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INTERIOR MONOLOGUE

Noguchi meets no-names

In his Santa Monica apartment, an industrial designer lays out his definition of California casual: a budget-minded, minimalist mix of designer classics, affordable IKEA basics and quirky recycled pieces.

March 15, 2007|David A. Keeps | Times Staff Writer

BERNARD BRUCHA wanted a place he could park his surfboard after a morning ride and get down to business. For him, the ideal live-work space wasn't a done-up loft downtown but an ocean-view two-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica waiting to be transformed by a little personality and ingenuity.

On a bare-bones budget, he has fashioned a lean and purposeful 1,000-square-foot home and office that doesn't skimp on style.

Furnished with IKEA pieces, handmade assemblages and found objects, it is a space that expresses his sensibility: minimalism with soul.

"I use a lot of super-long linear elements with limited detailing at work," says the 33-year-old principal of Mash Studios, which designs commercial interiors and furniture.

"So the decoration I do at home is very specific -- pieces that are about the form and materials."

He points out a gunmetal lump of anthracite coal. It sits at the end of a teak bookcase set against a stone-gray wall covered with panels of WonderBoard, a surface purchased at a hardware store that is used to mount tile.

"I like the mixture of natural and industrial," he says.

Brucha got his taste for organic materials as a child visiting the Museum of Science and Industry in his native Chicago.

"There were all these things you want to touch and see what it does," he recalls.

Visitors to his top-floor unit in a midcentury motel-style building experience a similar sense of wonder.

In the home office, why do a bowling ball and a Brunswick Red Crown pin stand next to a potted dracaena with twisting branches?

They are all souvenirs from his days in Brooklyn, N.Y., where Brucha worked for furniture designer Dakota Jackson.

And that scrap metal over there? Those chunks of I-beams, combined with an old electric fan, serve as small-scale sculpture next to a boxy gray couch.

"If I had more dough, I'd have less IKEA," he says in defense of the sofa he bought when he moved to Los Angeles six years ago. "But it's just so easy."

Brucha also found IKEA lighting fixtures and red cotton rugs to his liking. He transformed a pair of the store's inexpensive desks (two for $150) into workstations by topping them with Vyco, a vinyl surface used on drafting tables.

As a renter, Brucha has been careful not to get locked into built-ins, oversized pieces and trendy furniture.

"Those are the first things you're going to throw away when you move," he says.

He invests in classics such as his latest prize: a steer-horn-shaped bamboo floor lamp, a 1951 Isamu Noguchi design that Brucha purchased online for $845.

"When I shop, what I imagine is, 'Am I still going to love it in 10 years?' Furniture isn't supposed to be disposable," he says. "It should be made to last and have a second life. Certain pieces may cost a little more, but I am going to have that Noguchi lamp when I am 70."

The industrial designer built some of the largest, most eye-catching furnishings in his home: a slatted platform bed made from palm wood, a bookcase, and a table and benches made from quartersawed, plantation-grown teak "thinnings" (smaller trees cut down to let larger ones grow).

"I like to do most of my work here," says Brucha, whose storage units and plywood cabinets are part of a line carried by Denizen Design Gallery in Los Angeles. "It's an inspiring place."

When he needs to clear his head, he will step onto the terrace, which is trimmed in rope light for nighttime entertaining.

"I've got potted succulents and about 10 different kinds of bonsai going on," he says as a track from Coldplay spins on his Mac. "It's my California Zen moment."

david.keeps@latimes.com

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