In Houston, Michael Viviano faced his biggest design challenge yet: his own home. As the Design Director of interior and home design firm Benjamin Johnston Design, Michael is constantly creating for clients and overseeing multiple elements of the award-winning firm. 

In 2019, Michael and his partner found their perfect apartment at Regency House, a storied midcentury high-rise in Houston’s coveted River Oaks neighborhood. The space offered “carte blanche” – 865 square feet, shell white walls, floor-to-ceiling windows, and complete freedom to create his dream home. With no architectural intervention, the space ended up serving as a “design lab” of sorts. Within each room, he has been able to experiment, highlight beloved antiques won at international auctions, and dial in his own style without clients to impress.

Over 44 million people rent in the United States, and rentals are often seen as prohibitive when it comes to beautiful design. This cozy and collected apartment says otherwise. Over email, Michael tells us more.  

First, tell us about your home! Where is it located, and what was your initial vision for the space?
The apartment is a ground-floor unit at Regency House, a mid-century gem tucked into the River Oaks neighborhood of Houston, Texas. The building in and of itself is rather social and within walking distance to so many amazing restaurants we often frequent. With that top of mind, entertaining took center stage when it came time to decorate. From pre or after-dinner drinks to an all-out party, the louche vibe of the living room is meant to draw people into the seating area and inspire lively conversation, with an open zone separating it from the dining area that allows for groups to mill about should they choose. In my opinion, a mix of designated and open spaces is always ideal for entertaining! 

What was your scope of work? We’d love to chat about the various rental-friendly ways you transformed the space?
Although we were only renting, we inherited the all-white-everything backdrop of the walls, floor, and millwork. Everything else you see, we layered onto that clean and decidedly modern canvas. A big undertaking was adding drapery to the floor-to-ceiling ‘window wall,’ that spanned from the living to dining area. I decided to fabricate the drapery myself, intentionally leaving it unfinished to maintain a casual feel. For the bedroom, we constructed a suede wall-hung headboard and integrated pull-down nightstands into the wall. In a small yet cozy space, sometimes you have no choice but to get creative, and those ‘nightstands’ you see are actually bike racks we had in our previous home, and they just so happened to be perfect there. 

When it comes to design, do you find it easier or more difficult when working on your own home? What are some of the ways—for better or worse—it differs from client projects?
This is such a great question. There are certainly freedoms that we, as designers, can afford within our own homes. We’re allotted such risks, like hand-fraying acres of double-width linen and hanging it from an exposed commercial drapery track, for example! In clients’ homes, there is necessary pressure to deliver a polished, buttoned-up execution to all design aspects, as one should! Yet, one thing that is particularly difficult about working on our own homes is a lack of structure, and deadlines, as mentioned above. There is no contractual obligation to follow a stated budget or make decisions based on an agreed-upon timeline. Luckily, my husband is always helpful on this front as he will step in and say, “Ok, it’s time to get a sofa in here!” 

Take a tour in the slideshow.

Originally published on March 15, 2023.