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Beautiful Black Houses: Meet Designer Woman Danielle Arps – Ebony

Danielle Arps has become the go-to guru of deceived office spaces in the Big Apple’s tech world. Through his company, Dani Arps LLC, the interior designer has made his mark at more than a dozen companies, including Daily Harvest, SeatGeek, and Codecademy. Known for her eclectic, industrial aesthetic, the Connecticut native talks about what it’s like to create workspaces for newcomers to tech. Plus, she gives us insight into her digs in Harlem and discusses plans to diversify the industry with her latest venture, Artisan alliance.

“Visibility is something that is intrinsic to the belief that there is room for you in the industry.”

– Dani Arps, interior designer

The chic living room of Dani Arps. Photo courtesy of subject.

How did you start working with tech startups? How do you meet the unique needs of these companies?

When I graduated, we were in the middle of the Great Recession, so I was constantly on Craigslist looking for off-the-beaten-path opportunities. I managed to get an interior design job at a hospitality company, but I knew I wanted to work for myself. The first project I ended up doing through this Craigslist search was Codecademy, a startup that focused on teaching coding. Based on his unique programmatic needs and free spirit, I knew there was a demand for it. Design for start-ups was a niche that hadn’t really been explored. The need for open offices and collaborative spaces was an interesting and difficult problem to solve. The idea was to get to the heart of how these businesses work, what works and doesn’t work, and what could work better.

What excites you most about designing start-ups?

I like the openness and trust of founders in most startups. They tend to have a strong vision for their brand and their business, but they fully trust my design expertise. I also like the multiplicity of programmatic requirements for start-ups. It’s like designing multiple typologies into one, which makes it interesting.

How do you approach your projects?

My process is a phased approach starting with the conceptual phase, which includes creative direction, mood, [and] palette, among others. Then I start design documentation for floor and lighting plans, elevations, and other details like that.

Dani Arps. Photo courtesy of subject.

What would you like people to take away from the spaces you create?

I want my design to be inspired and provide a space where the client is able to perform to their fullest capacity, always feeling happy and welcome. The idea is to create a “third space” from which employees want to work rather than have to.

“Experiences and art inspire me, and luckily I live in New York City, which is full of both.”

– Dani Arps, interior designer

What inspired the design of your own apartment?

I have a great view of Central Park, and since I’m on the top floor, I feel like I’m floating in the clouds. I wanted to keep that feeling with the overall aesthetic of the space – light, airy and cloud-like. Each room in my apartment has a sculptural and unique silhouette; So even if the objects are minimal, they still take up space.

Is there anything in your home that has significant value to you?

I have this beautiful photo my mother gave me of my maternal grandmother and a beautiful piece of art my father gave me of my paternal grandmother. I have them both framed the same way, hanging next to each other. These works of art give me a feeling of warmth and strength every time I look at them. I also have an abstract painting by my best friend, artist Billy Ruiz, which I’ve had for almost as long as I’ve been in New York.

Colorful artwork adds interest to an understated wardrobe. Photo courtesy of Dani Arps.

What advice would you give to students who want to get into this field?

My advice would be to research as much as possible to find a school that offers a great design program and an internship or mentorship module. Experience is the best way to introduce young people to the world of design, and it will help them make an informed decision before committing to an expensive school.

Have you encountered any challenges as a black designer?

Being a black woman in general comes with its own set of challenges, like needlessly feeling the need to prove your worth and [dealing with] peer microaggressions. I think the industry can promote black interior designers and designers of color more prominently; visibility is something that is intrinsic to believing that there is room for you in the industry.

What do you see for the future of design?

Looking to the future of office design, I can say the trend is “resimmercial,” meaning a residential aesthetic with commercial function. The movement was already going in this direction, but the pandemic has accelerated this trend. People in business now have the option of working from home, and employers are looking for ways to bring employees back to the office. Having a pleasant and inviting workplace is one way to do this.

A sculptural lamp adds visual interest to the bedside table in Arps’ bedroom. Photo courtesy of Dani Arps.

What is your favorite project so far and why?

These are all my favorites. Each project brings a new challenge and pushes me creatively. As I complete each project, different aspects of the design contain things that I’m really proud of. Rokt has epic stadium seating, Daily Harvest has a super-chic smoothie bar, and D1A has custom branding applied in a clever and cheerful way. I can name moments from all my past projects, so it’s impossible to choose.

What’s next for you?

I recently launched a new start-up called Artisan with my co-founder, Sarah Pontius, in New York. Our firm offers a unique model in terms of commercial real estate and office development. We are a vertically integrated company that combines brokerage, design and project management to [that] finding, designing and building your office space is easier, cheaper and more efficient. We won a grant from NYCxDESIGN for a mentorship program specifically for kids of color because we’re so underrepresented in the industry.

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