Taking Flight

As soon as Cathleen Van Buskirk began flying four years ago, she wanted her own plane. And as soon as she bought one, she longed to be able to step out her front door and take off at a moment’s notice.

“I didn’t want to drive to an airport to fly,” says Van Buskirk, a spinal surgeon at Boulder Community Hospital. “If you’re totally passionate about aviation, you want to live it.”

The result is Airpark Residence, a home that showcases innovative design, evokes the spirit of flight and serves as an exquisite monument to indoor-outdoor living. Alongside the landing strip of the Erie Municipal Airport, the 9,100-square-foot structure sits on Cessna Drive, where the yellow crossing signs show small black airplanes and nearly every home has a hangar. The building’s varied geometric shapes and sleek lines bring to mind a modern art museum, and the two separate roofs of home and hangar slant inward, creating a slight wing-like V. Inside, the vast living room windows provide a constantly shifting tableau of gliding planes, jutting mountains and endless sky.

When Studiotrope Design Collective architects Joseph Montalbano and Dana Grassmid began the project in 2007, they developed imagery that would suggest not only principles familiar to aviation, but also to Van Buskirk’s surgical profession. They pasted words like “precision” and “controlled risk” onto paper with corresponding pictures, and referred to that collage as they sketched the building’s ultimate design. “We were inspired by the instruments of flight,” Montalbano says. “In an airplane, you have this array of technology, so we wanted to be very deliberate about the directions and the axial lines.”

The walkway that leads from hangar to home features a ceiling reinforced by horizontal steel beams to resemble a giant spine. And it also serves as a sort of runway to the center of the house and on to stairs that lead to what Van Buskirk calls “the Cockpit”—a loft-like office that looks out at the airfield.

“I get to sit here and watch planes take off and land,” Van Buskirk says, gazing out at the sky. “I’ve been here over a year, and still, when I hear an airplane taking off or landing, I have to run to the window and see what kind it is.”

On the weekends, Van Buskirk readies her plane while gazing out the hangar’s window at the home’s narrow lap pool and the Front Range mountains beyond. Then she climbs into the cockpit, rolls outside and lifts into the air. She often flies to New Mexico to visit friends; recently she flew to Steamboat for lunch.

Airpark’s interiors—black and white with splashes of color—are just as flight-focused as the exteriors. The ceiling fans uncannily resemble plane propellers. The living room, furnished with a leather couch and cowhide chairs, is accented by a commissioned painting composed of multi-colored wooden strips arrayed on black canvas in a haphazard pattern, as if scattered by the wind. It’s a reminder of the powerful force that first captivated Van Buskirk when as a novice pilot she climbed into a friend’s Super Decathlon. He soared into the air, doing hammerheads, loops and spins. Says Van Buskirk: “It was the best adrenaline rush of my life.”

Just as the home’s architecture provides light, views and flight-inspired visuals, Van Buskirk used the interiors to evoke the natural world. A stainless steel square with mounted river stones hangs in the living room, while down in the white-tiled den, a black-and-silver painting is adorned with white stones. Such natural touches, combined with the master bed- and bathrooms’ dark woods, soft lighting and gray tile, give the home a Zen-like feel. After a long day of performing surgeries, Van Buskirk can soak in her bath, swim laps in the pool or lounge on the patio and wave at neighbors wheeling past in planes along the airstrip. And when she’s ready to take off again, she heads to the hangar and into the sky.

Categories: Architecture & Interiors, Interiors, Style