Inside a Sublime St. Helena Home That Celebrates Indoor-Outdoor Living



Backen, Gillam & Kroeger Architects create a serene getaway for a pair of East Coast transplants.Down a winding road in St. Helena, a sublime spot atop a hill with lake views captured the hearts of sophisticated empty nesters looking to unplug. The East Coast couple—the wife a constant traveler, the husband eager to learn the winemaking process—turned to award-winning architecture and design firm Backen, Gillam & Kroeger Architects (BGK) to create a trio of buildings to complement their newly acquired home. The design team—founder Howard Backen, Edmund Juncker and Julie Hawkins—devised three modern barn structures that enable the homeowners to hit the reset button and that serve as a magical gathering place for family.
Tasked with creating spaces that felt intimate, had a strong sense of place which blended with the landscape, the team designed a guesthouse, a bathhouse and a fitness building sited to take full advantage of the views. The architecture, minimal and lyrical, showcases superb materials: custom-finished Douglas fir, blackened steel, poured-concrete floors and gleaming glass. The outcome is refined rustic; a series of structures in harmony with the natural surroundings.

The guesthouse, with 18-foot vaulted ceilings and oversized, retractable steel-and-glass doors, has spectacular views of the pool and the lake. “When the doors are open, you have this enveloping sense of indoor-outdoor living that is remarkable,” says Hawkins. The main gathering space, the living room, is centered around a concrete and custom plaster finish fireplace surround; his-and-hers offices double as sleeping areas for guests; and a small kitchenette with open shelving is masked behind 10-foot-high sliding barn doors.

Hawkins worked closely with the clients to create easy and comfortable interiors. “Napa and St. Helena have a sensibility of such elegant simplicity,” says Hawkins. “But underlying the minimal décor, each detail is thought out, and there are multiple layers.” The outside material palette was brought indoors to create continuity and warmth: Beamed ceilings are wire-rubbed Douglas fir; the walls are v-goove board and plaster; and the floors are poured integral-color concrete. For the furnishings, she introduced textural materials like linen, jute and reclaimed wood.

The same material narrative carries over to the sister buildings. The bathhouse features a custom vanity of reclaimed oak with concrete countertops, and the concrete tile was custom-made to match. Illuminated dropped-tray ceilings cast a soft glow that highlights the warm tones of the Douglas fir. The sliding steel and glass doors fully retract here as well, connecting the space with the neighboring landscape of moss-covered stones and woods.

The smallest structure of the group has just as much charm: The 500-square-foot fitness building, with its pitched roof, board-and-batten exterior and black barn lamps, is equal parts rustic and urban. Just steps from the pool’s edge, it offers an easy transition to a post-workout dip.

For the outdoor spaces, BGK enlisted St. Helena–based Claudia Schmidt Landscape Design, who created a setting that connects seamlessly with the larger vista of silvery olive trees and the hills beyond. Inviting paths bordered with sage lead to and from the property, while, around the pool, jasmine grows on airy steel trellises, and wisteria adds a fragrant scent to the air. Thousands of narcissus bulbs were planted amidst native shrubs and bloom in abundance each spring.

The homeowners now share their sanctuary with family and friends who revel in the restorative setting. Whether gathering around the table in the al fresco dining area, taking in the lake-view sunsets from the terrace or sitting poolside with a glass of their own vintage, the owners simultaneously unplug and recharge in their sublime wine country setting.

A version of this article appeared in the November/December 2016 issue of SFC&G (San Francisco Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: The Gathering Place.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags

Designer Spotlight

Edit Module
Christian Rae Studio
Christian Rae Studio, LLC is a multi-disciplinary design firm located in Southport, CT. Since 2010, we have delivered projects representing a broad range of type, scale, and budget considerations. Our combined technical and creative skills enable us to complete each design challenge from conception to final installation. The collaboration between architecture, interiors and lighting design is an approach that results in a holistic and integrated project that is thoughtfully tailored to each site and client.


Edit ModuleShow Tags

Architect Spotlight

Nautilus Architects
Christopher Arelt’s practice, Nautilus Architects, involves collaboration and interpretation, with each design evolving in its own way in response to the site, context and client. Chris’ work is seen as a continuation of but also a response to Modernism; or, more specifically, a return to regionalism and artistry, where clients’ projects are developed with the “head, hearts and hands” of all those involved. All of our buildings explore the use of natural light, reveal the inherent beauty of the materials being used, and bring the outdoors in.


Edit ModuleShow Tags

Architect Spotlight

Laura Kaehler Architects
Laura Kaehler Architects is an Award Winning Architectural Firm. Along with Laura Kaehler, AIA, we have a talented staff of 5 architects and designers who create new homes, renovations and additions and apartment renovations. Designing a smaller footprint while obtaining a "big look" with an open floor plan design, better craftsmanship and detailing and richer materials is what we call "Responsible Luxury" and is a key element of our design philosophy.

Laura Kaehler

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Builder Spotlight

Davenport Contracting
The team at Davenport Contracting has over 35 years of experience building and renovating homes. Our business model has always been based on building/renovating for a specific customer. A collaborative environment includes the client, architect, interior designer and Davenport crew. Davenport maneuvers effortlessly between custom homes, smaller renovations and property management. The team’s project management skills transfer seamlessly and the goal is to deliver your vision!


Edit ModuleShow Tags

Designer Spotlight

Fiona Leonard Interiors
Fiona Leonard Interiors, LLC is a full service design firm that specializes in making a client’s home unique and custom tailored to the owners taste and lifestyle. Projects are personally supervised from initial consultation to installation. Strong relationships with carefully selected creative artisans, highly skilled craftsmen and subcontractors ensures that your project will be in good hands. With over 20 years experience working alongside well established design professionals in Connecticut and Manhattan, Fiona Leonard Interiors, LLC was established.Fiona designs interiors with a casual elegance and timeless approach. Inherent in all her work is Fiona’s passion to combine clean lines and an artistic use of color that is comfortable for the client and reflects their personal lifestyle.

Fiona Leonard Interiors

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Architect Spotlight

Daniel Conlon Architects
Wind and weather, the ebb and flow of the tide, changing color and light define the rhythm of coastal living. This recent home embraces the idea with light-filled spaces , expansive views , cozy niches, and outdoor living environments. Landscape terraces and stonework ground the building to the site, while respecting all current building codes. Daniel Conlon Architects, based in Wilton CT, has designed numerous waterfront homes throughout the Northeast.

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags