Bland tan walls. Generic tables and chairs. Institutional lighting.
That’s what businesses and boards usually get when they spring their staff from cubicles and offices for an off-site workshop, meeting or team-building exercise.
“I wanted everything that wasn’t that,” said Laura Prisc.
She got it — or rather she brought it to life.
The rainbow light bulb logo that marks the exterior of her Great Expectations Think Space in Charleston’s East End Warehouse District is a harbinger of the colorful environments within.
“People are a lot more creative when you put them in the environment that will inspire that,” said Prisc, who launched the business in October 2016 at 1216 Smith St., beside Bricks & Barrels restaurant. “That’s why we have color and character in the building.”
Character is putting it lightly. The first of the four meeting rooms businesses and boards can use for gatherings is called The Un-Bored Room, which can accommodate six people. The room is a mixture of exposed red brick and deep purple walls. Decorations range from an angled ironing board on one wall printed with inspirational messages to wall-mounted games of Scrabble, The Game of Life and a Ouija board.
“The Ouija board was my husband’s idea,” Prisc said. “He said, ‘Can we put one of those on the wall?’ I said, ‘Certainly, as long as the answer is yes. Yes to my future, yes to my idea.’”
Sure enough, the plastic Ouija board wedge that reveals messages from the beyond is permanently glued in place over the word “Yes.”
But the aim of Great Expectations Think Space is not otherworldly. The rentable rooms are very much rooted in this world, where the goal is to unlock the potential and creativity of colleagues and teams who gather in the meeting spaces, Prisc said.
She chose “great expectations” as part of the name to underscore why a company or board might invest in getting people out of their usual working environment.
“The great expectation is that when you take your team or board off-site for a meeting, you have great expectations for the outcome,” Prisc said.
Each of the rooms features polished hardwood floors and exposed brick, with brightly colored, offbeat furniture and inspirational signs, drawings and messages on the walls. Among them: “Don’t look back ... You’re not going that way!,” “Your story matters ... Share it with the world” and “Danger! Old ways of thinking can be fatal.”
The TRAINing Room, which can accommodate up to 24 people at worktop spaces or 36 in seminar-style seating, was named in honor of her son’s tabletop train station. Located at one end of the room, it features a host of wooden Thomas the Tank Engine trains and tracks.
“So on break, if you’re so inclined, you can run track and run over 40 engines around to play,” Prisc said.
The playfulness theme carries over into The Story Room, which can hold 24 people at worktop spaces or 42 in seminar-style seating. On one wall hangs a magnetic blackboard full of Scrabble tiles and alphabet letters for concocting messages and impromptu inspirations.
The room also features a tabletop game with a more entrepreneurial bent, called Fresh Biz.
“It’s a business simulation that really gets you thinking about the paradigms and the beliefs you have,” Prisc said. “It really brings out how creative do you think? Are you focused on competition or collaboration?”
The games and playful decor are part of a mission to help business colleagues loosen up and think in fresh ways, Prisc said. “I find that play during a meeting really helps people get out of their shells and think more creatively.”
The most unconventional room is dubbed The Breathing Room, the only one without traditional work spaces. It harbors a huge, curved, aqua-colored sofa and side chairs for more casual, intimate workshops, meetings and retreats.
“This is everybody’s favorite room,” Prisc said, entering the space, which is lit by tear-drop-shaped, multicolored glass lights descending from the ceiling. “It was designed specifically so that when you come in you would just go, ‘Ahhhh.’”
In the hallway outside is a table with stools and a side table with bowls of chocolate and candy. A sign on the wall reads, “If you were waiting for a sign — this is it.”
“This is just a little breakout nook. If you need to step out of a meeting and take a phone call or whatever. And we always have candy available because people love to have a little treat,” she said.
Every room is outfitted with a screen, easel, whiteboard, markers, pens, scissors, staplers, Post-it notes, bowls of snacks and a small refrigerator full of water and soft drinks.
The prices are all-inclusive with amenities in each room. A full day for The Breathing and Un-Bored Rooms is $800 each (a half-day is $550). The cost is $1,600 per day for the Story Room and The TRAINing Room (a half-day is $1,150).
The all-inclusive pricing reduces the sticker shock from renting spaces at other conference centers and meeting rooms, Prisc said.
“If you go to another conference center, there’s a fee for a projector and whiteboard and the pens and the coffee service and the water and all of those things,” she said. “So at the end of the day, your $300 room turns into a $1,200 bill, which is not always a nice surprise.”
The only thing not included is catering, should a company choose to bring in food, although real plates and silverware are included so attendees don’t need to eat off paper plates and plastic silverware.
Prisc is also available at an extra cost as a facilitator and coach.
Great Expectations Think Space is actually a side business for Prisc, as she has been an executive coach doing business training and mentoring for five years. She and her husband moved to West Virginia from Washington state about seven years ago, where she previously worked as a communications director for 25 years in different businesses and industries.
Since she opened in Charleston’s Warehouse District, a variety of businesses have rented out the rooms.
“Accounting, health care, health insurance, oil and gas, Dow Chemical, mortgage lending — so it’s really a broad spectrum,” she said. “Anybody who would take a team off-site just to get them out of the office, to get away from typical distractions: strategic planning, new project kickoffs, quarterly manager meetings, team building.”
She also has made the rooms available on a one-time basis for a couple of hours free for nonprofit boards to expose their members to the spaces.
Her coaching and mentoring focus comes through in some of the design decisions, including the round table in the Un-Bored Room, Prisc said as she entered the space.
“It is the antithesis of your typical boring board room. We have a round table in here so there’s no head of power at the table.”
The Story Room’s relaxation area includes a rainbow-colored rug, along with a red-and-purple upholstered sofa and chairs and an oddly shaped cone chair, in which you can spin around like a child on a swing.
Part of the investment businesses and boards make when they shell out money to take colleagues out of their usual gathering places is to spur out-of-the-box thinking, she said.
“You’re making an investment to do it, so it makes sense you would put people intentionally in a space that would inspire that, right?”
The coach in her comes out, as well, when she speaks to the larger mission of what organizations and individuals seek at special gatherings.
“I want people to realize they get to write the story that they’re living,” she said. “We don’t have to be victims of circumstances. We can create the conditions and circumstances in our lives. And we can write a plot twist, and we can bring in new characters. And that’s true whether its an individual, a team or a business.”
For more on Great Expectations Think Space, visit greatexpectationsthinkspace.com or call 681-265-9465.
Reach Douglas Imbrogno at
304-348-3017 or follow
@douglaseye on Twitter.