After unpacking takeout from a nearby diner, Eileen Funke knocks on the glass doors of several group work spaces flanking the communal lounge at the Writers Junction, a membership-based office that opened recently in Santa Monica. "Lunch is here," announces Funke, whose self-appointed duties as co-owner and general manager include orchestrating occasional group lunches.
Poet Ashaki Jackson emerges from one of the designated "quiet" rooms, where talking and cellphones are not permitted, and settles into the dining chair next to Funke and Alyss Dixson, a former Paramount Pictures production vice president-turned-novelist. They discuss Dixson's looming deadline and other pressing matters. The lunch hour chitchat is part of the allure of the Writers Junction and two similar new collaborative work spaces, CoLoft, also in Santa Monica, and the Writer's Room on Pico Boulevard near Fairfax.
"People can set up a work space anywhere and work in a solitary atmosphere," says Avesta Rasouli, the co-owner of CoLoft, a space geared more toward creative professionals such as animators and graphic designers that opened not far from the Writers Junction in February. "For us, that social aspect was very important . . . being able to bounce ideas off other people, collaborate on projects." This new generation of shared work spaces is replacing the "silence is golden" philosophy of more traditional office rentals with a more community-driven model that encourages water cooler banter and off-line social networking. Members at these new spaces hash out story ideas in designated partner work areas, brainstorm with nonmember guests in conference rooms and regulate their laptop solitary confinement with intermittent cupcake breaks in community lounges.
The idea of a joint work space geared toward freelancers isn't new. The Office, also in Santa Monica, opened in 2004 as a membership-based space for writers with a focus on high-end ergonomic furniture and good, bottomless coffee. To further attract nose-to-the-grind workers tired of the high-decibel level at many coffee shops, the Office enforces a strict 24/7 whispering-only, no cellphone policy.
But many leasees at these new spaces say that mandated silence can be counterproductive. "I need a certain measure of life happening around me in order to work," says television writer Mark Rizzo, a former Peet's Coffee & Tea regular who recently joined the Writers Junction. CoLoft's Cameron Kashani also credits the economy with creating a broader customer base. "A lot of people lost their jobs, and they're trying to make that an opportunity by becoming freelancers and entrepreneurs."
Affordability has likewise been a draw for established writers. "I searched Craigslist for a space at my magic number for over a year," says Dixson, who had considered approaching colleagues about jointly renting an executive suite before finding the Writers Junction.
Rent for caffeine
Rizzo considers his $125 monthly fee an even swap for all the coffee he had been buying. "At the coffee shop, I considered tipping well my rent." At all these spaces, including the Office, the coffee and tea in the break room are free.
"It was important to us that a variety of writers could collaborate here," says Funke, formerly an assistant to Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles. She co-owns the Writers Junction with older brother Jay Gibson, founder of the Young Storytellers Foundation and a writer for "The Young and the Restless."
The Writers Junction offers 24/7 access for $125 to $140 a month; at the Writers Room, weekday and late-night access is $99 to $175. The Office's membership rates are $189 for limited part-time weekday hours and as much as $600 for 24/7 access, depending on available discounts.
Funke says finding a landlord willing to hand over the keys was the biggest hurdle. "Until last year, it was really difficult to get a landlord to look favorably on a new business without having that history of sales," she says. She and Gibson wrote out their business plan five years ago but it was the soft real estate market that enabled them to find an affordable space.
Last year, they signed on a loft-like former production studio in Santa Monica's warehouse district; CoLoft resides in what was once a patio furniture store.
Lower rates necessitate a more laid-back approach to carpel tunnel prevention. "They're essentially secondhand and inherited pieces, with a big IKEA run," says Funke of the salvaged vintage schoolroom desks and $25 plastic chairs.
By late afternoon, she is wiping cupcake and cookie crumbs from the kitchen counter. A few members are lingering by the electric teapot. Funke, who has put her own writing on hold as she navigates her new business, has already revised one policy: Eating is no longer permitted in the workrooms, only in the kitchen or lounge area.
"It encourages people to interact, to build that community we want," she says. "And I don't want to become the constant cleaning lady."