The Wing is the latest shared workspace to join a growing crowd in LA.
But what singles it out from WeWork, NeueHaus and the soon-to-arrive Second Home, is its targeting to women, and how it uses design to do so, from the temperature of the space which is always 72 degrees, to the height of chairs that are designed around the mean height of women (5’4”) to a lactation room, a child care center, a beauty room filled with products, showers and soft, welcoming decor.
“We have a saying at The Wing: ‘we don't want to break the glass ceiling. We want to build a whole new house,’” said Audrey Gelman, co-founder and CEO of The Wing.
The Wing was founded in New York in 2016, and it has expanded rapidly, attracting tens of millions of VC dollars and investment from WeWork.
The Wing is also controversial. It has been sued for gender discrimination and now defines itself as women-centric rather than women-only.
It is still a private club, albeit more affordable than some of its competitors: at $250 per month for an all-access pass (The Wing also offers a scholarship program for applicants who are working at non-profits, social services, advocacy and education.)
And it signals femininity and feminism with a mix of subtle and sensible design details and overt messaging and merchandize covered in empowering slogans that reach saturation levels of branding around gender.
Meeting rooms are named for trailblazing women, such as African-American actress Dorothy Dandridge, and the phone booths are named for fictional female characters like Lisa Simpson.
There’s a curated lending library of books by female authors. There are lush flower arrangements and tall potted plants. There’s artwork by women painters and photographers. The furniture and walls are in soothing corals and greens.
“This space is very much brought from… a combination of Palm Springs and the Italian Riviera,” said Laetitia Gorra, head of The Wing’s interior design team. “There's a lot of palms, a lot of trees, a lot of greenery, and the pastel hues that you see are really very much brought from kind of the lifestyle of L.A. that was an inspiration for us when we were designing it.”
Ideas for the space began with Scandinavian design, Gelman said, as opposed to the leather Chesterfield sofas of traditional men’s clubs.
“So often women's needs are an afterthought in the workplace, whether it's the temperature or the kind of furniture that's selected or the kind of amenities that are available to them. And with us it's really the first thing that we ask and that we think about,” Gelman said.
Less than a week after The Wing opened in West Hollywood, the space was full, mostly with women who looked to be in their 20s and 30s, working on laptops. Music was playing. Some members were on the outdoor terrace, where you could also spot a man -- meeting with some women.
But there was also something a little off about it. The potted plants turned out to be plastic. The books are arranged by the color of their spines. Add that to the pastels and the coral colored cozy furniture and you begin you feel you are in a kind of Pleasantville -- for feminists.
Members, however, love it.
“I wanted a place to come where you could leave your things if you have to use the restroom. . . and then I ended up meeting all these people that were really great because it's such an open space. And I think that design really facilitates crossing the table and seeing how your neighbors are doing with their work,” said Meredith Russo, a 32-year-old writer.
“I was so excited to have this space because as an entrepreneur it can be very isolating to be at home doing my work. I take meetings around town and I used so many different coffee shops and just today I've taken three meetings here,” said Jessica Goldklang, a 45-year-old event planner. “It's not just the the look of the space, it's the feeling within the space that makes it so special.”
The Wing opens as traditional, exclusively male clubs increasingly open their doors to women. But such spaces are still necessary, says Royal Scales, a 23-year-old writer and photographer.
“You can tell the difference between a space that was designed with women in mind and one that wasn't. And I think that's the crucial bit is just having spaces that are more designed for women, more designed for queer folks, more designed for people of color. Not necessarily who is allowed in and who's allowed out but who was considered” when the space was designed.