Vivian Bencich leads the interior design team of the award-winning architect/design firm Square Feet Studio, co-owned with architect-husband, John. Their talent and vision has reimagined private homes and businesses, as well as transformed some the leading restaurants in Atlanta into those iconic spaces that urge us all to linger longer. Vivian’s genuine warmth and welcoming personality obviously encourage a uniquely personal sense of collaboration with clients, bringing out the best of everyone involved in a project.
When did you know you wanted to become a designer?
As a child I was often rearranging things in the house and some of my happiest memories are of picking fabrics, paint and furniture for my room with my mom. She indulged me in that respect and allowed me to make a lot of decisions. I was an art history major as an undergrad and realized I wanted to be a designer when I took a history of modern architecture course my senior year.
Tell us how Square Feet Studio developed?
John and I met in grad school at Georgia Tech, got married a few years later and worked for different design firms here in Atlanta for almost 10 years. John was working mostly on adaptive-use projects and I was working on residential, restaurant and office interiors. At that time, traditional practice models didn’t typically integrate architecture and interiors, and we thought that was unfortunate and didn’t reflect the reality of how people engage their environment. We knew from the get-go that we would have a studio where architects and interior designers could work harmoniously together.
What’s the biggest challenge of running a “family” business?
Treating it like a business (even though our office feels like a family), making tough decisions and separating that from the rest of life.
Who have been your most influential mentors?
My mom and dad. My dad was the hardest working person I’ve ever known.
Where do you find design inspiration?
Your team places a focus on sustainable design. How have you seen those options develop over the last few years?
High efficiency lighting has come a long way in the past few years. But we also see sustainability as more than just products — it’s simply designing spaces so that they are sustainable over time. Use ceiling fans to move air when it’s hot, light a fire when it’s cold, open a window for some fresh air and a breeze, close a shade if the light is too bright…these old-fashioned concepts will always work.
What’s the most important thing you learn in your first meeting with a new client?
It’s important to listen carefully (always). Is this person inquisitive? Do they share ideas freely? Are they enthusiastic? Those are the types of things we are looking for which help us determine if they will be a good partner.
Great designers are often great problem solvers. Have you had some unique “MacGyver” moments you’d like to share?
A black sharpie, glue gun and a little white chunky eraser have all helped me over the years.
It’s graduation season all over the country, what would you go back and tell bright-eyed Vivian in her cap and gown?
Don’t sweat the small stuff. (And I’m still working on this.)
Which subjects in school caused you the most pain?
At Georgia Tech, a class called statics and mechanics was a required prerequisite to studying structures. It was an eye opener to say the least, and I knew right then that I was at a real engineering school.
If you could enroll in an adult summer abroad program, where would you go and what would you study?
France and I’d study painting, bread baking and pastry making.
What are some of your guilty pleasures or secret indulgences?
Anything at The General Muir is hard for me to resist, from the nova and bagels to the cookies.
You’ve designed many of the city’s hottest restaurants. What have been some of your favorite projects?
I really do love them all, mainly because of the people I’ve met along the way. I feel very appreciative for the opportunity to work with some great folks so far. I have to say, however, that working with Jen and Ryan Hidinger on Staplehouse has been life changing.
Where are we most likely to find you around town — shopping, dining or just hanging out?
Is there one thing you wish you could change about Atlanta?
Wow, I think Atlanta is changing for the better right now — there’s just a great buzz out there with so much going on. I do wish the Beltline could happen faster. Just link the whole thing up already and get the light rail going. We need it!
What’s the last film that made you laugh out loud? What about one that makes you cry like a baby?
Wes Anderson makes me laugh and The Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of my favorite films. My daughter and I just saw The Help again together — it’s impossible for me not to cry watching that movie. And I love those Christopher Guest movies like Best in Show and Spinal Tap. They make me laugh until I cry!
Which book do you most often give or lend?
Lately it’s been Susan White’s wonderful book A Place at the Table. I love to read cookbooks, too, and Hugh Acheson’s A New Turn in the South and Anne Quatrano’s new cookbook Summerland are both ones I’ve really enjoyed and have given as gifts.
Name three things you just couldn’t live without — other than faith, family and friends.
- Long walks in our neighborhood with my husband, daughter and our dog
- Yoga with Marsha at Balance Yoga
- A notebook to jot things down that I need to remember
Vivian, we so enjoyed our time spent at the studio, meeting the entire team, and of course, playing with Annie. Thank you for your hospitality!
Once again, we thank the talented Cat Maxwell for her wonderful photos, and incredible technique with our furry leading lady.