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Stylish workspace has merits for tiny companies

At DesignSpaces, the Mountain View-based co-working office, size isn't important. It's all in how you use it.

The office, which occupies a compact second-floor unit in a Shoreline Boulevard business complex, seems tiny at first -- and it is, at just over 800 square feet. But then again, as DesignSpaces co-founder Yana Mlynash points out, Silicon Valley companies often don't need much space. All they need is a great idea.

DesignSpaces has only 14 members, who together comprise eight companies. There's Waygo, an app that uses a smart phone's camera and processing power to translate printed Chinese to English in real time; Attune, a cloud-based tool to help businesses optimize and track online sales; CustomSLR, which makes performance gear for shutterbugs; and BinPress, a company dedicated to helping software developers monetize their creations.

The co-working space is also home to a few freelance creatives, including Mlynash -- who runs her own interior design consultancy -- and her co-founder, Yaroslav Kofman, a freelance cinematographer and director.

DesignSpaces prides itself on being unique, billing itself as a co-working environment that values aesthetics far more than your average shared office space. Talking to the three employees of Waygo, who work out of the office, there is certainly something to this claim.

"It's a lot nicer than a lot of the other co-working spaces that I've worked in before," said Rob Sanchez, director of operations for the translation app. Before coming to Waygo, Sanchez said he worked out of another co-working office in Orlando, which he described as little more than a cubicle farm -- filled with drab furnishings and awash in sterile florescent light.

At DesignSpaces, Sanchez continued, "You feel like you want to be in the office."

Kofman said that he and Mlynash paid special attention to the details when they began gathering the furniture and decor for DesignSpaces.

"I believe productivity for people goes up when they're in a well-designed space," Kofman said, adding that he hopes his passion for aesthetics might rub off on those who work at DesignSpaces. "More companies are seeing that their products do not only have to be functional, but they have to be appealing and sexy."

The DesignSpaces office is not the only game in town, nor is it the only co-working space that boasts hip interior design. Though they are a relatively recent phenomenon, co-working spaces have caught on in recent years, fueled by the expansion of cloud-based business models, the rise of telecommuting and the ideas economy.

The Hacker Dojo, another Mountain View shared working environment, is located less than two miles away from DesignSpaces, and is significantly larger, with a kitchen, a 99-person-capacity events room and a workshop space, among other amenities.

And then there is the chain of co-working centers, NextSpace, which boasts multiple locations around the Bay Area and also emphasizes aesthetics.

While aesthetics, sufficient space and amenities are all important to Nathan Lord, lead software engineer for Waygo, he said the most important aspect of any co-working environment is much more basic.

"At home, I'm much more tempted to nap and slack off," Lord said. Prior to moving into DesignSpaces, Lord said he often worked on Waygo from home. He found the pull of his bed, video games and the television distracting.

Lord also found it to be an isolating experience -- especially when no one else was in the apartment. At DesignSpaces, even when his coworkers are out of town, there is usually someone else from another company working nearby, clicking on a keyboard, talking on the phone or simply being there.

Part of the reason Mlynash wanted to start DesignSpaces was because, as a freelance interior designer, she was all too familiar with the "distractions" she encountered working at home. And when she wasn't spending too much time on Facebook or Tumblr, Mlynash said she was going stir-crazy.

"You've got to get dressed up and go out. If you don't, then you're always in your pajamas," the DesignSpaces co-founder said. "When I go to the office, I actually work."

For Lord, having an office in a separate location from the place he lays his head at night helps him maintain a healthier work-life balance. "I have pretty strong powers of association with the space I'm in," he said. "I tend to notice that if I spend all my time working in my room on stressful stuff, sometimes it's harder to sleep at night."

Another benefit of the co-working experience comes as a result of interacting with other professionals, Kofman said. DesignSpaces tries to cultivate this kind of intellectual exchange by regularly hosting wine mixers.

Since opening this past summer DesignSpaces has hosted a regular event called "Wine and Design." The event, which Kofman and Mlynash put on about once a month, features a guest speaker, DJ, wine and snacks. The next event has yet to be scheduled but will likely be held sometime in January.

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