Mainoffice/36"/mike1st/mark2nd

By ELIZABETH HAYES

Staff Reporter

At the Santa Monica offices of software design firm Westmark Harris Advisors, a black Labrador Retriever named Ivy pads over to the front door to greet visitors, then settles down for a nap on the concrete floor.

The firm's offices a converted hardware store have a dozen or so desks arrayed at the center of the space, while the few private offices are set along a mustard-yellow wall with sliding glass doors.

A boat-shaped conference room clad in fiberglass and plywood protrudes from one corner. The stairwell railings are fashioned from metal cables.

Welcome to the world of unconventional office space a world that has been evolving mainly on the Westside for more than a decade, but which is now spreading to other areas of town.

It is a trend being driven by who else? young, creative workers whose idea of dressing up is well-worn khakis and a freshly laundered shirt.

"People want space that's more relaxed and stimulating for their employees," said David Wilson, president of commercial brokerage Lee & Associates and one of the first brokers of L.A. creative space. "They're always looking for high ceilings, skylights and natural materials."

Whether minimalist or avant-garde, L.A.'s growing portfolio of nontraditional offices are distinct from the institutional, corporate high-rises that long have dominated the commercial real estate market.

There's more than a million square feet of converted industrial space on the Westside alone, said Ian Strano, a senior vice president at First Property Realty Corp. the type of space being used for these new brands of office exotica.

"It's gaining more steam than ever," he said.

The phenomenon is actually just one aspect of a larger trend in which companies with informal business cultures seek to create whimsical workplaces, and thereby attract and retain the most talented workers.

At the South Park production studio in Marina del Rey, home of the popular animated series by Comedy Central, there is a recording studio with an adobe roof and an animation area with a thatched grass roof.

"The South Park people are so off-center that it kind of works," said Steven Drucker, vice-president at Hellmuth Obata & Kassabaum Inc., the Santa Monica design firm that helped create the office space.

Mark Friedman, founder of software design firm Westmark Harris and a former real estate broker, said he had no desire to keep working in a high-rise glass box.

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