The challenge: Turn an underused, unfinished lower level into a sleek contemporary space for casual entertaining.

The background: Homeowner Jeff Freburg's walk-out basement contained a pool table, some exercise equipment -- and nothing else. "I didn't use it much. It was uncomfortable to be down there," he said. Freburg, who was single at the time, envisioned a guy-friendly space where he could invite friends to shoot pool and watch games on TV, as an alternative to gathering at a sports bar. "I didn't want it to feel like a basement," he said. "I wanted it light." He wanted to keep the pool table and add a big-screen TV, wet bar, seating and lighting, a spa-like bathroom with steam shower and an exercise room. So he turned to Lisa Peck, who had already designed other areas of his Rochester home. "Because of the job she did upstairs, I really trusted her judgment," he said.

The back-yard factor: Peck had also worked with Freburg on his landscaping and fire pit. But the only access to it was through the lower level. So the design had to do double-duty: It had to function on its own, and it had to integrate with the outdoors.

The style: Freburg likes the warmth of wood but wanted a clean-lined, contemporary space rather than a traditional pub look. "We wanted to use wood in a way that was interesting," Peck said. The main room's cabinets are rendered in rift-cut oak, to expose a vertical, linear grain, then finished in two colors: clear-coated and stained a deep chocolate brown. The bathroom includes a wood-grained wall with built-in shelving for towels. Handmade, hand-glazed tiles in the bar area add to the warm-yet-contemporary feeling.

The hues: The upstairs color palette, primarily warm gold tones, was already established, so Peck built the downstairs palette around that. "Then we threw in some steely blues, to give it a masculine feel," she said.

The furniture: Freburg wanted plenty of seating to accommodate Super Bowl parties and other major TV-watching events. Peck chose large-scale, comfortable pieces, with seats covered in a velvet fabric with big chunky squares cut into the pattern. "He wanted it to be a masculine space, and the beefy proportions gave it a guy's feeling," she said.

The result: "It turned out better than I thought," Freburg said of the design, which won an ASID award last year. "I always thought the basement was small and cramped, but now it looks bigger. You can spend three or four hours down there and never feel like you have to go upstairs. Everything you need is there." The new space also succeeded at linking the basement and the outdoors, he said. "It makes you want to go outside."

And the ladies like it, too: Which is a good thing, because Freburg has since gotten married. "It's a couples gathering spot now," he said. "The wives who come over feel pretty comfortable down there. It's designed to be a man's space, but it's an easy space -- not macho. My wife likes it. But my exercise room has now become her scrapbooking room."

The designer: Lisa Peck, LiLu Interiors, 275 Market St., Suite 546, Minneapolis, 612-354-3271,

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