Northern Californian architect Howard Backen designs an office for himself—and adds an adjoining restaurant that draws the locals in St. Helena.
Backen (of Backen Gillam Kroeger Architects) is well versed in both the retail world (clients include Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware) and the restaurant business (he designed the first Il Fornaio, then the ensuing 20). Designing his own restaurant was a different matter: "Whenever we designed a restaurant before I didn't always get my own way, but this time there was no one to answer to but myself, and it had to be done to perfection." The result? French Blue: a large living room like space with open kitchen, beyond which lies Backen's architectural office that leads onto a courtyard. Open from breakfast through late dinner, French Blue is still in its early days but Backen has plans to open his office courtyard to guests for wine tastings and art shows on weekends. In a town often swamped by tourists, French Blue has become a welcome place for locals.
Photography by Eric Wolfinger.
Above: In lieu of art on the wall, Backen has made the display shelves an architectural focal point, displaying French Blue branded products that will rotate over time. (The line includes chopping boards, aprons, and striped blankets; an online store is in the works.) The shelves are back lit with LED dimmable lighting that provides a soft warm glow.
Above: The seating is by Janus et Cie, made at a custom height for the tables. The floors are from reclaimed French oak, which is also used for the table tops.
Above: Backen rehabilitated the original building, keeping the trusses and open ceiling. The paint on the walls is a Backen favorite: Benjamin Moore Mayonnaise (at the local Napa paint store, the shade is affectionately known as "Backen White").
Above: The walls are clad in simple Douglas fir with a smooth finish, while the countertops are covered in zinc, which Backen chose for its durability and softness.
Above: The outdoor patio with an open fireplace.
N.B.: To see more of Backen's work, visit our Remodelista Architect's Directory.