Known on the NYC tech scene as the interior designer of choice, Danielle Arps is creating pathways of entry for creators of color.
Danielle Arps has become the go-to guru for tricked out office spaces in the Big Apple’s tech world. Through her firm, Dani Arps LLC, the interior designer made her mark on more than a dozen companies, including Daily Harvest, SeatGeek, and Codecademy. Known for her eclectic-meets-industrial aesthetic, the Connecticut native spills the tea on what it’s like creating work spaces for tech up-and-comers. Plus, she gives us a sneak peek inside her Harlem digs and discusses plans to diversify the industry with her latest venture, Artisan Alliance.
"Visibility is something that is intrinsic to believing there's space for you in the industry."
What was your entrée into working with tech startups? How do you cater to the unique needs of these companies?
When I graduated from school, we were in the midst of the great recession, so I was constantly on Craigslist looking for opportunities that were off the beaten path. I managed to find an interior design job at a hospitality firm but knew I wanted to work for myself. The first project I ended up getting through that Craigslist search was Codecademy, a start-up that focused on teaching coding. Based on its unique programmatic needs and free spirit, I knew there was a demand for this. Designing for start-ups was a niche that hadn’t really been explored. The need for open offices and collaborative areas was an interesting and challenging problem to solve. The idea was to really get to the core of how these companies function, what does and doesn’t work, and what could work better.
What excites you most about designing start-ups?
I like how open and trusting the founders are in most startups. They tend to have a strong vision of their brand and company, but they fully trust my expertise when it comes to design. I also like how multifaceted start-up programmatic requirements are. It’s like designing multiple typologies in one, which keeps it interesting.
How do you approach your projects?
My process is a phased approach starting with the conceptual phase, which includes the creative direction, mood, [and] palette, among other things. Next, I begin the design documentation for the floor and lighting plans, elevations, and other details like those.
What would you like people to take away from the spaces you create?
I want my design to feel inspired and to provide a space where the client is able to function at their highest capacity, always feeling happy and welcome. The idea is to create a “third space” that employees want to work from versus having to.
"Experiences and art inspire me, and fortunately I live in New York City, which is filled with both."
What inspired the design of your own apartment?
I have a lovely view of Central Park, and because I’m on the top floor, it feels like I am floating in the clouds. I wanted to keep that feeling with the overall aesthetic of the space—light, airy, and cloudlike. Each piece in my apartment has a sculptural and unique silhouette; so even though the objects are minimal, they still take up space.
Is there something in your home that has significant value for you?
I have this lovely photo that my mom gave me of my maternal grandmother and a piece of beautiful artwork that my dad gave me from my paternal grandmother. I have them both framed similarly, hanging next to each other. These art pieces provide me with a sense of warmth and strength whenever I look at them. I also have an abstract painting by my best friend, artist Billy Ruiz, which I have had almost as long as I’ve been in New York.
What advice would you give students who want to enter this field?
My advice would be to research as much as possible to find a school that has 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 educated decision before committing to an expensive school.
Have you faced any challenges as a Black designer?
Being a Black woman in general comes with its own challenges, such as feeling the need to prove your worth unnecessarily and [dealing with] microaggressions from peers. I do think the industry can promote Black interior designers and designers of color in a bigger way; visibility is something that is intrinsic to believing there’s space for you in the industry.
What do you see for the future of design?
For the future of office design, I can say the trend is “resimmercial,” meaning a residential aesthetic with a commercial function. The movement was already heading in this direction, but the pandemic accelerated this trend. People in corporate settings now have the option to work from home, and employers are looking for ways to draw employees back to the office. Having a pleasant and inviting place to work is one way to do this.
What is your favorite project to date and why?
They’re all my favorite. Each project brings a new challenge and pushes me creatively. As I finish each project, different aspects of the design contain elements that I’m truly proud of. Rokt has epic stadium seating, Daily Harvest has a superchic smoothie bar, and D1A has custom branding applied in artful and joyous ways. 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 cofounder, Sarah Pontius, in New York City. Our firm offers a unique model to commercial real estate and office design. We are a vertically integrated firm that combines brokerage, design, and project management so [that] finding, designing, and building your office space is easier, less expensive, and more efficient. We won a grant from NYCxDESIGN for a mentorship program specifically for children of color since we’re so underrepresented in the industry.