Malibu is a beach community just north of Los Angeles whose very name suggests wide expanses of Pacific Ocean, celebrities, and its own California life style.
Last year Barry Brukoff, a San Francisco designer and lighting consultant, was invited down to Malibu to work in collaboration with Edward Niles, a local architect, on a dramatic new home to be built atop a hundred-foot-high cliff. This spacious house represented a sizable investment on the part of its owners, Mr. and Mrs. Dan Unger, and was planned to take full advantage of the site and its views of sea, cliffs, and beaches. All decks and glass walls open to the Pacific.
The challenge to Mr. Brukoff was to reduce the monumental proportions of the house to manageable and livable human scale. A 50-foot-long living space with an impressive 30-foot-high vaulted ceiling may be grandiloquent, he says, but it is hardly conducive to cozy comfort. It is necessary to create some intimate scale within the larger area.
The manner in which he accomplished this feat recently won for Mr. Brukoff the first prize of $2,500 in the residential design category of the 25th annual S.M. Hexter ''best interiors of the year'' national awards program. The jury of professionals cited Mr. Brukoff's originality of design, his coordination of color and materials, and the way he integrated interior furnishings with the unusual architecture of the house.
What was the essence of Mr. Brukoff's approach? He first ''zoned'' the overall space into different function areas, such as kitchen, living, dining, lounge, and conversation. He then broke down furnishings into small groupings suitable for these areas. ''People do not enjoy being more than 10 or 12 feet apart when they are conversing,'' he says.
For that reason, the designer arranged a large semicircular sofa that seats a half dozen. Because it is made of modular units, it can be rearranged to suit any demand. He placed another conversational grouping around the fireplace and a dining cluster near the window wall.
The baby grand piano not only breaks up space but also serves as an important focal point. Both the piano and the curving wall behind it are painted an eggplant lacquer, an interesting contrast to many neutrals and rose pink. The metal columns supporting the huge laminated wood beams that arch across the ceiling act as natural space dividers. They also function as part of the lighting system, since they contain recessed lights that shine through perforated bronze filters.
To further delineate different living areas, Mr. Brukoff used a sophisticated lighting system that enabled him to lighten and darken different parts of the room, as if he were lighting the action taking place on various parts of a stage.
By placing recessed lights among the ceiling beams, he was able to direct light into or down onto different function areas or groupings. With this entire electronically controlled system, he can bring light up in spaces that are being occupied, and with dimmers, darken those areas that are not being used. He uses light to divide space, to diminish it, to highlight, and to establish mood and ambiance.
The master bedroom and bath appear to be placed under a giant glass greenhouse, with massive curving steel supports. There is no solar aspect to the structure. It is rather an architectural device for opening the rooms to nature, to the sea, and the beaches and cliffs below.
Can any elements in this house be interpreted at a less expensive level? Certainly, Mr. Brukoff replies. ''Anyone can buy a light dimmer for as little as on every light. In this way, a person can get many of the lighting effects that we have attained with a much more expensive and extensive lighting system.''
Space can also be divided by using a fig tree, as he did. Or, in a huge area, think of small people-size groupings that have more intimacy and coziness.