Every guy who is single is aware of the rules of early bachelor living -- thou shalt have at least one piece of homemade furniture, thou shalt use any available floor space as overflow closet, thou shalt mount an animal head on the wall, and thou shalt recycle pizza boxes as place mats.

Single guys also know -- or should know, anyway -- that when college or trade school ends and gainful employment begins, those rules go out the window, along with the moose head and the pizza boxes.

But since the odds these days are that bachelors will remain that way longer than in the past, it's imperative that they live well now instead of waiting until they are married or settled down, experts said.

"The life cycle of the bachelor is getting longer," said James Heidenry, executive editor of the men's magazine Maxim. "Men are waiting to get married now, especially on the coasts. . . . It is a cultural phenomenon that a lot of men are seeing friends waiting, so they don't want to jump the gun.

"Instead of a two-year courtship, now you'll see a four- or five-year courtship, and now that women are waiting till they are 32 or 33 to have children, it kind of gives the guys a Get Out of Jail Free card," he said. "So it is worth taking the extra time to make sure you are living in the right setting."

Heidenry said the keys to living right are paying attention to style, location, practicality, entertainment and comfort.

Milwaukeean Chad Curran, 30, seems to have captured all five of those elements in his sophisticated and design-savvy bachelor pad.

For Curran, manager of an automotive dealership, outfitting his 1,900-square-foot condo in the old Nelson Brothers Furniture building in downtown Milwaukee was a labor of love.

All the condos in the building are loft-style with hardwood floors, exposed duct work and original Cream City brick. In addition, Curran's has a balcony that overlooks the Milwaukee River and the RiverWalk.

"I decorated my condo with a lot of different prints. Most of them have a party or automotive theme to them," he said. "I have a pretty cool martini print above my bar/wine rack that seems to evoke a lot of conversation and gets everyone in a good mood."

Curran said a smart bachelor will incorporate the personal touch in his art and decor. In his case, that includes his game room and dozens of photographs of gatherings with family and friends.

"I'm big into the outdoors, so I needed a place to put all my hunting and fishing memorabilia," he explains, adding that the game room also holds a foosball table. While he likes to have fun, Curran said part of growing up and adding style to his new abode was losing the old standbys, including beer posters, a coffee table made of cases of Old Milwaukee beer and a desk made of cinderblocks and a door.

Making the best use of space is important to 35-year-old Nick Seidler, a bachelor who lives in a duplex in Wauwatosa, Wis. He emphasizes practicality and entertainment as priorities in his living space.

"My home is kind of small but perfect for me," said Seidler, assistant director of student activities at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. "For my job I spend a lot of time with groups of students, arranging activities and so on, so I'm out most of the time. My place is two things -- somewhere for me to sleep, and when I'm not working, somewhere for me to relax. I'm all about functionality."

In addition to his 500 DVDs and more than 1,000 CDs, Seidler has a collection of sci-fi knickknacks and a collector's-edition Dr. Who pinball machine.

Beyond having things he simply likes in his home, Seidler insists that functionality also means having things that can take a beating.

"Since my whole mindset is that I want to enjoy myself in what little time I am at home, I like to have things around that are okay for people to handle and touch and play with," he said. "I'm not a slob or anything, but even my loveseat / couch-like chair is covered with a dark felt-like fabric. It's comfortable. If an accident does happen it won't be ruined. And it meets my purposes -- it's relaxing."

Heidenry applauds Curran's style and Seidler's logic but said those bachelors who are just starting out on their own should concentrate on the basics.

"Men have it a little tough, I think, because most men are slobs," Heidenry said. "Even though Maxim celebrates the slob in every man, if you want a decent bachelor pad you definitely need . . . a decent couch, an ottoman, floor lamps in your living-room space, for example."

For basic art, young men should play it safe and mount movie posters, Heidenry suggests.

"But not 'Scarface,' like a lot of guys," he said. "I suppose if they want to put up that 'Scarface' poster it's fine, but part of this is also to make sure women don't think you're an overgrown frat boy."

