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Sectioned space in big, big room of three levels, several heights. Large area of California home gets livable scaling

HOW do you design a very large space in order to make it livable, manageable - and even cozy? That challenge confronted Barry Brukoff, a designer from Sausalito, Calif., after his redesign and enlargement of Terry Jones's 1970s waterfront house in Newport Beach.

``Because the downstairs area was sort of all chopped up into small rooms,'' Mr. Brukoff explains, ``we knocked out separating walls in order to provide an open-plan environment.

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``We then redefined spaces by means of different floor levels, ceiling heights, and lighting effects.

``The different volumes within the overall room actually act as dividers. Furniture arrangement and contrasting materials also help define.''

So the one big downstairs expanse now includes a sunken conversation pit, TV area, living room, bar/lounge area with billiard table, music/game room, and dining area. Each is integrated in a way that allows for a sense of containment within the given space.

Reducing such a large room to human scale is not easy, the designer concedes.

``If we had not individualized the different areas, it would not have worked at all, nor would it have felt good to the people who live there. Space, after all, cannot just be amorphous - it must be designed.''

The living room is divided into two parts: one centered by a fireplace surrounded with a semicircle of six large swivel chairs; the other a sunken conversation pit.

The ceiling of the conversation pit was raised by cutting into the joist space. A huge entertainment center cabinet separates the two, and television can be viewed from either side.

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An 18-inch-high granite ledge around the wall can be used as either a table or extra seating.

The lighting system, designed by Brukoff, allows great flexibility and includes both direct and indirect lighting. All the lights are on dimmers, so that the area in use can be more brightly lighted than those that surround it. Most of the lights are also recessed and built into the architecture.

The dining area retained its original configuration. To help attenuate sound, the wall was wrapped with a padded fabric. The music/game area, with its stonework and terra-cotta tiled floor, is next to the entry.

Brukoff was responsible for space planning, interior architectural detailing, and all the interior decoration, including colors and finishes.

He chose a desert palette of soft blues, off-whites, and salmon beige. A collection of especially made Moroccan Berber rugs was commissioned to go with the desert hues.

The fireplace design integrates the existing stone with a new face of polished granite and patinated copper. The interior wood chosen by Brukoff is koa from Hawaii.

This unconventional room, with its three floor levels, steps, and several ceiling heights, was entered by Brukoff in the annual S.M. Hexter national design competition for best interiors of 1987.

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