Although major players in the coworking space game like WeWork closed locations and lowered membership fees in 2021, as we head into the final quarter of the year, this concept is taking a turn for the better as spaces from smaller companies such as The Muse Rooms are beginning to re-open.
Originally founded in 2015, The Muse Rooms had three locations in Los Angeles prior to the pandemic. Like many businesses, they had to make difficult choices including shuttering two locations to keep their original Burbank location afloat. Founder Nancy Sexton was even selected to speak before Congress about their experience with SBA loan applications and the struggles of small businesses during this very challenging time.
The newest space is located a stone’s throw from Hollywood on Barham Boulevard. With colorful decor and Hollywood memorabilia, it has single and multi-person offices, a round table meeting room (that is often rented as a writer’s room for television and film productions), a common area with desks for day rentals, and a conference room equipped with a green screen along black and white backdrops for photography and filming. There’s even a hidden speakeasy that can be rented for events.
Sexton has quite an interesting background. Although she grew up in a small Amish community in Ohio, she became an international model and singer. She even had four number one dance albums in Italy. Sexton then went on to become a screenwriter and host for FitTV and Travel Channel. She pivoted her creativity into her current business. Over the past five years, The Muse Rooms cultivated a true community of over 140 entrepreneurs, remote professionals, and artists. I recently spoke with Sexton about the new location, the challenges of opening amidst a pandemic, and how the unique design of this beautiful space can inspire creativity.
Amanda Lauren: Was this new space planned before Covid?
Nancy Sexton: No. Prior to Covid we had two locations in the North Hollywood Arts District and Burbank. We opened North Hollywood in 2015, Burbank in 2016, and then expanded that location to three times its original size at the end of 2017. We had around 13000 square feet and over 140 members total. It was glorious. We had just started making real money.
But in June of 2020, when we didn’t get the funding we thought we would, we were forced to shutter our North Hollywood location to keep Burbank alive. It wasn’t until late 2021 that we were able to get the funding needed to consider opening a new location.
Lauren: What Covid protocols were taken in terms of design?
Sexton: Covid made us rethink how we would build our Hollywood location. The pandemic has made everyone pretty shy to come out of the houses and consider coworking, so we decided to create more single-person offices and we have limited the number of desks in each shared office. During normal times, we would have fit a lot more people in these larger offices. We also added HEPA filters in shared offices and meeting rooms. We also require members to show proof of vaccination.
Lauren: How did you choose the current location?
Sexton: We have a list of criteria that we look for when opening The Muse Rooms locations. Neighborhood, income, proximity to schools, highways, and more. For our new location, it was a rough go. After we closed North Hollywood, we were devastated, but we still had Burbank to keep the brand alive. Without any Covid assistance, we were in a holding pattern on opening a new location.
Then in the fall of 2020, we finally secured SBA financing. I had my eye on a building in Toluca Lake near the studios. We started chatting with the landlord and we were pretty excited about having such a high-profile location right in a heavy foot traffic area.
But then in January my husband, Tim was diagnosed with stage four cancer and all plans and talks halted. We have always done a lot of the physical labor to build our locations and there wasn’t any way that Tim would be able to help. How could we even consider another location with him in treatment? I honestly wasn’t sure we could open a new location, but the universe nudged me to look one last time.
I found a building where the landlord would do the build-out for us, all we would have to do is the design. This location checked off all of our boxes and it was even closer to the studios than the other building. The landlord’s crew built out the space based on our design.
Lauren: What makes The Muse Rooms different than other co-working spaces?
Sexton: The Muse Rooms is not just a corporate idea of what would make a cool office space. The base of our design embraces the late 1800’s, early 1900’s of California’s rich history. The railroad was completed in 1869 and it was expensive to cross the country to get here. A ticket was $65 (approximately $1400 in 2021) for the emigrant class from New York to San Francisco. The trip took seven days. When emigrants made the trek, they couldn’t afford to bring much, but they could bring their craft and that craft is present in our antiques, design, and aesthetic.
We have grounded the basis of our design in history mixed with modern entertainment and art. It oozes creativity and inspiration throughout The Muse Rooms. When you walk into The Muse Rooms, it feels creative, inclusive, and homey.
Lauren: How did you balance design and practicality that’s essential for office space?
Sexton: We have a mix of old and new. The great thing about pulling from the past is that it already has balance built in and then we make sure that our membership has all of the practical elements. We tend to keep our office designs more neutral so that members can bring in their own pieces to design their space how they want. Then we provide solid fiber internet and a secure environment.
Lauren: How did you choose the art and furniture?
Sexton: A lot of our non-office furniture looks like it could fit in a turn-of-the-century film. The pieces reflect that rich early California history. Then we complement those pieces with modern entertainment art. My husband has worked at the studios for a long time and we have quite the collection of unique studio-inspired art. The art has to work with our space and we are very selective when choosing what goes on our walls.
Lauren: Why are the walls painted unique colors?
Sexton: We worked with our friend, Melanie Florio, an artist who specializes in color study, to revamp our logo for our new location. We wanted colors that would evoke feelings of richness, warmth, and luxury yet still stay close to our original brand and logo design. We feel adding those colors to the walls sets us apart from our competition.
Lauren: What is the connection between the way a space is designed and creativity?
Sexton: I feel like it has a direct connection. Creativity happens on a conscious and subconscious level, so when you are in an environment that stokes both like The Muse Rooms, you should be more creative. I say should because there are no absolutes when talking about creativity, but our members feel like they get more done and are more creative in our spaces. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. We attract members who thrive in our design and those are the kinds of people we want as our customers.
Lauren: Has it been challenging to sell memberships because of the pandemic?
Sexton: Yes. Not knowing if a space will be open from one day to the next doesn’t instill member confidence. But, now that more people are vaccinated, Covid numbers are going back down, kids are in school, parents are getting a grip on their family’s schedules, we are getting more new members. It’s been challenging for sure. But, here we are and we are so fortunate to have had so much success prior to Covid and that our brand has pulled us through to the other side of this thing.
The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.