The workers move quickly across fandango-pink floors. Soft lighting bounces from brick walls, framed by tall archways painted white and gold. Verdant green plants on windowsills watch over a landscape of plush chairs and wooden tables.
In the Coven, St. Paul's newest co-working space, everything is intentional.
"As women in particular, and certainly as nonbinary and trans folks, we just think about how we're meant to fit into other people's spaces, rather than, 'What does it actually feel like to have something that feels designed for our own?' " said Coven co-founder Erinn Farrell.
St. Paul's first-ever "femme-first" workspace celebrated its grand opening Tuesday, following in the footsteps of its sister location in Minneapolis. Named for a convening of witches, the Coven is a workspace designed for women, trans and nonbinary people.
Now with more than 400 members, including health care executives, artists, web designers and others, the community is growing — along with the demand for more spaces like it.
"[Members] come here because they're really interested in connecting with like-hearted individuals, people from different backgrounds," said co-founder Alex Steinman. "That's really where our magic lies, in the diversity of our space."
The Coven's first location opened in March 2018 after raising $350,000 from donors.
St. Paul was waiting for its own version, this time on two floors of the historic Blair Arcade Building at 165 N. Western Av. The city of St. Paul contributed a $100,000 grant and a $100,000 loan. On Tuesday, Mayor Melvin Carter spoke to the members and others at the Coven.
"To have this space is revolutionary, and destructive, because it challenges all of those notions of what an innovator looks like, or what a founder looks like," Carter said.
Erin Murphy, a former state House member now running for Minnesota Senate, uses the space for her health care nonprofit. It's the light, space and energy of the room that she says makes her productive, in a place she thinks "allows people to be a full expression of themselves."
Members trade monthly fees for amenities like a self-care room and shower, products for skin and hair of all types, a coffee bar and kitchen. The St. Paul location, twice the size of Minneapolis', boasts child-care services and more private workspaces, additions members asked for as the Coven grew.
One membership is donated for every five purchased, dedicated to supporting a new member from a historically marginalized background.
Sitting among women with heads bent over laptops, surrounded by soft lighting and multihued patterns on the walls, website creator Cary Walski said she didn't seek out a femme-first space to get work done. But after trying one out, she understood the appeal.
"Having the opportunity to be in a women and genderqueer-only space was surprisingly refreshing," Walski said. "After spending time there, I just found myself relaxed in a way that was totally unexpected."
Men are invited to work at the Coven in an "all gender expression space" located in the lower level of the St. Paul location, according to Steinman. During a tour Tuesday, Coven member Amy Siegel said that men also enter through a different door, but Steinman said later Tuesday they are not required to do that.
"The male gaze changes the environment of the room," said Dionne Dabelow, a health care professional who bounces between both locations on busy workdays. Instead of contending with workplace stressors like "mansplaining," she enjoys the communal work environment she sometimes misses as a woman in leadership.
"Seeing these professional women rock — that's really inspiring," she said.
Cleo Krejci is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.