Me, Tarzan… Dynamics of ‘The Man Cave’

 ‘Man Cave’: it used to be code for that space in the garage, reserved for the discerning fellow who just needed a bit of quiet space away from the rest of the family now and then.

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Space, not just the final frontier, as Capt. Kirk used to say, but a necessary part of our general welfare. We all need personal space; or rather, a place that speaks to us as having our individual hallmark clearly imprinted, the question of ‘who lives here?’ never in doubt. The old cliché about a ‘man’s home being his castle’ is true enough for bachelors. Alas, over the last few decades it has taken a browbeating from the proto-feminist philosophy where ‘a woman’s touch’ suddenly became the barometer for ‘managing’ household tastes and mantras.

So the castle steadily began to reflect a compromise between partners or, in a lot of cases, mere acquiescence on the man’s part. Until finally, the castle was almost exclusively a reflection of a woman’s ability to convince her man he needed chiffon drapes just to be happy – or rather, keep the peace (which, in a lot of men’s eyes, is the same thing).

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Well, that began to change in the new millennium; and rightly so, as more men rediscovered their own creativity, reclaiming spaces within the home their significant others might neither wish to redecorate from the cellar to the ceiling, or otherwise perceived as having no added value to invest their time. Thus the ‘man cave’ was born, in garages, and sheds and pool houses out back, then gradually, in basements previously thought suitable only for the laundry, utility rooms and sump pump.

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Possession being nine-tenths of the law, men put their thinking caps on and found they could ‘get away’ with sprucing things up on their own terms without having to justify their aesthetic decisions. Today, the ‘man cave’ speaks to the primal verve of ‘being a man’; oft appealing to the rugged outdoorsman or sports aficionado, the movie buff/home theater enthusiast, the ‘guy’s guy, buddy/buddy barroom and billiard parlor, or some other combination of design elements uniquely meant to evoke a sense of male bonding utterly void of ‘the woman’s touch’.

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A man cave can be a rather stylish affair; men coming to realize that simply because the space allocated is used to park the family car by day, or consists of a boiler room and broom closet, does not mean it has to look like the very last bastion of freedom trying to conceal itself from the outside world. And man caves, apart from their rustic charm and sublime devotion to ‘butch’ pursuits appealing to men gathered socially for a little R&R can actually be a lot of fun to put together because, in essence, the cordial rules of chichi design etiquette tend not to apply, either partially or at all.

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Man caves can range from the exceptionally modo hip, to the ever so competently put together; an extension of a true home designer’s mantras with a decidedly masculine slant, to the gaudy eclecticism of a backwoods honkytonk or trashy roadhouse gloriously run amuck. There’s no rule book to follow. From shelf-cluttered bars, overloaded with decorative, empty and full bottles of alcohol and neon-lit signage, mounted animal heads and those wonderfully, all-but-forgotten velvet Elvis canvasses and/or depictions of billiard-playing dogs chomping down on their cigars, to the intricately planned and themed spaces devoted to either the home theater enthusiast or man’s favorite sport, man caves continue to evolve a personal style in response to chartreuse and plum curtains in the front parlor and that periwinkle blue and Shasta daisy-print chaise in the bedroom.

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Man caves tend to thrive on a bolder palette; colors to suggest a defiant approach or rebuttal to the gentility of those softer tones lurking about upstairs and catering to a man’s proclivity for being a highly visual creature. Colors are more suggestive of a sense of daring and excitement that tend to hark back to a man’s bachelor youth or passion for hobbies shared in social gatherings among friends. Esthetically, there really are few ‘wrong choices’ when designing the ultimate ‘man cave’ – for the simple reason, men visually perceive ‘design’ in stark contrast to the way women do.

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Most women prefer a sense of order to their living space. Men are often attracted by chaos, which is decidedly not the same as ‘clutter’. But the disparity does serve, at least partly, to explain why a lot of ‘man caves’ tend to be colorful, and chocked full of the sorts of collectibles and memorabilia that, in any other room in the house, would either decidedly not ‘go together’ or be considered by their significant others as ‘junk’ fit for the local ‘clothes line’ chapter in charitable donation programs.

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Culturally, woman have come around to tolerating, even accepting the fact men need their space as much as they do; embracing the ‘man cave’, if not entirely from their own aesthetic, then as a quaint masculine response and representation of who their guy actually was before they married him, as well as who he has remained underneath all that submission devoted to Limoges crystal and lace-paneled curtains in the dining room.

A man cave isn’t an admonishment of that life shared together; not even a rebuttal to suggest he might have been happier had he stayed footloose and fancy free. No, it’s more a fervent desire and extension of a man’s enterprising ability to express himself in a living space otherwise unloved; where his personal tastes are not challenged and he never has to offer up any sort of justification for simply being who he is.

 

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For decades the stereotype endured, or rather, was being perpetuated, that the average bachelor (a.k.a. potential mate) knew absolutely nothing about design; a sort of Lil’ Abner mentality creeping into the sixties feminist precepts about men in general, still dragging their knuckles on the Linoleum and in desperate need of reformation from the top down via the conquest of a real woman who not only knew her own mind, but was not afraid to run buckshot by sharing a fair chunk of it with her ‘guy on the side’.

But ladies…seriously, men, as it turns out, are not like other appendages in your home reno project; you don’t just acquire a guy as a fixer-upper with the intent of redoing him as part of the makeover. So, if the true measure of a ‘real man’ is how well he accepts constructive criticism, then perhaps the test of a ‘real woman’ is just how ‘constructive’ she can be!

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The man cave is a response to what men have been craving, and frankly, need from their half of the 50/50 split in shared living arrangements; just a place to build their boats, tune up their Harleys, practice their golf swing on a virtual reality simulator, play their computer games, read Popular Mechanics or watch those Hollywood blockbusters women generally consider ‘mindless’ and ‘gut-wrenching’, in surroundings to address and, more importantly, satisfy their basic psychological needs.

Giant man cave

So, a man cave is not a smack down, rebuke or otherwise ‘angry’ rebuttal to all those floral-printed bedspreads and that decorate fern-lined cloche. It’s simply an architectural extension; a casual retreat and a buffer zone where guys can just be guys and not have to apologize for it. Remember, a kegerator and stag’s head mounted on the wall doesn’t mean your fella loves you less. It simply means he needs his space…just like you.

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