To Each His Own Sanctuary: The Modern Man Cave

March 25, 2010

THE TERM “MAN CAVE” conjures chest-pounding imagery of prehistoric bachelor pads. But just as today’s man wields a Wii controller instead of a caveman club, so, too, has the Neanderthal’s nest gone modern.

“More and more men are vocalizing what they want or where they feel they’re lacking space,” says Cindy McGlure, owner of Grossmueller’s Design Consultants in D.C. And what men want has also evolved (Goodbye, frat-house “chic”; hello, dapper digs).

“We’re beyond the aesthetic of brown leather couches and can-holders, and are designing for men in a really modern, beautiful way,” says Jason Claire, a designer and co-owner of 14th Street furniture store and design firm Vastu. “It’s a shift in stereotype. You can have cool, comfortable lounge seating and organized shelf systems that are crisp and clean.”

Case in point: the Dupont Circle bachelor penthouse of interior designer Patrick Baglino Jr., 41, in which mod masculinity radiates from a subdued color palette heavy on slate grays and whites. Tidy rooms are designed to be multifunctional, such as the dining area that doubles as an office; his bedroom can be closed off to mimic a cave-within-a-cave when guests are over. “Everyone needs their own space and quiet,” he says.

Of course, suburban kings of the Stone Age still rock their subterranean dens of testosterone, the likes of which you’ll see glorified on the DIY Network‘s “Man Caves” show, in which guy hangouts range from mini-Shea Stadiums to faux Swiss chalets.

“A man cave is a place where a guy can go be himself and enjoy his surroundings,” explains handyman host Jason Cameron. “A lot of times, guys have things from their past that aren’t accepted elsewhere in the house, whether it’s trophies or a moose head. We just want that one room where we can do what we want, decorate it the way we want — and if we want a Kegerator, we can have it.”

Far from just a sign of old-fashioned dominance, home designers say dude decor is an oft-overlooked — but no less essential — way for men to feel truly at home.


“It’s their space, not for the wife or kids; a place where they can be young or just be their full selves — they don’t have to impress anyone,” says Jill Sorensen, founder of McLean, Va.-based Marmalade Interiors and soon-to-launch Livelikeyou.com, a new Web-based concept in which she designs rooms to match personality types.

But for urban guys who live in square-feet-challenged condos, finding space to stretch out and relax — no women, floral prints or coasters allowed — isn’t quite so simple.

“The fact is, in D.C., there aren’t that many ‘caves,’” Claire says. “Instead, we might have to get all the bells and whistles into the living room, without making it look like a ‘man cave.’”

When space is tight, men might take over an empty corner — or perhaps a closet, Cameron says, for a pocket of manpower. “There are things you can do to customize a little closet or corner to make it their own,” he says. “Open the closet to a dry bar, or that humidor he really likes, or his trophies that have been boxed up.”

Since bachelors don’t have anyone to crimp their style, transforming one-man digs into gentlemen’s quarters makes fewer waves. But that’s not to say it’s smooth sailing. Chief financial officer Brad Berkley, 37, recently decided his West End condo felt more like a hospital than a homey haven, so he hired Sorensen as a designer.

“At the beginning, I was a little nervous and reluctant to go that route,” Berkley says. “But I knew I needed help and wanted a look that was unique.”

Sorensen transformed Berkley’s white box into a cohesive home, applying a clean style she dubs the “modern bachelor.” “It’s unbelievable the difference curtains and window treatments can make,” Berkley says. “When I come home at night, it’s such a warm and inviting place to go.”

Sleek furniture and an uncluttered aesthetic rule the pad, but Berkley’s den counters as an eclectic guy zone where he can stash electric guitars and mount hunting conquests. “I like the idea of separating the two spaces,” he says. “One is a playroom, where things don’t have to match up. It’s very casual.”

While distributing condo space strategically is a good rule for single guys, many would say it’s absolutely essential for cohabitating couples. “With a condo, you have to think outside the box,” says small-business owner Ellen Eanet, 56, who recently moved with her husband, Bruce, from a 4,000-square-foot house in D.C. to a 1,300-square-foot condo in Silver Spring. Among their top priorities: finding a condo with an area where Bruce, 62, could indulge his cigar-smoking hobby.

Instead of a basement lounge, the Eanets opted for a condo with two outdoor patios, one of which is being “tricked out as a Turkish smoking room,” Ellen Eanet says, “with outdoor curtains, hanging Turkish lanterns and a teak bench to create a space like you would find in the Kasaba [a village in western Turkey].” The second patio features outdoor speakers connected to an inside TV, “cantilevered so it can be seen through the patio windows,” giving Bruce Eanet a throne to relax in like a king as he watches TV and puffs on his cigars.

Even though men today can pluck from plenty of stylish design choices, nostalgia and comfort often remain the top considerations. “It’s certainly not about pretty design,” Sorensen says. “It’s more about a big, comfortable chair, a big TV and dreaming about being a rock star.”

» Elements of Man Cave Style: Must Haves for the Basement Hideaway

Written by Express contributor Katie Knorovsky
Photo courtesy DIY Network; Jason Hornick

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