The Sky's the Limit
Playwright turned designer Jim Luigs's new career takes off with a Texas project for his father, a collector of vintage airplanes
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 10/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
During his 30 years in the offshore-drilling business, Jim Luigs's father, Russ, spent as much time in the air as he did on land, flying to remote parts of Texas and South America to inspect oil rigs. Now retired, he is still frequently aloft, generally in his restored 1950 Cessna 195 en route to meeting pals for breakfast at the Flightline Cafe, a diner just a quick hop by air from his ranch in the Texas Hill Country.
As hobbies go, collecting and restoring vintage American aircraft, as Luigs's father has been doing for 12 years, requires a pretty serious investment of time, capital, and, above all, real estate. In his case, the latter entailed purchasing 750 acres outside Bandera for his Texas Longhorn cattle, two concrete taxiways, and a 3,600-foot-long grass-strip runway. Scattered in this landscape—amid imported exotic game and native wild fowl—are a residence, various outbuildings, and a single-story metal-clad hangar in the style of a humble agricultural shed.
To oversee the interior of the hangar, which doubles as an office for the family's aptly named Land/Water/Sky real-estate firm, Luigs came home from New York for 10 months. A theater director and playwright, the self-taught designer had never completed an interior before. It certainly wasn't the first time, though, that he'd called upon his artistic gifts to conjure a strong sense of narrative and place.
"The planes themselves suggested the design scheme," says Luigs, who scrutinized vintage aviation photos and his father's two Cessna 195s, 1957 Piper Apache, and 1943 Boeing Stearman Kaydet. An aerodynamic, machine-age look unites the project. "In airplane terminals, there's a strong art deco tradition, since the birth of commercial flight is associated with that period," he continues. This tradition accounts for the hangar's defining features: oversize windows, terrazzo floors, and streamlined 1930s and '40s furnishings with geometric detailing.
The hangar's 8,000-square-foot interior, bookended by the office on one side and a carport and mechanic's shop on the other, is a continuum of the building exterior. Corrugated metal lines walls and ceiling; structural beams are painted in the same farmhouse red. The pristine white floor looks precious, but it's actually a tough concrete slab with an epoxy-silicone-polyurethane finish developed for aviation purposes.
Just as custom aircraft restoration entails respecting historic integrity while adding modern equipment, such as state-of-the-art radar and avionics systems, Luigs scoured local antiques shops and flea markets for art deco seating, industrial lighting fixtures, and vintage office furniture and accessories. Then he modernized them. He shipped the bulk of his finds all the way to Scoblick Brothers of Scranton, Pennsylvania, to be hand-polished or reclad in cold-rolled or stainless steel. Even his father's beloved rosewood-and-bronze desk, which had served him for his entire career, was reborn.
Purists may balk at the liberties that Luigs took with vintage pieces, but he didn't hesitate to go straight to the source when authenticity was needed. For the vintage seating's leather upholstery, he enlisted an airplane interiors fabricator. "They just set up their sewing machines in here and went to work," he marvels. For flooring, he called on Venice Art Terrazzo Co., responsible for the Texas State Capitol Building in Austin. "An artisan in his 80s came out of retirement to pour the floors for us, because he liked the color combination so much," says Luigs, referring to the taupe-and-stone scheme enlivened by red.
The client's sole requests were that the 20-by-80-foot office be open-plan and that both the hangar interior and the grass-strip runway be visible when he was seated at his desk. "Except for those two things, I had free rein," says Luigs. Thanks to his attention to detail and his lighthearted approach, the hangar-office comes across as a fresh update rather than a nostalgia trip.