Urban Designs Capture the Spirit of Atlanta
John and Vivian Bencich have left their mark on Atlanta. All over Atlanta. From incredible commercial spaces to sleek retail locales to gasp-inducing restaurant designs, the Bencichs and their Square Feet Studio team elevate the cityscape with a vision that’s backed by talent, ingenuity, experience and deft skill. They believe in the power of telling a story through architecture and design, of bringing to life a setting through its structural and aesthetic elements.
The husband-and-wife duo met while in graduate school at Georgia Tech. They each worked in different architecture and design firms for over a decade before coming together in 2001 to establish Square Feet Studio. Now their Krog Street studio backs up to the BeltLine and hums with a staff of ten—architects, interior designers and urban planners and some, like Vivian, who are schooled in both architecture and interior design. You love their work … yes, you do. From The General Muir to Kimball House, from Room & Board to R Hughes Atelier, from Sid Mashburn’s to Staplehouse, from Pink Barre to Preserving Place to parts of Ponce City Market … the list goes on and on, including some of the chicest locales ever to rise up in this metropolitan phoenix nest.
While their firm does not focus on residential work, their expertise applies to a variety of projects, as does their process for developing a stand-out project. These experts streamline the initial confusion that often sets in when first jumping into the planning phase of a project, especially when building a relationship with other professionals involved in a job.
John credits setting an intention for the overall project as one of the first and most crucial steps to success: “It can be tough, but it’s important to find that filter to help you make good decisions. That’s part of the process. It’s collaborative. There are things [clients] bring to the table that we don’t have and we have experiences to bring too. Our clients tend to have hundreds of pictures that they’ve been going through and we try to understand what it is that they like. Then we’ve brought in new pictures that have totally given them a course adjustment.
We talk to them about what we know, about the materials that are out there and the resources available. We can help them see things in a new way—that they have never considered. Early in the process, we try to help with budgeting. It’s not the most fun or exciting, but we’ve got to have a budget that matches what the client wants. We don’t tell people how to make decisions. We are steering them toward something that makes sense and is what they need.”
Vivian agrees, further adding her belief that establishing that strong collaborative partnership with the client enhances the creative experience. “It really is about getting a good match. What do you want to sink your teeth into? We get the initial phone call or email and then we come to the office and ask the team if they are excited about it. Ask what they think. And they give wonderful feedback. We tend to tag-team, along with the rest of the office—‘look at this, read this, tell me what you think.’ It comes down to looking at the projects that we connect to. We build what we want to see, what we want to visit, and try to say what our clients want to say. Sometimes clients come in firm with the directive and we get on board to make it work. Sometimes they come in and they have no idea, but we figure it out. We need to come up with a story to reflect what is here. A story that makes sense.”
“Yes, the story of the place,” John confirms. “There’s a term in the architecture world called the genius loci and it means the ‘spirit of the place’—the essence. A great architect actually said that about one of our projects when we got the ADAC award. He said, ‘There’s a genius loci to their work, when you go in, it feels like it should be there.’ That was an incredible compliment to us.”
Try to feel the genius loci for your own design project.
• Make it personal. Tell your own story.
• Who are your characters? How will they use the space?
• Consider the setting, does it influence your design? Should it?
• What is your motivation? Why are you starting the project?
• How do you approach living? What are your biggest priorities?
• What makes you stop in your tracks? Brings you joy? Makes you cringe?