Sharing chic office spaces

Co-working spaces here are now targeting niche groups such as artists and working mums

It is not the most glamorous entrance. To get into Workhouse, a new co-working space, you need to pick through a back alley in Veerasamy Road before arriving at a nondescript-looking metal door that leads into a shophouse.

Inside, though, it is a different story. The front door opens to reveal a courtyard entrance with a zen rock garden and cool industrial-chic interiors, designed by local architects Farm.

For $450 a month, besides a work desk - fully customised with power points, individual lights and an optional partition - you can enjoy the use of a comfy lounge, rooftop terrace, fully stocked pantry, shower facilities and conference rooms.

Workhouse is a far cry from the corporate-style, tech-focused, co-working spaces that dot the Central Business District. The three-storey shophouse in Little India is the most recent in a new generation of niche office-sharing businesses that are targeting groups beyond the usual tech entrepreneurs.

For the uninitiated, co-working spaces are office premises shared by individuals or businesses that are otherwise working independently. These spaces provide desks, utilities, Wi-Fi and a business address - all for a low monthly charge.

More than 30 such offices have cropped up in the past six years, with most situated in central areas and favoured by techies who value banding together in clusters.

The concept has received the Government's approval, with Spring Singapore and JTC Corporation's co-working enclave for start-ups and incubators, JTC Launchpad @ one-north, opening in January.

Recently though, there has been a new wave of co-working offices catering to other niche crowds. Snazzily designed and situated a bit off the city centre, they tend to attract a more diverse crowd working in the creative and lifestyle industries.

At Workhouse, for example, a toy designer and a software engineer work alongside a seven-person business managing nightlife and lifestyle clients. It occupies a 4,000 sq ft three-storey shophouse.

Says product designer Edmund Liew, 35, who joined Workhouse a month ago: "I was attracted to the diversity here. I've had some great discussions with the people around me and there is no conflict of interest."

Over at Art Social Haus, it is not just office spaces that are shared, but studio spaces where artists can paint, draw and sculpt. Rents range from $250 to $350 a month.

Started last July, the 1,000 sq ft space in Ubi Road offers ample room for artists to work on their projects - including a designated drying area and access to two manual inking stations for printmakers.

Tenants can also use the gym and swimming pool facilities in the building.

For founder Sheau Chan, 41, a graphic designer by day, this was a "passion project". She says: "I understand first-hand how expensive the craft can get for artists who aren't established enough to own their own studio space." She spent $15,000 renovating the space.

It is women power at Woolf Works, Singapore's first women-only co-working space. Named after the novelist and feminist Virginia Woolf, the 1,600 sq ft space caters mostly to working mums needing a quiet place to answer e-mail or get work done.

Full-day price plans (starting at $200 a month for one-day-a-week access) also allows tenants the flexibility to come in for half days if that works better for their schedules.

The two floors of the Joo Chiat shophouse feature a clean open-concept layout, cosy reading nooks, a studio space for weekly pilates classes and a library stocked with ample women-empowerment-focused reading material.

It also organises networking sessions called Woolf Works Wednesdays, where invited speakers hold talks on a range of issues pertinent to women.

Founder Michaela Anchan, 34, is a stay-at-home mum herself, with two children aged six and two. She renovated the space for $30,000 and 22 people are currently members there, including freelance writers and a photographer.

Mrs Sarah Pinel, 34, marketing and operations director of home-based tech support company Tekkie Help, is one of the tenants.

She says: "As a mother of two boys aged five and two, my home is always a frantic place. Coming here allows me to spend two days of the week singularly on my business without the cost significantly eating into my overheads."

avarma@sph.com.sg