Howard J. Backen, FAIA

principal, founding partner

After completing his education at the School of Architecture at the University of Oregon in 1961, Howard J. Backen, FAIA, along with fellow graduate, Robert V. Arrigoni, FAIA, decided they wanted to launch their careers in the city of San Francisco. In 1967 the two of them along with another University of Oregon graduate, Edgar B. Ross, FAIA, started their own practice called Backen Arrigoni and Ross (BAR). Howard remained in the highly successful firm for 35 years and saw it grow from the three of them to a staff of over 100.

The firm developed both small and large scale housing projects, high and low density, high and low income housing, student housing, and senior housing. Design also included urban, suburban, rural, and wilderness housing. In the 1980’s BAR designed high-profile projects for the entertainment industry, which included Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute, MGM Studios Theme Park, Disney’s Sound Studios in Burbank, and a score of other theaters. In the mid 80’s Howard had the privilege to design the headquarters for the Delancey Street Foundation in San Francisco, an innovative and highly successful rehabilitation institute for former convicts and drug abusers. That project has not only won many awards for the humanitarian services it provides, but has also been recognized for the beauty and unique design it offers to the city of San Francisco. Most of Howard’s work on the project was pro bono as a service to the community. He was awarded the 1992 Award of Excellence by the Urban Land Institute for Delancey Street. The project’s success has been featured on ‘60 Minutes’ and numerous other TV programs and publications. Also during this time, Howard designed the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies in Aspen, Colorado, a Graduate Student Housing project on the Stanford campus in Palo Alto, and the Thoreau Hall Student Residence complex at the University of California, Davis campus. While at BAR, Howard designed a number of prototype stores for a then new store called Pottery Barn. The international projects Howard has designed include a ski resort in Korea, the Teacher’s Training Institute in Tehran, Iran, and Stars Restaurant in Singapore. The firm won a large number of AIA, HUD, and building industry awards, and has been published in numerous magazine articles and books.

In 1996 Howard made the decision to take his career in a slightly different direction and started an entirely new firm in the Napa Valley. That decision proved to be one of the most exciting decisions of his life. He remains 100 percent engaged in his new company. The current firm is called Backen Gillam Kroeger Architects, and employs 75 people with an office in the town of St. Helena and a second office in Sausalito. In 2013, From The Land, The Architecture of Backen, Gillam & Kroeger was published. The monograph is the first volume showcasing 38 of the firm’s projects from the last 17 years.

Jim Gillam, AIA

Principal, Founding Partner

After receiving his Bachelor of Architecture degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, James Gillam began his career in 1968 with The Architects’ Collaborative, a firm founded by Walter Gropius. Jim was awarded the Rotch Travelling Scholarship Prize in Architecture by the Boston Society of Architects, and through it was able to study the architecture of Southeast Asia, India, and Western Asia first-hand. Jim went on to receive a graduate degree from the prestigious Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. Jim entered private practice in 1978, offering design services to both corporate and private clients.

As a founding principal of Backen, Gillam & Kroeger Architects, Jim has been involved with the design of many hospitality and retail clients. He is the Lead Designer for all new Restoration Hardware Galleries. The most significant Galleries currently under construction include the Galleries in Upper Lake Shore, Chicago, and in the Meat Packing District in New York (close to the Whitney Museum and to the High Line). In the last couple of years, several notable RH Galleries have been completed, including ones in the former Historic Museum of Natural Science in Boston, the Historic Post Office in Greenwich, Connecticut, Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood, and in Buckhead, Atlanta.

In addition to Restoration Hardware, Jim has designed and is involved in numerous ongoing projects for the Santa Catalina Island Company, including the Avalon Grill, Descanso Beach Club, re-design of the Pavilion Hotel, and El Encanto Spa. Many of Jim’s restaurant clients include Coast Restaurant at Shutters-on-the-Beach, and Catch Restaurant at Hotel Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica, which won the Best Restaurant Design Award in Angeleno magazine.

All of Jim’s designs reflect great care and respect for environmental context. His love of architecture has always centered on his desire to create responsive and compelling spatial relationships that inspire and are therefore valuable.

Jim’s work has been published in various publications, including Progressive Architecture, Brava Casa, Architectura / Madrid, San Francisco Focus, Hospitality Design, San Francisco After the Fire, The San Francisco Guide to Recent Architecture and The New Architecture of San Francisco. Jim has taught as a Visiting Lecturer at the College of Environmental Design at U.C. Berkeley, and he was a juror for the ASLA Annual Design Awards.

