Space, the not so final frontier:

If you’re working for yourself in any capacity, you’re going to be looking at places to work out of. From your clients living room to a spare bedroom or small studio in your own home, there are many things to consider when you put together your location.

I’m going to list off a few things I think are worth considering, and then dive deeper into them further down the page.

1) Zoning

2) Hvac and Windows

3) Lighting

4) Flooring

5) Furnishings

6) Extras

7) Square Footage and Price per square foot.

1) Zoning is an odd one for many massage therapists. Many of the massage therapists that I have worked with and talked to over the years don’t even bother paying attention to this. Depending on your municipality, enforcement of zoning restrictions and laws may be particularly lax or extremely aggressive. As a small individual business, with pretty restricted traffic (you can only massage one person at a time, so there is probably only one car/person entering and exiting every hour or so) I think many massage therapists just scoot along under the radar.

If you choose to run your business above board you’ll need to learn a bit about zoning in your area. Typically, your city will have directories for reaching the zoning commission or their staff and you can ask them to point you in the right direction regarding what zones you can work out of, and what exceptions you need to get permissions for.

Many of the zones I’ve been looking for spaces in are either Mixed Use Residential (MUR) or Mixed Use Light Industrial (MULI). Both of these zones in the city I’m dealing will allow massage therapy businesses in these areas, but they require you to get a zoning certificate (or some equivalent depending on the zone) for “medical use”. This means you need to provide off street parking at a rate of one spot for every 300 square feet of office space or fraction thereof.

If I was to find a space in a Commercial 1 zone, many of these restrictions would be much lighter, as these zones have already been designed for a certain amount of traffic–however, your cost per square foot will be significantly higher in these zones.

Again, check with your municipality, be prepared for city or county government to be confused, slow and complicated, and make the best choice for you and your business.

2)HVAC (Heating, Venting and Air Conditioning) and windows will make or break your business depending on a few factors, one of which is where you’re located and what the weather is like there. The ability to keep the air in your work space fresh and not stale when you’ve had clients with really nasty feet, or horrible gas is a blessing beyond belief.

The other great benefit I’ve found is that in combination with a table warmer (I prefer heated pads under the client vs heated blankets over them, more on that later) you can keep the room at a nice cool workable temperature for you, the person doing the physical labor, and the table at a nice cozy warmth for your client, the person totally relaxed on your table. I’ve used small heating fans and plug in oil heaters in some of the various places I’ve worked over the years, they’ll do the job, but come with their own series of risks and concerns.

3) Lighting is interesting, as you have the light that is naturally occurring, and the lighting you purchase for your space. I’m a fan of some subdued natural light in the space over the whole softly lit cave effect, your mileage may vary. If you find a space with great windows, remember that you’ll be getting some heat through those windows, or losing some heat, and you’ll need to consider window treatments such as shades or drapes to ensure modesty and an appropriate amount of light.

As to the lighting you purchase for your space, I’ll cover that a bit in furnishings.

4) Flooring in my mind comes down to one very big question. How clean do you want your space to be, and how much cleaning do you want to be doing?

Your clients will be getting onto and more importantly off of your table at least a few times a day. Before the massage, they may very well have the typical nasty feet that folks have. After the massage, they will very likely have oil or lotion residue on their feet. If you have carpet, those oils, along with skin cells, hair and lint, dust mites and the like will all be building up in your carpet, beneath your carpet in the padding and beneath the padding.

Given that reality, I typically look for flooring that is solid, either hardwood or a marmoleum style floor. A quick sweep and regular mopping will keep your space clear of skin cells, dust and hair and disinfect the surface as well.

5) Furnishings impact how much space you need. We can assume a table to do massage on, but do you also need a chair for your clients to disrobe and the like? What about a table for your music device? Do you want plants in the room? Do you need storage in the room for linens, lotion, bolsters and the like? What about a waiting area with chairs for pre-massage consults? File cabinets for SOAP notes may be useful for certain practices as well. Do you need softer lamps to create a space that feels warm and safe, or brighter higher lamps to create a space that feels more medical?

Something to remember, your client is likely to only be looking at the space for a few minutes before the massage, and a few minutes after. You probably don’t need priceless antiques to make a nice space. A few tasteful pieces, relatively minimal in nature with some appropriate wall art will typically do plenty well for most practitioners.

6) Extras: Do you need extra storage outside your office? Would you like access to a kitchenette? Do you want to be close to public transport? Do you need a secure bike lockup location? Would it be useful for you to have access to Wi-Fi in your building without having to bother with a router and account with the local ISP? Many of these things are incidental to your practice, but can have a huge impact on how your work goes for you. Oh, and before I move on, having on site parking that is designated for you can be a huge benefit over street parking. Moving your car every two hours between clients gets old quick!

7) Prices are going to vary based off a number of factors. How the location is zoned (which will impact how hard it is to get permitted in the location) seems to be a major factor in my metropolitan area. If an location is zoned Commercial-1, I’m looking at about $3 a square foot for spaces over 500SqFt. If I’m looking at comparable spaces in a Mixed Use Residential or a Mixed Use Light Industrial zone, the prices might drop as low as $1.75 a square foot. The downside to those low prices is you might need to pay various fees and improvements to be permitted to operate in those zones. Berkeley California for instance requires an Administrative Use Permit (~$1800) and a designated off street parking spot per 300 SqFt of Medical Use space (the category massage therapists fall under here).

Obviously, your situation with zoning and costs will be particular to your location, but it pays to check zoning and requirements and then compare them with the prices you’re quoted as there may be hidden costs.


So, lots of bits of data to consider, but at the end of the day, finding, and furnishing and creating a space that you and your clients enjoy being in will be a truly rewarding experience.  Its worth it to take the time and do it right if you can!


2 Responses to Space, the not so final frontier:

  1. Krissy April 5, 2015 at 8:54 pm #

    Because I’m nit-picky like that, what have your experiences been like with different heaters? Which are problems for which reasons? I’m just curious. 🙂 You said you would explain why you like under pads more than electric blankets and didn’t come back to that.

    Feel free to leave my comments in moderation forever. 😉 It’s easier than sending you emails. I love you! I appreciate that you are writing these. It’s interesting to think about.

    • Taylor Shogren April 7, 2015 at 3:15 pm #

      I’ll get a post up about that…will be a small one 🙂

Leave a Reply