coworking space — a communal woodshop called Keeseh Studio (“keeseh” is Hebrew for chair) in Hope Artiste Village — 16 days after he graduated from RISD. Before long, after his company Studio DUNN won a “Best New Designer” award at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, he needed a bigger space. Luckily there was a recently vacant warehouse on the West Side of Providence that the Providence School Department had used as a storage space. Dunn describes it as a “big white room.”

Nowadays, that room is a ginormous inspiration factory. Stroll around the halls and you’ll find art exhibitions or an office where violin and electric guitar makers work shoulder to shoulder. Or you might run into the co-president of the Rhode Island AIGA (American Institute for Graphic Arts) or the program manager of the Rhode Island Sierra Club chapter — both of whom have offices at Anchor.

The inspiration component isn’t accidental. After Dunn first set aside hours as “open studio” time in his woodshop, “I wanted more people in here regularly that would be inspiring to me and that I could inspire,” he says. “And as that idea grew, I recognized that it would be really nice to have the artist spaces and the office spaces as well, to really create a lot of different backgrounds in one area that could share between industries.”

Anchor’s March 19 open mic, Providence Hoot (one of many programs and events the space hosts), is the perfect chance to scope the place out.

 

THE BATCHHAUS

LOCATION | Jewelry District, Providence

OPENED | May 2010

SQUARE FOOTAGE | A designated area (desks, a couch, a small room) within a 3500-square-foot total office

RATES |  Free (but the space only opens on Thursdays)

ONLINE | batchhaus.com

OUR TAKE | When the tech startup Batchbook opens their doors once a week to the roving, plugged-in masses, it’s more community-building exercise than a revenue generator, Batchbook CEO and co-founder Pamela O’Hara says.

“Especially in Providence, there’s such a sort of migratory work environment: a lot of designers, a lot of freelancers, a lot of developers,” she explains. “So we like having those folks sort of rotating through our space. . . Why not share it with fellow entrepreneurs and, just, cool people?”

As it turns out, Batchbook recently hired a developer who stopped in for a BatchHaus session. So maybe it’s a revenue generator after all.

WHY COWORKING? “There’s coworking space for all different types of businesses: design businesses, creative businesses, tech businesses, real estate businesses. And I think it’s. . . taking off of the ‘open web’ concept, this concept that the Internet — the ‘cloud’ — should be very open, technology shared, we should all learn, we should open source our code so we can grow together. I feel like coworking represents that same mentality in the brick and mortar space.”

_Pamela O’Hara

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