Creativity-inspiring spaces for the start-up


By Rose Tantraphol

It’s easy to lose hours of your life looking at ideas for spaces designed to foster creativity. The thing with running a startup, though, is that you don’t necessarily have the time to assemble the perfect space. Consider my past weekend. On Saturday, Valentine’s Day, Moonsail North officially celebrated its third month hanging out its shingle as a strategic communications consulting business. Co-founder Scott Swanson and I enjoyed a slightly over-the-top brunch (peppermint mocha tiramisu for dessert, anyone?) and then got back to our client projects. It’s been like this for three solid months now, working seven days a week. We’re loving it — it’s how startups roll, after all — but how do you take care of your space needs?

Here are five ways I did it with a small budget in between 10- and 12-hour workdays:

Reimagine the space

Like what I do for clients when examining their story and how to potentially retell it, I looked at my office space and assumed everything could be in play. I didn’t ask, “What kind of desk?” I asked, “Do I need a desk?” It turns out that I don’t. I have a more traditional work space in another part of Moonsail North’s real estate, and for my personal area — now dubbed Moonsail North’s creativity lounge — I decided what I needed were comfortable chairs, an ottoman and a trunk. Yes, a trunk that doubles as a coffee table. For me, the trunk does a lot to promote a relaxed sensibility, which in turn supports a “let’s play with some concepts!” feel.

Don’t settle, but be flexible

Look at the offices featured in this piece. (I love ICRAVE’s aesthetics. Google Zurich’s gondolas? Not sure about that.) My god, to have a budget like these companies! As a startup, the good news is that we get to decide everything, from scratch. The bad news that’s not so bad after all is that we don’t exactly have a large line item for furniture. (Not so bad because less is more, as we will get to in a second.) In my space, the chairs and ottoman are from discount retailer Marshalls. The rug cost less than $20 from Costco. Not pictured is a Japanese Shoji screen that I bought online at half price because it was a return; I can’t even tell. I love that by being flexible, I didn’t have to settle at all. I love working in this space.

Gratitude for open space 

For startups, less is definitely more. We chose MacBook Airs over MacBook Pros for the same reason — we saw the Air’s portability and versatility as assets rather than looking at the processing power of the Pro as being superior. The same went for office furniture, especially since our configuration will surely change again in a few months. (We are currently spread all over, with the option of our spaces here, client offices and a local business incubator.)

Surround yourself with inspiration

For any space, not just a startup’s, it’s important to surround yourself with the mantras that will motivate you and the art, books and objects that will inspire you. Readers of this blog might remember how much we love Holstee here at Moonsail North. We lucked out with Holstee’s recent sale and scored exactly the posters we wanted.

This Maya Angelou quote of “People will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” sums up how we feel about every interaction we have with clients, collaborators, vendors — everyone, really. The quality of the work is critical, of course. But so are the engagements themselves.



We have this poster hanging up in our shared workspace.

This next one sums up my personal attitude these past three months as we have scaled up to a full-fledged consulting business. I don’t need the reminder (if you know me in real life, you know this about me), but it’s sweet to have the energy of hustle visible in my space.




This one sums up the liberation of scaling down as a way to live it up:


less is better


On the trunk, I have the Holstee mindfulness calendar my sister Alisa got me, a book about the stories behind fonts called Just My Type that my sister Sedora got me, a language book called Imagining Language: An Anthology my friend Aaryn loaned me, and a lucky bamboo plant. Dark chocolate — a lovely boost to creativity, in my mind! — is missing right now, but I’ll remedy that soon.

Get a white board that makes you happy, and the inspiration will be a renewable resource 

I love this stand-up white board. It is huge, and makes such a difference in my creative lounge. It’s used for brainstorming sessions, and sometimes it’s also used to put up even more inspirational ideas. This quote by Alan Watts is simply golden: “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”



P.S. In mid-Michigan, we have lately gotten used to wind chills of -10 degrees or worse. Staying outside is painful, but my business co-founder and I try to take walks whenever we’ve got a project to discuss, whether it’s an Indiegogo campaign for an education initiative we’re working on or business strategy sessions. One of the many lovely aspects of the outdoors as creative space? Not only is it deeply grounding and inspiring— it’s also budget-neutral. 😉 #startuplife #lessismore



February 18, 2015

(Photos: Holstee poster shots via the Holstee website)