Loren Kroeger


Loren received his Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Oregon in 1991, and has lived and worked in the San Francisco Bay Area ever since. Prior to joining the firm, Loren worked with several local architectural firms, gaining experience in a variety of project types including master-planning, public works, affordable housing, multifamily housing, and custom homes. He is a licensed architect in the state of California, as well as the Alberta and British Columbia provinces in Canada.

Loren joined what was then Backen Gillam Architects in 1997, and has been a design principal since 2001, working in collaboration with Howard Backen on the design of many of the firm’s residential and resort projects. Among the recently completed projects to which Loren has contributed are several small, luxury resorts including Esperanza in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; Cordevalle in San Martin, California, and Solage in Calistoga, California. He has also worked on numerous private homes throughout the Bay Area, as well as in Southern California, Wyoming, Arizona and New York.

John Taft


With over 25 years of architecture experience, John worked on commercial, institutional, and residential projects for firms in Los Angeles and San Diego, including several years with Charles Moore prior to joining BGK. John holds a bachelor of architecture degree from the University of Southern California and is a licensed architect in the state of California.

John joined Backen, Gillam & Kroeger Architects (BGK) in 1998 and has been involved in winery, restaurant, resort, and residential projects. In collaboration with Howard Backen, John has worked on the design of many of the firm’s winery projects, including Dana Estates Winery, MacMurray Ranch, Larkmead Winery, Marciano Winery, and Continuum Winery. John was also involved in Cyrus Restaurant, which won the Michelin Guide’s two-star award, as well as other restaurant, resort and residential projects.


Luca Pignata


Luca Pignata is now a principal at Backen, Gillam & Kroeger. Luca joined the firm in 1999 and was promoted to Associate in 2005. In collaboration with Howard Backen and Loren Kroeger, Luca has been involved with the design and management of many different projects ranging from restaurants, resorts, wineries, to private residences.

Some of the most notable projects are Ram’s Gate Winery in Sonoma, which was published in many newspapers and magazines; a restaurant in Yountville, which was purchased by Thomas Keller in 2006 and renamed Ad Hoc; numerous residential projects throughout the Bay Area and Southern California; and, wineries in Casole d’Elsa, Tuscany (Italy), Patagonia (Argentina) and Shanghai (China). He is currently working on a project for the Silverado Country Club in Napa, multiple new, high-end residential projects in the Bay Area and a new resort just outside of Yosemite Park for the First Light Destination group.

After completing his education in Architecture and Urban Design at the University of Florence, Italy, Luca started his career in architecture firms in Milan and Florence, where he worked on residential and retail projects and exhibitions throughout Italy and parts of Europe. He always maintained a strong desire to travel abroad and to discover great architecture and meaningful design. During a stop in California, Luca learned about an office in Napa Valley whose work caught his interest. He introduced himself to Howard Backen, and after an opportunity to work with the office for a few months, he finally decided it was time to stop travelling.

Silvia Nobili


Silvia Nobili is now a principal at Backen, Gillam & Kroeger. Silvia joined the firm in 2002 and has worked as a Senior Project Manager in both the St. Helena and Sausalito offices. During that time she worked closely with Howard Backen on many of the firm’s large residential and high profile winery projects.

Born in a town near Lake Como, Italy, Silvia attended the Politecnico di Milano, Italy where she graduated with a Masters in Architecture. She received a scholarship at Universidad de Valladolid, Spain, where she studied for a year. She is fluent in Italian, English and Spanish.

Kirby Lee


Kirby is a Principal at Backen Gillam & Kroeger in the Sausalito office.  During her time at BGK, she has seen projects through all phases, playing instrumental roles as Lead Designer and Senior Project Manager on a variety of residential, hospitality, and commercial projects throughout California, Texas and Florida.  Most notably, a hospitality and agricultural ranch in Dallas|Fort Worth, Wine Country family farm estate, and high-end residential compound in Montecito.

Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Kirby received her Bachelor of Arts in Architecture degree from the University of California, Berkeley.  Her theoretical education, together with an interest in problem solving through innovative, tangible solutions, fueled her architectural pursuits.  Kirby’s integrated design approach evolves architecture beyond a building shell, connecting each project to its surrounding landscape and users.

Edmund Juncker


Edmund has been a Senior Project Manager with Backen, Gillam, & Kroeger in the Saint Helena office since 2001. He has provided project management and design services for a variety of projects, including custom residences, and several well-known restaurants, wineries, and hospitality projects.

Before joining BGK, Edmund studied Art, Music, and Literature in various schools throughout California. He graduated with a BS in Construction Management. He began working in architecture in Tahoe City, California, working on hospitality and custom residential projects.