Do not ask Dani Arps for beer kegs, ball pits or beanbag chairs — the interior designer won’t give them to you. As frat-minded features have become ubiquitous in startup offices, often in an attempt to communicate youthful energy, Arps has made a name for herself by doing the complete opposite: forcing entrepreneurs to act like adults.
“An office can be fun without being infantile,” the 33-year-old says. Since launching her eponymous firm in New York in 2014, Arps has designed workspaces for such brands as General Assembly, Venmo, Contently and SeatGeek, and has become an expert at convincing 20-somethings that an office can foster creativity without looking like a dorm room. Her portfolio contains visually quiet workspaces with neutral tones rather than brand-driven patterns. She nods to clients’ personalities with restraint, like in a recent project where artisan-made caricatures of employees line the lunchroom wall. Her preferred ergonomic modular furniture (most of which she designs herself) can easily transition from meeting to meeting.
The Arps philosophy is simple: A space has to function well before anything else. And she isn’t fond of the all-too-common open-office plan. “Employees have different acoustical and visual needs,” she says. Last year, when SeatGeek expanded its New York City office, her solution was to divide the cavernous space by a row of conference rooms, sequestering coders from a necessarily chatty sales team. The fact that companies are so willing to wholly reconfigure their workplaces is catnip to Arps, who dabbled in residential design early in her career. “The startup culture is incredibly creative,” she says. “My clients are busy, trusting, and open to new and quirky ideas.”
Those clients are growing. In just three years, Arps’ projects have jumped from an average of 3,000 square feet to 30,000. Many of those big jobs have been commissioned by returning customers who, upon finding their own success, lean on Arps to help transition to larger spaces. And Arps, for her part, is continuing to grow her own business, launching a collection of modular office furniture later this year.
“Office design helps create office culture — something that’s important for the success of any company,” she says. “To be part of that success, even in a small way, is incredibly exciting.”
Age-appropriate design: Arps’ three rules for offices.
1. Choose materials wisely.
Example: SLICE, Manhattan
“How can a material be functionalnand not just visually pleasing? Here, employees have a place to make calls in an open setting, and the brick enforces acoustical soundness.”
2. Elevate the essentials.
Example: ELIGIBLE, Brooklyn
“A sleek, double-height nap nook allows for rest and privacy during long workdays. We upholstered it with high-quality cushions and fabric. Comfort is key.”
3. Always multitask.
Example: UNCHARTED PLAY, Harlem
“This is one of the chicest spaces I designed. It’s a destination for board meetings, and a testing area for [energygenerating toy]products.”