Where the lighting's Job One

Designer Mark Oser lives in his Bucks "showroom," modern yet warm, with a Tinseltown basement.

(From left) Lisa, Halie, and Mark Oser in the theater of their Bucks County home. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)

In Mark Oser's world, light is art, and the most important design element in a house. A trained painter, he prefers white walls to showcase canvases and sculptures, and dramatic lighting to highlight the architectural details of his 6,000-square-foot modern home in Holland.

It's not your typical Bucks County fare, but that's not why clients in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Florida call on Oser, an interior designer for 20 years who now does many design/build projects.

His own home features glass for staircases, stainless steel for curved walls, granite for floors, and open spaces for paintings that make it feel like a modern museum or a slick movie set. A comfortable one, though.

"My main goal was to create an ultramodern [house], but warm at the same time," says Oser, 44. "I softened all of the hard materials with warm lighting, thick carpets, and warm touches of color."

Building his home from the ground up was a challenge, Oser says: "I have been exposed to so much over the past 20 years and had so many resources that I loved to use. How do I narrow it down to what I like?"

First, he had to find where to build. He wanted to be in Bucks County, but he didn't think a big development would be right for him, his wife Lisa, and daughter Halie, now 9. He found a community of 10 homes where the builder would allow him to design and construct the interior.

Like the rest of us, Oser had to contend with that awful word budget.

"When I thought about all of the things I wanted in this house, I thought, 'I can't afford myself.' If there was something I wanted that I could not afford, I tried to do it with more cost-effective materials."

It took Oser a year to design the whole house and another year, after they moved in in May 2001, to design the lower level. He bounced ideas off his wife, who was involved in the projects.

"My most important requirement was that my home feel inviting while being warm - modern design sometimes has a cold feel to it. Mark blended a modern style with a sense of warmth," Lisa Oser says, crediting his use of lighting with making that happen.

The basement that took so long to design? It features a six-seat theater with ticket booth, a bar, a seating area, a gaming area, and the requisite home gym. The rooms have a movie theme, and there is even a life-sized clay sculpture of a movie attendant in the ticket booth.

The soundproof theater has fabric walls and dramatic sconces, and a 125-inch movie screen behind remote-controlled curtains.

"This is my favorite room," Mark Oser says, "because you feel so different here. It takes me away."

"You can do anything using this screen: show family photos, play games, and watch movies, of course," says Oser, who often hooks up his computer and works there.

Adds Lisa Oser: "My friends and Halie's love this house. It is really set up for entertaining."

The bar and seating area have fun pop-art touches such as puzzle-piece ottomans and chairs done in fabric that looks like film reels. Oser painted an "Al Pacino in Scarface" movie mural onto the wall near the pool table.

Upstairs, in the main living spaces, however, "I wanted to have an art gallery effect," says Oser, who mixes his own work - his take on a Roy Lichtenstein is on one wall - with that of other artists.

For the kitchen, he wanted sleek and angular mixed with curved design elements. The granite floors match the countertops, and white custom cabinets conceal small appliances. The eating area has a Jetsons-like triangular table and colorful seats.

In the square family room, Mark Oser wanted curves. He created them with flooring cut in a wave shape. The room features a built-in TV over the fireplace and, on an opposite wall, an airbrushed sky effect with the words COOL in 3-D.

"Paint can be changed, so if I get tired of it, I can easily change it," he says.

The master bedroom needed lots of storage. Oser tucked it away behind curved brushed-steel and lacquer custom cabinetry that looks like an architectural element. A fireplace and TV are built into a wall opposite the bed, which rests on a glass-block base, lit from within.

"The lighting and glass create a floating effect," Oser says.

He painted the molded ceiling a warmer color than the walls, and tucked away cove lighting to give the space a wonderful glow. And he created a meditation area for his wife, who owns an insurance-brokerage agency.

Three years ago, Oser took his talents outside, adding a pool that transports visitors to his favorite state, Florida. He brought in sand from the beach and palmlike trees, worked his magic with lighting again, and dotted deck areas with art and sculpture from favorite artists.

"The best part of living in a modern house is it is open and airy, unique and timeless," Lisa Oser says. "I feel like I am on vacation in Florida or California in my own home."

Mark also thinks of it as a living portfolio.

"I could have a showroom," he says, "but I choose to live in mine."

Is your house a Haven?

Tell us about your haven by e-mail (and send some digital photographs) at properties@phillynews.com.

Real Estate Tools
Looking for a new home? Search Philadelphia real estate »
Browse Recent Home Sales »
Compare Philadelphia mortgage rates »