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How This Heritage-Listed Coworking Space Is Fostering Creativity and Business Success

A collaborative environment teeming with success — and good design.
By Tamar Cranswick and Kara Jensen-Mackinnon
November 13, 2018
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By Tamar Cranswick and Kara Jensen-Mackinnon
November 13, 2018
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Coworking spaces are gaining popularity these days as people ditch the regimented nine-to-five, office-tower-lifestyle in favour of spaces that foster imagination, innovation and community. In the heart of Surry Hills, you'll find one of the most impressive examples of this new way of working: MUSE.

Set on Campbell Street, the heritage-listed building has been converted into a space for creative entrepreneurs and businesses. It's an office that doesn't feel like one — beautifully appointed, with top-notch facilities. And, because a workspace should be just as much about potential as pragmatism, there are networking and mentoring opportunities available here as well.

So what's it like working at MUSE? We've taken a tour of the space to get an insiders view on what it's like to run a business in a shared work environment.

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GOODBYE GREY CARPETS

MUSE is the antidote to the soulless modern office space. Here, concrete, cubicles and fluorescent lighting have been replaced by exposed brick, leather detailing and long wooden tables. The building itself has a rich history, infused with the working and cultural life of Surry Hills, dating back to the late 1800s. These days the heritage-listed site has been reimagined while paying homage to its past. Architect Vince Alafaci and interior designer Caroline Choker of ACME & Co (The Grounds, Fred's, Archie Rose) have brought their formidable skills to bear to create a space that's both beautiful and functional. "The inherent character of the building, with its solid timber flooring, exposed beams and brickwork, lent itself to an interior design that is restrained yet confident," says Alafaci.

So well executed is the team's work, that it was recognised with a silver in interior design at this year's Sydney Design Awards. Thimble, the in-house bar, adds an extra layer of conviviality inside, while outdoors the rooftop courtyard boasts incredible views over the city and is the perfect place for a midday reset, an afternoon brainstorm or a post-work tipple.

Tom Baker of Mr Black, a coffee liqueur company that started in 2013, says of his coworking experience, "You know your business is working well when you can't remember what people used to do. I don't know what businesses did without email or smartphones, and I don't know what we would do without coworking spaces…we'd probably be in some office box in North Sydney."

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COLLABORATION IS KEY

Everything at MUSE is geared towards allowing companies and coworkers to grow. It's not just the practical — sleek working spaces and meeting rooms with high-end facilities — it's also the atmosphere that's cultivated within. Managing director of MUSE Nicholas Sammut says a key objective of bringing the concept to life was to bring together the right people. "Fostering ideas exchange, networking and collaboration are fundamental to creating productive and successful communities. The MUSE community is no different. Its success rests on the mix of the right people, the bespoke environment to attract them in the first place and being able to check all boxes across facilities and operations. It's really the full package."

Sarah Luthaus experiences the advantages of this community first hand. She's the only member of digital media agency Ten Past Ten based in Sydney (the rest are in Adelaide) and rather than sitting solo at home with a luke-warm cup of tea and a temperamental wifi connection, she spends her office hours at MUSE. "I work on my own, but I get to have a sense of community rather than having to work every day by myself — and I've got people to bounce ideas off".

Kate Hart of Barenaked Studios, a company that organises life drawing and art classes with a twist, also digs the vibe at MUSE. "Creative people work best surrounded by other creative people. You can bounce ideas off each other, and everyone is great at collaborating."

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FEAR NOT THE RISKS OF EXPANSION

One of the best things about running a business out of a coworking space is the versatility it provides. If you're running a startup, chances are it could go from your parents' basement to mini-mogul status in a short period of time, and you'll need the right environment to facilitate it. Tom Baker appreciates the flexibility that the shared working space affords him. In just under four years, the team at Mr Black went from "two men in a shed on the Central Coast to 15 coffee 'evangelists' working in the CBD."

MUSE has a small business-friendly membership model that takes the rapid expansion of businesses into account. Members pay for a desk month-to-month, so it's easy to be agile when it comes to scaling up (and down). Rather than pack up and move office, it's just a matter of paying for a few more desk allocations. This has worked favourably for digital marketing company MiQ, which has tripled in size since launching in Australia six months ago. "As our team has rapidly expanded, MUSE has grown with us," says managing director John Danby, with the business now taking up the entire second floor.

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PEOPLE NEED (FREE) YOGA

Community and opportunity are key at MUSE. To that end, there's an array of activities, workshops and events to help get the creative juices flowing and to foster networking opportunities.

Start the day with early morning yoga on the rooftop (free for members) and downward-dog your way into better ideas as the negative energy is released. Members looking for something more up-tempo (or to beat out some pent-up aggression) can join a boxing session hosted by Funktional Community at lunchtime.

But MUSE recognises that, just like the body, the brain needs exercise in order to function at its peak. Meditation classes are on offer to help refresh and rezone and there's also life drawing classes (run by Barenaked Studios) to inspire different ways of looking. Events and workshops are held regularly, covering everything from pitching ideas and the ingredients of success through to managing stress. Gatherings like Christmas in July and rooftop cinema sessions in summer provide the perfect opportunity for the coworking community to come together.

John Danby attributes part of the MiQ's rapid growth to the great working environment MUSE provides for his staff. "Such a great space with all of the perks continually inspires the team to achieve our best results."

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To learn more about MUSE, its memberships and event hire packages, book a tour via the website.

Images: Trent Van Der Jagt.

Published on November 13, 2018 by Tamar Cranswick
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