“We’ve always loved the simple design and casual ambience of classic delis, so we jumped at the chance to help create that type of place in Atlanta,” says designer Vivian Bencich of Square Feet Studio, the architecture and design firm that recently completed The General Muir, a new restaurant near Emory that is no ordinary delicatessen. In fact, it offers an all-day dining experience, which, thanks to a northeast-facing exposure, is light and bright in the morning for diners grabbing a Batdorf & Bronson coffee, but intimate and ambient in the evenings, when brass detailing and dark wood paneling transform the space into a more elegant backdrop for menu items like skillet-crisped trout or roasted duck. Think Brooklyn meets Paris.
Collaborating with owners Ben and Jennifer Johnson (also owners of West Egg Cafe) and Chef Todd Ginsberg (formerly of Bocado), Square Feet Studio architects John Bencich and Ashley McClure (also the project manager), found inspiration in disparate places, including New York subways and spaces they’d seen in Europe.
“We were going for a timeless look,” says Vivian. “It all started with a couple of vintage light fixtures the owners found.” From there, the industrial-inspired design scheme continued: the main dining room is wrapped in a glossy, biscuit-colored subway tile, while brasserie-style ceiling pendants hover above the main dining area. Table lamps in the bar area cast a soft, ambient glow. Steel-and-glass windows afford a glimpse into the kitchen, while a graphic plaid tile floor pattern in black, white and gray anchors the space.
“We’re very material-oriented,” says Bencich of the firm’s design philosophy, which is on full display at The General Muir. “We had a shared vision with the clients, and we love working with extraordinary crafts people.”
And it’s the little details that lend the place an air of authenticity: small paintings presiding over booth seating are based on portraits of the owners’ family members. (The restaurant is named after the ship that brought Jennifer’s mother and grandparents to America after surviving the Holocaust.) A found piece was repurposed as the hostess stand. A waist-high band of custom-colored green tile on the walls provides a sliver of unexpected color, which repeats itself in full technicolor in the restroom, as well as on the ceiling trusses above.
These one-of-a-kind touches are also reflective of Chef Ginsberg’s personal but experimental menu, which features classics like chopped chicken liver, but also surprises, such as dinosaur kale salad. It’s the perfect marriage of dining and design.