Dr. Ann Ernish-Backen

We are proud to partner with Marfa Muse Ann Backen for our trunk show in St Helena, California. Ann leads and champions an all female team and we will be popping up in her newest project, NO|MA HOUSE CAFÉ AND COLLECTIVE in the heart of Napa Valley.

Ann launched DOOR by aeb, as a complimentary brand to the Backen + Backen architecture firm, birthing a lifestyle brand that celebrates the exploration of the intersections of design, community, and cuisine — all through a holistic lens.

Since being diagnosed with a recurrent and incurable ovarian cancer, Ann has made significant lifestyle changes to ‘build the Architecture of a well-lived life’ (the name of her programme of retreats) which is truly inspirational.

Ann wears size S in the Signature Quilt in navy, reverse dark olive, with the Shearling Collar in buttermilk.


Tell us about your background

My love of movement, architecture, and wellbeing came at a very early age.  I've found that every part of my life has included one or all three of those loves.  I grew up very close to my uncle Ronald and his son RJ.  They were both architects, and I was enamored with them. They instilled so many fundamental values in me that remain today. After Highschool I found myself attending Broadway Dance Center in Manhattan, studying with Frank Hatchett. And of course, there was the all but constant need to seek out and explore any health-related store I came across, whether I needed something or not. I was insatiably curious about the idea of having dominion over your own body.

I have always loved learning and have been multi- passionate for as long as I can remember, although my process doesn’t exactly follow convention.  I love reading books or magazines from back to front, and I prefer being upside down (hence leading me to open 2 yoga studios).  My mom tells stories of me begging to move the furniture around for fun on a Saturday morning.   My favorite books have always been ones in the home design genre and I had a real addiction to design magazines in college.   I grew up naturally left-handed, but was forced to try to use my right hand. I was also dyslexic and had ADHD.  Through radical self-acceptance, I taught myself the skills to work with myself to grow and achieve my goals. I found in my life that my weaknesses (or what were perceived as weaknesses) later become what I now embrace as strengths. 

Talk us through your journey so far

As I look back on my career thus far, I see my multi-passionate nature reflected in all of my steps along the way.  Every office I opened seemed to become part health & wellness space, part art & design gallery.  My first office was in a historic building called the Tannery in Newburyport.   It was a space for bodywork for healing, yet also featured the work of local artists – including paintings, ceramics, and large hand carved wooden pieces by Doug Bechler.  I had 2 children and kept “repotting”, exploring my interests in design, well-being, and later on adding culinary training to the mix.

Eventually, I met my husband, Howard. We are best friends, and twin flames. I continue to live happily immersed in a world of DESIGN | LIFESTYLE | WELLBEING.  We inspire one another.  We stand next to each other in life and in work, but our processes are different. For Howard, inspiration seems to bubble up from within and he can stay static all day at a desk. I on the other hand, am a “free ranger” inspired by movement, nature and change. I like to follow natural rhythms of light with regard to how I sleep and work. 

The launch of NO|MA HOUSE CAFÉ AND COLLECTIVE came from reimagining the space where we once had a restaurant, which became one of the many casualties of covid. 

NO|MA HOUSE is a café and collective that embraces and celebrates health, community, and design.  We seek to bring people together to eat, talk, learn and increase well-being in a beautifully all-female designed, comfortable space.  A collective place to feed your mind, body and spirit with nourishing foods and meaningful objects and furniture in a home away from home.

We are very inspired by your attitude towards your cancer diagnosis, can you tell us about your journey since and any advice you can offer

I was diagnosed with a rare, recurring, and incurable form of ovarian cancer.  I made significant lifestyle changes. I remember being told that my new life would cost me my old one if I wanted to survive and thrive. The only advice I could give is to trust your instincts about your healing, that no one can give you an exact prognosis and that you must take complete responsibility for every aspect of your life. I was wheeled out of MD Anderson by a friend, and started to build the Architecture of a well-lived life.  I created my own protocol and assembled a team of some of the best in both Eastern and Western medicine. In September of 2017, I turned a dramatic corner and slowly made my way back to health.  I later went on to host retreats by that name – Building the Architecture of a Well-Lived Life.  I wrote the following manifesto below, which serves as a constant reminder to me of how to stay well and live a beautiful life.

I believe in mens sana in corpore sano: a healthy mind in a healthy body.

I believe that we create our space, and our space creates us.

I believe that thoughtful design and the power of a shared meal can elevate the human spirit.

I believe in fine wine, green drinks, plant-forward meals, and switching off.

I believe in community and connectivity.

I believe in creating opportunities to teach others about healthy, clean and green living.

I believe in building community and practices today with tomorrow in mind.

I believe in embracing the beauty of imperfection.

I believe in the power of "repotting" in life — learning new skills regardless of age, finances, or formal training.

What are you most proud of?

My children and my husband. As for myself, facing all my fears and finding my best self on the other side, from jumping fences on a horse, living with cancer to new creative projects.

What advice do you have for fellow female entrepreneurs?

I read this somewhere and can’t remember the exact quote or who wrote it but it goes something like….

All the qualities of magic reside inside WOMEN
This is why the fearful suppress them
This is why the wise follow them

The guru is inside just waiting for you. The people who are meant to be in your life will be there.

How do I style your Marfa Stance piece and why do you like the brand?

I wear it mostly at the barn when riding my horse, but I love that I can also change out the accessories or reverse it and wear it out to dinner.  It is a workhorse (pun intended) in my wardrobe. 

Photographer: Katie Newburn