By Rachel Lerman
The Seattle Times.
Inside a former Northern Trust bank vault in downtown Seattle, there now stand several rows of posh, wooden lockers. Just outside the heavy vault door is a series of curtained booths, a sleek, fully stocked bar and rows of small desks set up to look like a cafe.
A blend of restaurant, bar and lounge, the location has another function: It’s a co-working space.
The Coterie Worklounge launched last month to serve a gap that co-founders Leah Richmond and Su-Zette Sparks see in the market, an upscale space where a growing number of independent workers can eat, entertain clients and work.
A co-working space generally summons up images of rows of offices, desks, kitchens and maybe a few pingpong tables thrown in.
More and more, the term has come to apply to tech startups, which often start out in co-working spaces. The spaces provide a place to work and meet with teams, with the added benefit of having access to electricity and Wi-Fi.
Coterie looks different. The 10,000-square-foot space at the base of a downtown office tower is decked out in elegant furniture that recalls a scene from “Mad Men,” which is just the vibe Sparks and Richmond sought.
“We were going for the ’40s, but I think we landed in the ’50s,” Richmond said.
The pair previously ran a consultant business, helping companies with organization and strategy.
They said they got sick of working in crowded coffee shops or trying to find places to meet with clients at the last minute.
That’s when they started to raise money to open Coterie, a word that refers to a group of like-minded spirits.
“The idea was to create a space where you can get some work done but also entertain a client and celebrate,” Sparks said.
The Worklounge, a word the pair made up, has enough space for more than 270 people and is equipped with common desks, private offices, conference rooms for rent and a full kitchen. Membership starts at $160 per month for one person, or $30 a day for drop-ins.
Rents for co-working spaces across Seattle vary widely depending on what services the worker wants included. Office Nomads’ starts at $30 a month and ranges up to $495 per month.
A monthly seat at Galvanize costs $349, and a seat at WeWork starts at $300, but both spaces are accessible 24 hours a day.
Coterie has about 100 members so far, and many of the clients are salespeople, consultants and lawyers.
The two-floor space is divided into “zones,” one that buzzes like a coffee shop and others with varying degrees of quietness. On weekends and off-hours, groups can rent out the Worklounge for events.
The restaurant area, open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays (as is the rest of the space), serves small plates and full meals and allows online ordering. Servers will bring food directly to a desk.
“We are going for a little bit of a grown-up feel,” Richmond said.
The co-working trend is booming around the country. A report from the Commercial Real Estate Development Association counted 781 such spaces in 2013, up from just one in 2005. That number is doubtless much higher today.
Seattle has at least 20 spaces, said Susan Dorsch, co-founder of Office Nomads. Dorsch helped organize a group called The Seattle Collaborative Space Alliance, which brings together co-working spaces to discuss issues and needs of the community.
She welcomed the opening of Coterie, and any co-working space. If every space in Seattle were at absolute peak capacity, collectively they could fit a couple thousand people total, Dorsch said.
With the city’s population rising, she expects much more space will be needed soon.
A recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office shows that more than 40 percent of the country’s workforce is made up of freelancers, independent contractors and pretty much any other worker who does not have a traditional office job.
The number is increasing, up from about 31 percent in 2005.
“Even if we all max out our membership, there’s just no way that we’re serving Seattle in the way that it needs,” Dorsch said.
She reaffirmed that it’s not all about tech.
Tech startups may grab a lot of attention, but freelancers exist in every industry. Many find it isolating and difficult to work from home, and expensive to rent their own office.
“We’ve heard over the years (from members) that being in an environment with a diverse group of professionals is a huge win,” she said.
As for Coterie, Richmond and Sparks are hoping the upscale idea catches on. If things go well, they plan to expand to 10 more U.S. cities.