Homes of the Year

The winners of our Homes of the Year competition inspire and impress with refined, yet definitive statements of superb style.


A designing duo renovates their Druid Hills home, keeping sustainability at the fore

Real estate, they say, is all about location, location, location. “We’d been looking for a small home for our family of three,” says designer Vivian Bencich. “We found it within four miles of our [Square Feet Studio] office and walking distance to our daughter’s school.”

But there was a bonus for Vivian and her architect husband, John. The 1939 Clement Ford-designed residence had been virtually untouched over the years; with the exception of one modest interior renovation, it remained unchanged until the Bencichs purchased it in 2008. With sustainability at the top of their priority list, the design duo opted to renovate rather than tear down. “Being ‘green’ does not require removing a traditional home and replacing it with a new—and sometimes larger—gee-whiz structure,” she explains. “Work with what you have, size it appropriately to your needs, the site and the neighborhood. And waste as little as possible.”

With that mantra in mind, the Bencichs wanted to capture more daylight and improve circulation while adding smart storage and work surfaces. Among other things, they opened up the existing kitchen and den to create a family gathering, entertaining and cooking space and turned a guest room and bath into a master bath-and-a-half. Through it all, Vivian says, it was important to use local materials and craftspeople—as well as energy-efficient appliances—to create a simple, timeless look that complemented the existing architecture.

In fact, it’s the combination of unpretentiousness and surprise elements that makes this Druid Hills home so inviting. In the living room, an understated neutral scheme is kept lively with a variety of textures and is punctuated with pops of red. A paisley wall covering unexpectedly bedecks the dining room ceiling. Custom steel doors in the den open up to a new porch, the only change to the home’s original footprint. And limed wax-finished cabinets in the kitchen and master bath were locally sourced to the nth degree. John designed them to keep waste to a minimum, then they were built in Decatur from white oak the contractor had left over from another project and finished on site by Skylar Morgan, and finally topped with Georgia Cherokee marble quarried just 90 miles away.

This designer/architect couple approached the project smartly—treating themselves as clients. As a result, they’ve created a residence any design pro would be proud to have in their portfolio.

Vivian and John Bencich, Square Feet Studio, (404) 688-4990;


Just as handsome as it is hardworking, a renovated kitchen is an all-hours-of-the-day family draw

When brought on board to work on Bret and Amy Bergman’s Hanover West home, architect Linda MacArthur knew she had a distinct advantage. Because Amy is an interior designer herself—and Michael Ladisic of Ladisic Fine Homes would be overseeing construction—MacArthur had a strong design team in place.

Having found a quiet cul-de-sac lot in this prized part of town, the Bergmans were looking for something casual and inviting with a certain level of style and elegance. Amy, specifically, wanted her dream home to reflect childhood memories of summers spent in Cape Cod and Long Island. The resulting “Hamptons-style” house features a kitchen at the front of the house, allowing Amy to easily keep an eye on the kids playing in the yard. And thanks to a generous bay window over the sink, the vaulted space is virtually flooded with light.

“Because we had such a strong central window element, a U-shaped kitchen was a natural,” MacArthur says. “I welcomed the addition of a talented team like Design Galleria in this room; together, we worked hard to make every elevation strong.”

Open to both the breakfast area and the keeping room, the kitchen is designed so the entire family can be there without getting in one another’s way. The island, for instance, has two distinct zones; Amy can prepare dinner on one side while the kids can snack or do their homework on the other. And MacArthur credits Amy for the stunning mix of finishes. “She created a palette and a feeling that everyone worked toward,” says the architect. “It’s like writing a term paper; you have to come up with a topic and the paragraphs have to support it. It’s the same with house; you don’t want to digress but always go back to central idea.”

Linda MacArthur, Linda MacArthur, Architect LLC, (404) 233-4771


Capitalizing on breathtaking views, a mountain residence balances the owners’ contemporary preferences with a distinct sense of place

When approached for this project in Cashiers, North Carolina, architect Keith Summerour and project manager Beth Jones—of Summerour and Associates Architects—found plenty to get excited about. “This house was the first to be built in the Chinquapin development, so there was the opportunity to set the tone stylistically and from a quality standpoint,” the architect recalls. “The client didn’t want a standard mountain house with twigs and wood; they wanted something unique to their sense of style, designed more like a pavilion and less like a house.”

