We are no strangers to the adage that the right decor and space planning can make even the tiniest spaces feel huge. But for Dani Ferretti and her partner Brad, living in a 450 sq. ft apartment in the heart of bustling San Francisco just wasn’t cutting it after a few years. And so, with jobs in tech, a love of the outdoors, warm weather, and the desire for a change of pace, Dani, Brad and their chocolate lab moved to Austin, Texas where they found a beautiful rental in a nice neighborhood (not to mention about 1600 additional square feet) that they now proudly call home.
Find out how this couple transformed their new place into an organic coastal wonderland in the middle of Texas, Dani’s recommendations for shopping decor that can help elevate the style of any rental, and what’s in store for the couple as they familiarize themselves with their new city.
Name: Dani Ferretti, Program Manager, Oracle Academy at Oracle Inc.
Square Footage: 2,100
Rent or Own: Rent
City/State: Austin, TX
What was your first job, and how did you land it?
My first job out of college was in Finance at Walt Disney World. I worked on projects for Epcot and often had to spend time auditing in the park. Tough gig, right? The program I was in was very competitive, though, so it was not easy getting in. In college, I had been interning for a wonderful mentor who prepped me for the interviews and gave a great referral. This pattern of connecting with people who would go to bat for me would emerge over and over again in my career. I’m an introvert and not always the best at promoting myself, but I am great at finding my cheerleaders. I owe them so much!
How did you get into the tech industry?
I had left my finance career to go back to school and earn my MBA at Washington University in St. Louis. I concentrated in Organizational Behavior and had become really interested in the way tech companies were changing the approach to HR. By sheer luck, I had been introduced to two WashU grads who both worked in HR at Yahoo! in San Francisco. They gave me great advice and put in good words for me. I landed an internship, had a wonderful experience with the most amazing manager, and was asked to come back full-time once I completed my MBA.
How did you mitigate a transfer within your company?
My partner Brad and I loved being in San Francisco, but after a few years, we were craving a slower pace and closer proximity to friends and family. We weren’t quite ready to go back home to Florida, so we started considering areas in between. Austin is a growing tech hub and both of our companies had offices in the city, so we decided that would be a good next move. We both prepared business cases for our companies and justified why the move made sense for our roles.
What professional advice would you give to someone else who needs to procure a transfer within their own company? How do you start the conversation and maintain transparency throughout the process?
Even if a move is for personal reasons, it’s important that you keep the business in mind first. In my initial conversation with my manager, I explained our reasons for moving but was prepared to make a business case for it and explain why I thought it made sense for our team. No matter how supportive your manager might be, it’s likely that they will have to justify your move to someone higher up. Make sure you are doing your part. I was proactive about keeping her updated on the move and everything went smoothly. In fact, we are gearing up to relocate again, this time back home to Florida. I am in a sales and marketing role now and spent the last two years building up a large client base in the state and I’ve pulled in large numbers for our team. When I approached my manager about moving to Florida, she was immediately supportive because the business reasons were already laid out for her.
Before living in Austin, you and your partner lived in a 450 sq. ft. apartment in San Francisco. WOW! How did you plan your San Francisco apartment around the needs of two?
Oh gosh, it takes creativity! Brad and I hadn’t lived together yet. We dated long-distance for the first two years of our relationship, so this was an especially steep learning curve. We carved out individual spaces for ourselves so that we each had our own storage and our own spots to chill out or get some work done. We also thought a lot about how we actually lived in the space. We were eating most meals at work or out so we sacrificed a dining table in favor of a larger sofa.
What has been your biggest takeaway from tiny apartment living?
We learned to be really intentional about everything that we bring into our home. Things either need to be multi-functional, beautiful, or meaningful but ideally, all three. We also learned to invest in quality over quantity or to go without some things altogether. I always laugh when we have friends over because they gasp at our half-empty kitchen cabinets. Having less is so liberating!
You transitioned from California to Texas. What was the move like and how would you compare Austin to San Francisco?
San Francisco will always have our hearts. It has a personality like no other city I’ve ever experienced. It is the epicenter of so much that is happening in our world yet somehow feels so approachable with its Victorian homes and beautiful views. We like to call her The Miss America of cities. But San Francisco is also incredibly transient and can feel a bit cut-throat at times. Austin might not have the charm of San Francisco, but it is far more laid back. We’ve found that life here isn’t centered around work and that is something we really needed.
How did you find your Austin home?
Since we knew our stay in Austin would only be temporary, we opted to rent. Our house was actually the first one we looked at! We’re not ones to mull over decisions, and it felt right, so we went for it.
What was something you and your partner were looking for during your search? For example, was it important for the house to have a large yard, office space, or a guest bedroom?
After city-living, we craved something quieter and with more space. We wanted at least a small yard and extra room for an office since I’d be working from home full-time. It was also really important that we had space for guests – something we couldn’t have in our tiny apartment. We don’t need this much space for ourselves, but the house is often full of friends and family, so it’s been so worthwhile.
What stood out to you about your current home? How did you know it was “the one”?
