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.

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Designer Spotlight

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Karen Wells Design
Karen Wells Design creates professionally finished, uniquely beautiful interiors. Interior design, furniture design, interior architecture, project management, space planning, and curating collections are our specialty. Each project brings a fresh aesthetic based on the clients tastes, idiosyncrasies, and how they want to live. Interpreting each space for its functionality, refining it through the use of color, texture ,light, art, and furniture proportions allows KWD to create environments called home.

Karen Wells Design

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M&M Custom Homes
M&M Custom Homes is recognized as one of the premier home builders in the Hamptons and throughout Nassau County. With an unwavering commitment to excellence, we provide a superior client experience—creating exceptional value with state-of-the-art construction and unsurpassed design.


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Gardeneering
For thirty three years, every design we create stems from our holistic approach to landscape gardening. Beginning with developing the best possible soil, our attention branches out to address all facets of a project with similar focus. Whether it's hardscape or quality of plant material, the installations are of the highest order -- as is the quality of our estate maintenance services. Every effort is made to blend the client's vision with the aesthetic aspects of the house and property -- ultimately, to create an organic realization.


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Kathryn’s Flower Gardens
Kathryn’s Flower Gardens is committed to providing exquisite cutting gardens, container plantings and unique and heirloom varieties of vegetables, fruits and herbs, all grown right outside your door. Inspired by the agricultural heritage of the east end, Kathryn’s was created as a sentimental tribute to the owner’s young daughter. Led by a team of experienced horticulturalists, the firm’s sole focus is on providing boutique and personalized containers, flower and vegetable gardens. Located in Sag Harbor, Kathryn’s Flower Gardens is a subsidiary of Summerhill Landscapes.


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HARMONIA INC Creative Landscapes and Fine Stonework
HARMONIA INC was founded out of a profound passion for creating complete landscapes and gardens that co-exist in harmony, with the natural settings that grace each property. Harmonia will design and install a customized landscape complimentary to your visual desires, and your personal lifestyle. “ Our work is a reflection of how you will want to enjoy your property for years to come.” Harmonia Inc is a full service design, installation and maintenance company, beautifying the Hamptons every day. 631-537-9672

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