To that end, “we were given a lot of freedom,” he adds, “so we started with theory. We asked ourselves ‘what does the house want to be?’ The site featured large granite outcroppings and stone caves, so we wanted to use stone in a special way. We also wanted to seat the house into the landscape, so we worked with [landscape architect] Jeremy Smearman very closely upfront.”

The resulting residence is divided into two structures, accommodating the active lifestyle of a family with four high school- and college-age kids. The main house, with its green rooftop terrace, features the master suite on the top floor, the living area on the entry level and a youthful den with four bedrooms on the ground level. Meanwhile, the pavilion—connected to the main house by a terrace that incorporates a lap pool and outdoor fireplace—houses a rec room and exercise studio as well as the pool bath.

“Given the fact that there are so many good contemporary country properties by distinguished architects, leaving our own mark was a matter of going back to site and materials,” Summerour says. “This is a cubist interpretation of the layered ridges of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which is the vista. The stacked stone, laid in a strong horizontal style, mimics the [indigenous] caves in an architectural way. That allowed us to be unique.”

Keith Summerour, Summerour & Associates Architects, (404) 603-8585;


A clean, contemporary master bath delivers a luxe look with nary a trace of the utilitarian essentials

In designing this Buckhead residence, Maria Nutt found herself in an enviable position. When her clients had previously moved to Italy, they’d sold all of their furnishings save for a vast art collection. Thus, when they moved back stateside—specifically, to Buckhead—the designer had the relatively rare opportunity to start with a clean slate.

The European stucco residence her clients were moving to had traditional cabinetry and trim throughout. But the kitchen and master bath were in need of updates, so the owners opted to give them a more contemporary look in the process. The master bath, in particular, is a stunning example of such a transition. Nutt started by bringing the once-vaulted ceiling down to 10 feet, not only to give it a more contemporary feeling but to conserve energy, too.

From there, the designer focused on her clients’ specific requests: A clean space with nary a trace of utilitarian items as well as soothing colors and a comfortable atmosphere. Nutt started by removing a Jacuzzi tub (the clients were thrilled to hear that it wasn’t a “must-have”), incorporating a walk-in shower in its stead. Working with Design Galleria, the designer settled on clean-lined cabinetry from Spain with a handsome wood-grain laminate finish; it provides plenty of storage and there’s even more masterfully hidden behind a bank of mirrors. But the room’s focal point is undoubtedly the window wall. Dark-painted mullions contrast with the pale Sherwin-Williams “Dewy” wall color, drawing the eye immediately to the impressive window and the luxuriously long vanity beneath.

Maria Nutt, McLaurin Interiors, (770) 316-0986;


A stately Atlanta home is a beautiful reflection of the family that resides within

In this house originally designed by Harrison Design Associates, Stan Topol says “we were fortunate to have found a place that had good ‘bones’; we just wanted to make them great.” Working with Hixon Homes and Malone Construction, Stan Topol & Associates turned this home into one that reflects what the family is all about.

“We tried to make it more cohesive throughout, including the addition of a study and a family entertaining area,” Topol says. “I’ve done multiple projects with this couple, so much of the furniture came from their previous houses, leading to the evolved look that you see here. We believe in quality and pieces of furniture that can be part of our clients’ lives.”

The formal living room, for instance, is a gracious space with French doors leading to the garden beyond. The designer created two separate seating groups, one anchored by a pair of impressive coromandel screens and the other by a mantel from Chesney’s, given even more importance by the Dusty Griffith painting above it. Just as congenial is the dining room. The walls, upholstered in Janet Yonaty yellow silk, “reflect the homeowners,” the designer notes. “My clients are people who love life and it shows. And the John Boone chairs are the most comfortable you’ll ever sit in.”

In complete contrast to the light and bright public spaces, the master bedroom is wrapped in delicious chocolate walls, upholstered to provide sound insulation. But this cozy retreat is comfortable right down to the last detail; Topol even designed the headboard with the same pitch as a chaise, making it perfectly comfortable to read in bed.

“It’s been a joyful ride creating another environment for this family,” he says. “I truly believe creating an individual look for a client isn’t a challenge, it’s a responsibility.”

Stan Topol, Stan Topol & Associates, (404) 885-9889;