The Finish: Gerda Engelbart

The former ballet dancer finds a parallel between that fluid use of space on stage and her building-design work today.

Architect Gerda Engelbart (photo by Chris Hardy)

An avid ballet dancer into her late teens, Gerda Engelbart still finds a parallel between that fluid use of space on stage and her building-design work today.

“People have a relationship to space even if they’re not aware of it,” she said.

Whether designing the interior of Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria in Geyserville or repurposing wood from a former boarding house in Healdsburg, her instincts in working with her clients are to “help them think of ideas that they never would have thought of on their own.”

From her father, Douglas Engelbart, inventor of the computer mouse, she learned to “break up the box and think outside the box.” From her mother, Ballard, she gained an appreciation for landscape design.

Yet she’s just as willing to redesign a Windsor tract home for a family outgrowing its living space. No matter the scale of the project, “listening is key,” she said. “The word ‘drafting’ or ‘drawing’ means to ‘pull forth,’ like you pull a draft beer or a draft horse pulls the plow. That’s what I’m doing with each client.”

Then: Born in Berkeley and raised in a Joseph Eichler-built house in Palo Alto in the 1960s.

Now: Lives in a 1930s cabin in Healdsburg, with vaulted ceilings and high windows. “I like to call it my mini-Maybeck,” she said, referring to Arts-and-Crafts-style architect Bernard Maybeck.

Studied architecture: California College of the Arts in San Francisco

Age: 60

Favorite analogy: “Rembrandt and Van Gogh are both great painters and the elements of design exist in all of their works; that’s what makes them great. But they’re completely different styles and it’s a personal choice about which one you like.”

Sense of discovery: “A lot of these old houses have beautiful fir underneath the floor and people don’t realize that it can be sanded.”

To unwind: Camping and long walks with her dog, Odin, a Belgian Malinois mix.

Guilty pleasure: “Way too much Sudoku.”

Latest project: A “very modern structure” in Dry Creek Valley for an artist who creates large-scale paintings and needs both living space and room in which to paint and exhibit her work.