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Viveca Bissonnette, Hollander Design Group

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Viveca Bissonnette

Interior design and cultural anthropology might seem like vastly different disciplines for one person. But for Viveca Bissonnette, having degrees in both has resulted in a rewarding career with an extensive portfolio of projects in both the private and public sectors.

The Canadian native is vice president and design principal at Hollander Design Group, the La Jolla-based firm she founded with architect Jeff Hollander in 2009.

"My first degree was a bachelor of arts in cultural anthropology from McGill University in Montreal, but I returned to school to obtain a second bachelor's degree in interior design at the Design Institute of San Diego to satisfy my need for a more creative outlet." she said.

"I use my cultural anthropology background as part of the workplace strategy and planning services we provide for our clients. There's a lot more attention being paid to workplace culture and how organizations function and work together. We use ethnography – one of the basic tools of cultural anthropologists – to observe and interview, resulting in an in-depth understating of our clients' workplace culture. We spend time employing these tools at the beginning of the process, when we're talking to a customer about a new space or analyzing how they work.

"We take an in-depth look and analyze our clients' business practices and internal culture to help them understand how their workplace could benefit employee productivity, retention and recruiting. That is how the cultural anthropology piece gets woven into our design process."

Understanding the process came somewhat naturally to Bissonnette, who moved to San Diego in 1990. She grew up in the design industry with her father, an architect, and mother, an urban planner. Bissonnette worked at San Diego-based architecture firm Carrier Johnson + CULTURE for close to 10 years before partnering with Hollander, a senior associate for 20 years with Gensler. With Hollander Design Group, Bissonnette is able to provide more in-depth service to her clients, staying personally involved throughout the entire process.

Their most recent client is PIRCH, a premium retail kitchen, bath and outdoors retailer that opened its first San Diego store at University Towne Centre mall in December. The company hired Hollander Design Group to design its 27,000-square-foot headquarters, also in the UTC area.

The space is designed to support the overall health, growth and productivity of the staff with amenities including a gym/spa with full-time fitness trainer, full operating kitchen and outdoor cooking areas with full-time chef, and an educational training facility dubbed the University of Joy. The workplace provides myriad spaces to collaborate and concentrate, work and socialize addressing the needs of all types of work styles and personalities. Throughout the space, graphics supporting the company's 23 manifesto messages immerse visitors and staff in PIRCH's vision and culture.

"There's no formal reception desk," Bissonnette said. "Instead, a large café draws you into the space. Visitors and employees are encouraged to sit and enjoy a beverage while waiting or working, which is akin to how they greet customers in their stores. It's a corporate headquarters, but on the surface it feels more like a hospitality environment. They wanted to provide their staff a dream office."

Working with such companies has been professionally and personally satisfying for Bissonnette and her team: "We've had a great opportunity to become close with our clients, building friendships, which has resulted in more satisfying working relationships," she said. "That personal connection has enriched our lives and honed our craft."


Written by Glenn Grant, The Daily Transcript

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