To avoid that impression, Heidenry suggests a replica of a classic "Casablanca" poster or a poster from the 1927 sci-fi classic "Metropolis."

"They are images that will let women know you're trying to be a little cultivated," he said.

And look outside the box. "If you buy things when you're abroad and bring them home, that will show people that you're making an effort to add some culture to your life," he said. "And art from other countries can be great conversation starters."

It took Dan McQuillen more than two decades to nail down his tastes, but he has figured out that for him comfort means contemporary.

McQuillen, 53, lives in a 1,250-square-foot condo north of downtown Milwaukee.

"I lived in the country for 23 years on an acre of land," said McQuillen, who is building-trades supervisor for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. "My art consisted of scenery, landscapes. My furniture was all much more traditional. Now it's all contemporary. I have the all-leather living-room set, black leather. Yes, it is easy to clean, but I also just like the fabric and the sleek modern style."

Sleek modern style is about more than furniture and paintings of odd-shaped objects, though, McQuillen said. It's about properly housing equipment, too.

"One thing I had as a younger bachelor that I wouldn't have now is the 'entertainment center' that consisted of bricks and a sheet of wood on top," McQuillen said. "Home entertainment is important, though, especially if you are like me. I have probably 600 CDs. I'm a music fanatic. And the big-screen TV, gotta have that."

The point, McQuillen said, is that expensive gadgets shouldn't sit on cheap furniture.

Bachelor Nick Scotti, producer and host of the Style Network show "New York Nick," agrees that good equipment is a must. But, he adds, quality items in the wrong setting can look just as bad as a home full of junk.

"You should have as little clutter as possible," Scotti said. "Stay away from carpets for a number of reasons. You don't have to vacuum. Hardwood floors are more easily cleaned, and they look good. They add a masculine touch."

The smart bachelor, Scotti said, will also make sure his wall color matches his personality.

"I think color is really important," he said. "Go to a paint center and discuss it with them, because sometimes colors look different in natural light than they do in a store. Blues and greens are warm, peaceful colors. If you're a dude with a bad temper, then stay away from colors like yellow."

Curran, the car-dealership manager, urges aging bachelors to consider the purpose of their homes when picking everything from color to furniture.

Curran got outside advice when decorating and outfitting his place. Look and space were more important to him than the latest gadget . . . except, of course, for a good dishwasher and washer/dryer set.

"I have found that as I get older, the ability to have a good place to entertain is more important than having the loudest stereo," he explains. "My condo is very open and can -- and does -- comfortably entertain 75 people.

"Don't be afraid to ask for advice," he said. "Bottom line: You pay the bills and have to live in it."

In the bedroom, Heidenry said, always have clean sheets. Women will say that a clean or dirty bedroom can be a deal breaker.

Make sure you have good electronics -- a good TV and sound system. "That's for your own comfort and enjoyment," he said. "If you don't have that in your own home, where else?"

Shop for furniture designed for young men. "When we did our bachelor pad . . . we had a chair with a cooler. It also gave massages and had a tray table that came out like on an airline," he said. "It'd be a great purchase, but they can be a little expensive, as much as $2,500."

It's best to make the most of what you have, so it your apartment is tiny, no one appreciates your plight more than Scotti, who offers offers these space-saving tips:

* Consider a Murphy bed, which folds up into the wall. Scotti, who lives in a small apartment in New York, recently added a Murphy bed that, when folded, acts as a shelf and mini-bar on its backside and frees up more than 80 percent of his floor space.

* Buy furniture that doubles as storage space. Scotti has a leather-topped wooden bench that can provide seating or serve as a coffee table.

* If you can afford it, get a flat-screen TV that mounts on the wall. You'll save a couple of feet of floor space by not having a traditional entertainment center.

* Replace clunky furniture with large Japanese-style floor pillows or several small square ottomans. They create a bohemian look.