Erica Bentley (left) of Novoria web development works along side other business owners at the CoLoft on Santa Monica Boulevard on Tuesday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

SM BLVD — You know a business is on the cutting edge when it hangs a sign in the front window that reads, “What is this place?”

As the first “co-working” space geared toward creative professionals in Santa Monica, the owners of CoLoft, which opened its doors Feb. 15, felt they had some explaining to do.

Located at 920 Santa Monica Blvd., the company’s concept is based on the “co-working” movement that has taken hold in the Bay Area but is relatively unknown in Los Angeles.

The idea is that creative professionals who do freelance work crave the social interaction and networking opportunities that can be difficult to find when working mainly from home. For the self-employed who do their jobs on laptops and are used to heading to Starbucks to put in a shift, co-working spaces are meant to be a welcome alternative.

Compared with a coffee shop, CoLoft aims to provide a more work-conducive atmosphere with more comfortable chairs, more space to spread out, more amenities and fewer distractions.

For co-founders Cameron Kashani and Avesta Rasouli, one of the main goals of the business is to foster a sense of community that benefits members’ psyches while also giving them access to a greater number of potential clients and collaborators.

“Community is the number one priority. That’s what we’re trying to go for,” Kashani said.

Rasouli and Kashani, who are engaged, got the idea to open a co-working space after becoming acquainted with the concept late last year while on business in the Bay Area. They were working on their other joint venture, a company that markets iPhone apps, and after using a co-working space realized they were getting a lot done while also meeting like-minded people.

“I was probably like a couple of hours into it and I had two new business contacts,” Rasouli said. “I immediately realized the value of this whole thing.”

The couple lives in West Los Angeles, and both Kashani and Rasouli said they saw Santa Monica as a natural fit for the business.

“We’ve always really been into the Santa Monica area and the vibe here,” Kashani said, adding that she sees the area as a hotbed for the Web developers and entrepreneurs CoLoft is targeting.

With modern art on the walls, sleek office furniture and an open, loft-like interior, the company’s space is intended to appeal to the non-corporate, creative crowd, they said.

Kelly Sims, a graphic designer who lives in Manhattan Beach, is one member who was eager to join CoLoft after reading about the co-working movement for several years online but finding few opportunities to participate in the Los Angeles area.

“A couple of years ago just working out of the house started to get really, really boring,” he said.

He said he tried a co-working space called Blank Spaces located on Wilshire Boulevard in the Miracle Mile section of Los Angeles but found the environment “too corporate” for his taste.

“Right off the bat I thought, ‘This is what I was looking for,’” he said of CoLoft.

Erica Bentley, another early adopter who was at CoLoft on Tuesday, said she’s learned about co-working after recently moving to Los Angeles from Austin, Texas.

She said she signed up for CoLoft’s premium package, which allows her unlimited access to the space during business hours for $495 per month. There’s no regular night-time hours yet, but the owners said that could change as membership grows. More limited memberships, like a five-hour pass for $30, are also available.

“It’s really designed for people like me who [are] actually social, but we’re independent contractors,” Bentley said. A Web designer, she said she’s already collaborated with a fellow designer she met by coming to CoLoft.

At a time when few new businesses are opening up, the company’s founders are hoping their timing was right regardless of business trends.

“In such a recession there’s a lot of opportunity because a lot of people are out of jobs and a lot of people end up trying to work for themselves,” Kashani said. “We have a lot more freelancers and a lot more web developers and a lot more entrepreneurs now than we probably did two years ago.”

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