Bag Design: Man of Steel

Artist Gerald Walburg has enjoyed a storied career crafting large-scale minimalist sculptures out of corten steel and other metals, so it’s surprising that art wasn’t his first calling. “Architecture would have been my first desire after high school,” Walburg laments, “but I wasn’t a genius in math, and in those days you needed to be very strong in math to be an architect.”

The shadows and reflections created by a zig-zagging sculpture near a corner window make for a playful display. Photo by Kat Alves.

Still, that didn’t stop Walburg from dabbling in the field. “I’ve designed almost a dozen buildings, mostly for myself,” he says, including the home he shares with his wife, Deborah, in East Sacramento. It’s part of a small live-work compound that Walburg has erected over the course of a 25-year on-and-off collaboration with Sacramento architect Jim Bob Kaufmann.

As a young man, Walburg was employed as a draftsman for engineering and architectural firms, rendering detailed drawings using little more than pencil, paper and analog drafting tools. It’s the same way he works with Kaufmann today. “I don’t know CAD, so I lean over a drafting table with a T-square and triangles. I do the whole plan on paper, then I give it to Jim Bob and he puts it in a computer.”

kitchen with sculptures
The kitchen and dining area are situated on the home’s ground floor. “Deborah is a big cook, and this is the heart of the home,” says Kaufmann. Simple finishes—flat-front cabinets, quartz countertops—don’t compete with the bold art and midcentury furniture. Photo by Kat Alves.

The layout is just one part of a months-long conversation between two creatives in which they question and challenge one another’s ideas as they puzzle through design solutions. “Our personalities mesh well enough that I’m willing to look at what his ideas of him are and try to put them into a form that we can actually build,” says Kaufmann. “That’s no easy task; he does have some wild ideas sometimes. But it’s a fun challenge because it’s never like a normal building. He’s a very creative, very outside-the-box thinker. My job is to work with structural engineers and electrical engineers and the city to get the thing built.”

outdoor sculptures
The cantilevered upper floor, an element insisted upon by homeowner Gerald Walburg, is a feat of engineering. A sculptural post designed by Walburg “holds up one-fourth of the upstairs,” says Kaufmann. “It’s a really cool feature of the house.”

Walburg’s home is both a showcase for and an example of the monumental sculptures for which he’s known. “Jerry treats this as another piece of artwork,” Kaufmann explains. Clad in corten steel and capped with a painted steel shed roof, the structure is sculptural in form, with bold angles jutting skyward and a cantilevered section suspended artfully, almost magically, over the lush grounds, shading the patio below. “It’s an engineering marvel,” says Kaufmann of the cantilever.

sunken garden area
It was Walburg’s idea to create a sunken garden area adjacent to the basement—an ingenious way of inviting light into the underground space. Photo by Kat Alves.

Inside, the line between residence and gallery is intentionally blurred. Walburg’s collection of sculptures, paintings and iconic midcentury-modern furniture is showcased prominently, but the space doesn’t feel cavernous or antiseptic the way many art galleries do, thanks to Kaufmann’s adept approach to scale. “There’s a purposeful layering of lines throughout the house that help create a human scale,” he says. Color—in the paintings, the area rugs and the furnishings—is also “key to keeping it human,” adds Kaufmann.

outside sculptures
Photo by Kat Alves

Walburg says that he creates art to please himself, and this house is no different. The home is a monument to his ethos of him. As for Kaufmann, “I appreciate and enjoy the opportunity to work with someone who has an artistic vision. It elevates my work and it elevates his work. The whole beauty of this thing is the collaboration of two creative minds trying to achieve this really unusual and special building and environment.”

living room
The living room, situated on the home’s top floor, is decorated with rich colors against a neutral backdrop. “Jerry has an incredible eye for color and pattern,” says Kaufmann. Photo by Kat Alves.
sculptures in the basement
The sculpture in the basement is so large that it had to be installed and wrapped in plastic before construction was completed. Photo by Kat Alves.

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