Interior Design Professor Wins National Merit Award

Photo courtesy of Peter Benarcik

Bellevue College is one of the only three schools in the state that offers a bachelor’s degree in interior design. Peter Benarcik, one of the college’s professors, and his program have won national recognition by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA).
Benarcik teaches a course called “Literal/Actual” that began in spring quarter, 2011. He entered a visual overview as a submission in CIDA’s contest and won a merit award, recognition from the national interior design community, and $1,000.
The premise of Literal/Actual is, as Benarcik put it, “Everything was what it was.” It worked in a 15-student vertical studio, meaning that there were sophomores, juniors, and seniors.  “Everybody learned from everybody,” said Benarcik. The class dealt with the art of folding – in the title of the submission, it was described as “a vertical design studio dealing with the nature of the built environment – literally and actually.”
He described three main pillars of the class – intention, method, and system. These three were used in the creation of the student’s main small-scale project. For intention, a student would decide what to make; for method, he/she would decide how to make it – “Such as interconnecting things or weaving things,” said Benarcik – and system referred to the process of creation.
Many different things inspire Benarcik including paper, and decorating Easter Eggs, but his main source of inspiration comes from his students. “Going into a classroom and hearing 15 different people talk about 15 different ideas. That inspires me. I dig that.”
He stressed the point that, “I’m the person who won the award, but they [the students] are the people who made the award winnable.”
Since the class is largely student-run and calls for self-motivation, Benarcik was adamant that without the dedication of his students, the program would not have been successful enough to win an award – he believes that they should share the credit.
The students in the winning course are Chelsea Koivu, Denise Edgar, Crystal Daily, Diana Cooke, Elisea Chough, Holly Bero, Ian G.S. Billingsley, Jenn Chen, Kathryn Benson, Megan Nielsen, Noah Garaas, Rachel Wianecki, and Stacy Sears. Benarcik believes that without these students he would not have won the award.
In order for a college to be eligible for this contest, they must be accredited by CIDA first. CIDA investigates schools every four years and certifies them. “It’s a national recognition that says ‘you guys are accredited to teach interior design’,” explained Benarcik.
This is the second CIDA competition in a row that a BC faculty member has won – last time, Mark Mappala won first place for a pop-up retail design.  “That two of our instructors have won national awards is proof of the emphasis we put on first-rate teaching in our program, which ultimately benefits our students,” said Program Chair Michael Culpepper.
Perhaps the reason two faculty members won in a row has to do with the high levels of collaboration in the department. Benarcik designed the course, although he said that, as with anything in the interior design program of four teachers, his colleagues helped him develop it.
Benarcik has a BA in Architecture and his Master’s in Interior Design. He’s worked in the design of furniture, interiors, architecture and graphics. Aside from teaching, he has a business called Five Ply Design, where he employs all of the above skills. Although this was his first educational competition, he’s won awards in the past for his architectural design.
After having taught around the country since 1998 at places like the Art Center College of Design, Boston Architectural College, and the Rhode Island School of Design, Benarcik came to BC in 2007 and was instrumental in the designing of the 2009 Bachelors of Applied Arts in Interior Design.
The second professor to win national recognition in the Interior Design program, Peter Benarcik is a leading teacher in his field – and he believes that without his dedicated students, he wouldn’t be where he is today.