A View of the Bar

Photo by James Bunoan MIXED-USE BUILDING ON THE BALBOA PENINSULA
OCCUPANT: TOM BLUROCK, ARCHITECT
COST TO BUILD: $1.6 MILLION, INCLUDING LAND

Tom Blurock has kind, soft eyes and a Sub-Zero refrigerator. He also has a tenant next door, rents out half of the bottom floor to an architects' association, and keeps 600 square feet of gallery space available to loan out for interesting art projects—sometimes really good ones, sometimes really not.

Blurock bought the land from two Armenian guys who drove in every day from Burbank to run a little gas station and were sick of dealing with it. They also didn't want to deal with having their own broker, so they sold Blurock the lot for a preposterous $550,000. It didn't cost all that much to mitigate the toxicity of the land, and Blurock soon began slapping up his high, diagonal walls and pointy ceilings. He finished 18 months ago.

"I'm kind of an urban animal, stuck in Orange County," Blurock says. "I went to school in Boston, and when I got out, the economy was horrible. You couldn't buy a job on the East Coast." He came here. He made money. He couldn't really leave.

Now his apartment is designed to impersonate urban loft space. Bedroom walls purposely look flimsy. Floors are gray concrete, polished and waxed. The sundeck in the middle of the apartment is walled with corrugated steel. All materials are common, low- to mid-grade in cheapness and quality. Shelves and counters are made of MDF board, which is like a thick stack of pressboard that's laminated with steel or blond wood. Even the windows, which incorporate a glazing system of little channels of glass, are commonplace in factories in Italy, even if they're boutique here.

In addition to the gorgeous, purposely lo-fi materials, the intelligent details of the design induce a terrible envy. Take the friendly, open kitchen, letting out into the perfectly appointed living room, with its low couches and Afghani rugs under a ceiling that must be 20 feet at its highest asymmetrical corner, a window running all the way across the top. Right. So. The kitchen: doors roll down over cabinets so you never bang your head on an open door. Plates are kept in drawers, held in place with pegs. One nook has cubbies for wine bottles built in. The vent over the range is operated by remote control. The concrete floor has heating pipes running beneath it. There are paintings by Tony DeLap hanging in hallways; small lights are suspended on wires crisscrossing the living room. A tidy woodpile next to the fireplace is artfully set in the middle of its alcove.

But it's the fact that Blurock can do what he wants with this sometimes-grungy corner of the Balboa Peninsula that keeps him happy. "I always had an eye on this neighborhood if I had to live in Orange County," he says. "One reason is it's mixed-use. It's a little messy. There are no review boards. You can walk to get a lemon, or walk to the movies, or hole up for a weekend if you feel like it."

Across the street are two of Newport's more raucous pick-up bars, the kind where at 10 a.m. on St. Patrick's Day, there's "a middle-aged guy with a significant pot belly in a big green hat, pushing a stroller with a green baby in it to the bar."

An actual baby?

"An actual baby." Blurock twinkles his eyes. He does that.

 
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