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Dani Arps: The NYC Interior Designer Giving Startups a Minimalist Makeover

The 32-year-old designer helps young tech companies grow up

Ever since Google made a Chuck E. Cheese-style ball pit a fixture of its Silicon Valley headquarters, tech companies’ similarly playful offices have earned a bit of a bad rep: They’ve been decried, in turns, as infantilizing, juvenile, and flat-out tacky.

Consider the work of New York-based interior designer Danielle "Dani" Arps a course correction.


Arps has earned a name for herself proving that a fun interior doesn't have to look like a McDonald’s PlayPlace. Instead, her work marries a clean-lined, industrial aesthetic with a natural material palette and dashes of (on-brand, of course) color. In other words, it is, in fact, possible for startup employees to work in an imagination-fueling, comfortable environment, and keep their dignity. Arps shows them how.

Day One Agency
Mariel Tyler

At Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, where she earned a Masters of Science in Interior Design, Arps developed her industrial-chic design style and an analytical approach that puts function—and programmatic needs—first.

"Pratt ran the interiors program like an architecture program," she explains. "It was all about process and concept." At the outset, this rankled her. "When are we going to get to materials and colors?!" Arps recounts, laughing at her impatience.

Yipit office
Yipit
Mariel Tyler

But she came to appreciate this rigor and the confidence it afforded her. If you start with material and color, rather than a real knowledge of how your clients best operate in a space, you run the risk of missing the mark entirely, or, as Arps put it jokingly, "not being able to open a door without hitting a sofa."

"I started with a residential project, but I really like commercial work," Arps says, by way of an introduction to her practice, which she founded in 2014 and focuses almost exclusively on design for digital startups. With commercial work, she adds, "there’s a bit more freedom."

Once she finished her first two projects, for, respectively, education and data mining startups General Assembly and Taykey, ("They kind of happened simultaneously," Arps explains), word-of-mouth propelled her on to other gigs. Soon, she was working with companies as varied as digital marketing firm Day One Agency, Venmo, Contently, and Kitchensurfing.

In Arps’s minimalist work, you’ll find moves common in modern workspaces (open-plan seating among them), but nary a climbing wall or treehouse-like meeting room, as you might elsewhere. "I really start from a space-planning point of view," rather than one that focuses on "amenities." "How can I make this work for you?" Arps says. "Companies contact me when they’re bursting at the seams," she adds.

Arps also masterminds custom furniture, lighting, and textile designs for her clients. At the moment, she's just finished new headquarters for online ticket marketplace company Seatgeek in Manhattan’s NoHo neighborhood. There, Arps designed custom pendant lights and rolled in her Dani Lounges, custom plywood-frame chairs on casters with high backs and plush, upholstered seats and backs.

General Assembly office
General Assembly
Mariel Tyler
Yipit office
Yipit
Mariel Tyler

It’s no secret, of course, that the world of startups—from the venture capital firms that fund them to the programmers and number crunchers that make them tick—is overwhelmingly male and predominately white. Arps falls into neither category. When asked what her experience has been navigating an industry where women of color, like her, are so vastly underrepresented, she is diplomatic.

"I started with a residential project, but I really like commercial work. There's a bit more freedom."

"I use [my difference] to my advantage. I come to the table with a different perspective," she says, adding that she’s never treated less than professionally. If anything, Arps senses that clients value her point of view as someone on the outside of the tech-world bubble.

In the coming months, Arps is looking forward to finishing work on a handful of build-outs, hiring, and, eventually, taking a brief bit of time to herself before digging into the next project. No matter what the projects are, you can rest assured knowing that they will forgo the jungle gym conference room in favor of something more timeless, and a just a little more grown up.

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