The neighborhood! Austin is a city that has outgrown itself and can feel a bit congested at times. Even though we are close to all of the action, our house is in a tiny gated community that is isolated from the noise. Everyone knows everyone, kids play freely, and the roads are quiet enough that people can walk their dogs off-leash. It was the vibe we were going for.
What was your approach to designing your home? Was it drastically different to design an entire home versus a small apartment?
Designing our home was actually much easier! We didn’t have to be quite so methodical about our choices, and we weren’t as limited. I didn’t get my approach right initially because some of the rooms were going in totally different design directions. (Guess I got excited about having all that space!) I quickly learned that I needed to come up with a plan and stick to a general direction for the whole house.
Has your design aesthetic changed at all since moving into the house in Austin?
I don’t know that it’s changed, necessarily, but I have gotten much better at choosing pieces that more clearly represent my style. I’ve learned to slow down, stay true to myself, and not be swayed too much by trends. I’ve also learned to really think about how I want our home to feel rather than how I want it to look. Growing up, we spent a lot of time at my aunt and uncle’s house on the water in Ft. Lauderdale. My aunt is an interior designer, and I always admired her ability to create a home that was grand and beautiful but also down to earth and inviting. There was just something so comfortable about it. A pretty house is of no use if it can’t be lived in, so now I let that sentiment guide me.
Do you have a favorite room in your home or perhaps a favorite DIY project you completed?
I love our bedroom. It was the one space that I didn’t rush. It took me two years to finish, and now it just feels so balanced and serene to me. I still feel a surge of happiness every time I walk into it!
What were some of the first improvements you made?
Having an outdoor living space is really important to us, but our yard was just a plain patch of grass when we moved in. We immediately went to work making plans for an affordable, rental-friendly patio. Our landlord agreed to let us build out a raised gravel patio ourselves, and with my dad’s help (thanks, dad!), we completed it in a single weekend. We furnished it with a fire-pit, shade, and plenty of seating. It requires almost zero maintenance, and we use the space daily, so it’s proved to be worth every penny!
Were there any quirks in the space you had to design around? If so, tell us about them.
The fact that our home is a rental presented so many design challenges! There is so much about the interior that we would change if we could. The biggest challenge in a rental is usually that it lacks character or architectural detail. We tried to overcome this in a few ways. We painted many of the rooms, covered much of the carpeted areas with rugs, and hung window treatments. We also DIY’d some built-in shelves in our office and changed out some of the lighting and hardware. I worked with an amazing designer from MyBaliLiving on Etsy to pick out our kitchen pendants. They instantly made the space feel more custom, and they will be easy to uninstall and bring with us to our next home.
Where are some of your favorite places to shop for decor?
Evangeline Linens for incredible textiles and because Ben and his team are just the kindest human beings. Cloth & Main and Main Thread Textiles for throw pillows. Deb Presutto for art. McGee & Co for a beautiful curated selection of rugs and furniture. Connected Goods, Shop Ames Interiors, and Alder & Co for unique accessories.
What advice would you give to a young couple that has just bought their first home and is feeling overwhelmed about redesigning?
Before making any purchases, come up with a general aesthetic for the whole house even if your redesign won’t happen all at once. Think about your color palette, the types of fabrics you’d like, your mix of wood finishes, etc., and talk about all of these things ahead of time to make sure you’re on the same page. I keep photos and mood boards on my phone and often consult them when I’m out shopping. I might have the impulse to buy a mirror or a lamp or something, but if it doesn’t look like it fits into my plan, I know I should pass on it. Also, try to ignore the desire to fill every room immediately. This is something I didn’t get right at first. I wish I had told myself that it was OK to live with unfinished spaces while we gave ourselves time to learn our new home. A well-designed home is curated slowly over time.
What is your approach to designing a room? How do you know when the room is complete?
I like to work from the ground up and from big to small. So, in a bedroom, I’d start with a rug, a bed, tables, and lighting. Then, I would move on to the next big layers like bedding and art. Finally, I’ll layer in the decorative accents. I am also really attentive to the details. Is the nightstand the right height? Can I reach the plug easily? Do the sheets feel soft, and do they keep me cool at night? Do I feel inspired by the art I see first thing when I wake up? I probably sound crazy, but all of these things play a big role in design! When I can move through a room and accomplish everything freely and comfortably, then I know it’s done.
And finally, what advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?
To give myself the freedom and space to go my own way. That it’s OK to let go of the things – friends, jobs, relationships — that aren’t serving my life in the way that I need them to (or that I can’t serve in the way they need me to). And to not let fear write my story for me. My entire life changed once I figured that out!
Dani Ferretti is The Everygirl…
Favorite Sunday activity?
Our Sunday ritual is trying a new workout somewhere then going out for a long brunch.
Last movie you saw in theaters?
Andy Irons: Kissed by God (oh my gosh, did I cry!)
Next place you’d like to go on vacation?
Fiji to surf!
Favorite Instagram account you follow?
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
My Yiayia (grandmother). She passed when I was 22. She was so far ahead of her time, and she had such a profound impact on everyone around her. I think I always appreciated that but maybe more so now that I’m older. I’d love to tell her “thank you.”