Story by Christy Womack. Photography © Giesey Productions, 2016
Gretchen Bilbro and her husband Chris moved to Murfreesboro to attend Middle Tennessee State University and fell in love with the community, particularly the charm of the downtown area. Chris was looking for a location for his business, Contract Management Services LLC, and for two years Bill Jakes showed the couple downtown buildings but they were all much too large and in need of complete renovation. Then one day he brought them to West Lytle Street and the old Hoover Paint store, which was about 3,000 square feet.
“We fell in love with the building,” said Gretchen. “It was much more doable. We knew Donald Lester of L&L Contractors and we trusted him, but we had just finished a remodel of our home and we’d never attempted a commercial remodel.
“Brian, our project manager, held our hand and it was such an interesting process. We pulled up the carpet and found these concrete floors. When I wanted to leave them this way, Brian could see my vision. When we took down the peg board from the exterior walls, you could see all the different paint colors from where it had been a paint store. I asked them to just seal it and leave it – not to fill the cracks – they are what provide the character.”
“We had lots of fun designing the space,” said Gretchen. “It had great bones and we wanted to combine something old with something new. We purchased a whole truck load of reclaimed wood and formed the staircase. It was challenging. The wood was so old and so hard, it destroyed saw blade after saw blade. However, it was more than worth it, as it was wood that came from Albert Gore Sr.’s tobacco barn, another statement of history.
The wood on the wall in the front of the building is the original floorboards of the attic of the original building that were saved and reused downstairs. “Brian and Donnie were always willing to listen to my crazy ideas and find a way to make it happen,” laughed Gretchen.
Gretchen wanted to maintain the history of the building. One of her most exciting finds was near the end of the project when they were in the attic and kept stepping over an old piece of metal. After stepping over it for months, Gretchen finally pulled it up to remove it and found one of the original Hoover Paint signs. It now holds a place of honor on the front wall as you enter the building.
Originally, the space was to serve as the home for Contract Management Services, but when there was more space than needed for Chris’ business, Gretchen, a nurse, began looking at other career options.
“I started researching splitting up the space and renting private offices. I happened upon a coworking website and fell in love with the values of the coworking community. Coworking is very collaborative and I liked what that stood for. It really spoke to me.”
That inspired the design. “I wanted it to be a welcoming, comfortable, professional space. Chris had worked from home so we were familiar with the struggles of doing that – not having a place to meet clients, being distracted, and feeling isolated. I wanted to create a vibrant micro-community within the Murfreesboro business community. I want to be the social plug-in for independent workers.”
Cultivate Coworking is designed to be easy for independent workers, freelancers, non-profits or small business owners to find their niche. With four levels of memberships ranging from just $25/month for two days and two conference room hours to $199 a month for full time access and eight conference room hours, there is truly something for everyone. An online management site makes it easy to reserve space, pay for memberships, and much more. By becoming a member, independent workershave access to a wide range of seating options – desks, tables, couches, etc.; an open break room with coffee, water and snacks; free wi-fi; event space for classes, meetings or parties; a conference room that seats 10; a business mailing address and even printer/copier/scanner capabilities. And the first day is always free so there’s no risk to try it out.
Currently there are 28 members, and Gretchen hopes to grow that this year to 44 members, though they can accommodate much more than that. Malcolm Stallard was the first member and he runs the Adopt A Hero program from Cultivate Coworking’s space. “We also have coffee with the veterans every third Friday of the month, as well as a networking event every second Thursday from 5-7 – it’s free for members and $5 for guests,” explains Gretchen. “We even have Annelise Werme of Serenidipity Massage and Wellness give chair massages for $1 per minute once a month.”
Gretchen mans the office during regular business hours, Monday through Friday 8am – 5pm. In addition she and Chris are raising their three children, Serik, Austin and Asa, who attend Campus School, and she serves on the board of the Downtown Murfreesboro Business Association, is on two committees of Murfreesboro Young Professionals, and is a board member of the Boro Art Crawl. As if that weren’t enough, Gretchen helps to organize Kazapalooza, a “family reunion” of families from across the U.S., Canada, Kazakhstan and Germany, who have adopted a child from Kazakhstan. Gretchen adopted her oldest child from Kazakhstan and it’s important for her every year to be a part of this event. This year’s event is in June in Denver, Colorado and anticipates 450 people from across the US to attend including representatives from the Embassy of Kazakhstan. Through this event, they have raised over $56,000 to fund projects through nonprofits working with children in Kazakhstan.
To learn more about Cultivate Coworking or to review the membership packages, go to www.cultivatecoworking.com or follow them on Facebook.