Howard Backen: Architect

World renowned for his rustic looking yet luxurious designs, Howard Backen is one of the most sought after architects in America.

Called upon to undertake projects for many high profile, and highly demanding clients, Howard can only be called a genuine Southern Gentleman, having never taken on the ‘great architect’ persona.

Howard’s career has spanned generations. He has worked for such names as Steve Jobs, film director, Nancy Meyers, and the Harlan Winery Estate. Having started out in 1967 in San Francisco, and moving to Napa Valley in 1966, Howard Backen’s career has been highly successful and incredibly exciting. He’s designed restaurants, resorts and wineries. Although it’s not so much the extravagance of his work, but rather the elegant simplicity and rural designs that make him so astonishing.

Backen launched ‘Backen Arrigoni Ross’ (BAR) in San Francisco. He was part of the highly successful firm for 35 years, which grew to more than 100 staff. BAR has overseen the design and building of vast projects like the Robert Redford Sundance Institute and the Disney Sound Studios and the new Restoration Hardware stores.

During his work at BAR, Mr. Backen had the opportunity to design the main office for the Delancey Street Foundation, a successful rehabilitation centre. Most of Howard’s work on the project was pro bono, undertaken as a genuine service to his community.

Not only did the project win several awards for humanitarian service, but it has also been recognised for the unique design and beauty it contributes to San Francisco city.

It was in 1996 when Backen took his career in a new direction and headed to a new firm in Napa Valley. The Head-office in St. Helena and his new, self-designed home not far away in Oakville. Such a decision continues to be one of the most exciting and advantageous of his life.

At 75, Backen starts his day wandering through the morning chill over a series of fieldstone paths, to reach an open-roofed outdoor shower. It’s his favourite morning ritual which he finds sublimely invigorating.

Sketching and drawing seems to come so easily to Backen who keeps a sketch-pad and pencil by his bedside, ready for anything his inspiration might come up with.

One of his treasured sketch spots on his five-acre plot is a lengthy zinc table in his open plan pool house. Sketching only on paper and leaving the computer work to others adds to the farmlike, natural focused designs he is famous for. Backen often leaves whole walls open to the elements, almost like a picture frame, to enhance the natural beauty of the surrounding country.

In 2010, Howard Backen was named in the top 100 architects by Architectural Digest.

Howard Backen works 24/7. A few days a week he visits current construction sites, enabling him to talk directly with the workers and leaving him time at home to work without interruptions.

Currently, Mr. Backen is designing a company, off-site dining location for Apple employees, in association with Steve Jobs. Whatever Mr. Backen decides to do nexr, you can be sure it’s going to have the same breathtaking natural, rural beauty he is celebrated for.