Where can a man go to find refuge from an increasingly demanding world, a natural habitat where he can indulge his man customs and let his mind roam or rest without judgment or revision?
Quick! To the man cave! It’s a place where the Y chromosome is celebrated in all its glory, where manliness is allowed to gallop along the proverbial fields unchecked by
estrogen. There, a man can watch a game, drink a beer, smoke a cigar and shoot some pool without being asked to take out the trash, unload the dishwasher or feed the dogs.
The man cave is a metaphor for sanctuary: a testosterone safe house where the beverages are cold, the music is loud, the couch is comfy, a project is in progress and a sport is on the screen. James Bond may even drop in with a timely quip.
The desire to return to the cave lurks just beneath the surface of every man’s consciousness. Boys have had their forts, grown men their hunting and fishing camps, Superman his Fortress of Solitude, Thoreau his Walden Pond and Frank Lloyd Wright his drafting studio.
The first known use of the term “man cave” was in a March 21, 1992, Toronto Star article, “Hers and hers closet is far more precise,” written by home consultant Joanne Lovering. “Let’s call the basement, man cave,” she wrote.
Also that year, a book called Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus hit shelves across the U.S. It would go on to sell about 50 million copies worldwide. In one chapter, author John Gray explains the male need to retreat — as if into a cave — as a way of dealing with stress.
But credit Batman with giving the man cave pop-culture status. Batman’s alter-ego, Bruce Wayne, is a regular guy (although a very rich one) with no superpowers. He carves out a subterranean lair from which, with his brainpower, willpower, high-tech gadgets, a super-cool car and a couple of devoted friends, he manages to successfully battle the forces of evil in his corrupt city.
Of course not every man can have a cavern underneath his mansion from which to use his powers for good. However, in an informal, unscientific poll of Facebook friends, sentiments ran strongly in favor of the need for a man cave, whether grand or humble.
“Modern life is very complex and men have to be constantly aware of the environment in which they find themselves,” said one man friend. “The roles of son, father, husband, friend, employee, employer, co-worker all have a set of acceptable behaviors. The key to a man cave is that it be a place where no one else’s opinion matters — a place where he can be absolutely and unequivocally himself. My personal belief is that time in a man cave, free from observation and input, helps any man function better in his many roles.”
The types of man cave are as varied as the men who create them and the spaces they occupy. Whether attic or alley, garage or garden shed, basement or spare bedroom, the key is that it represents his unique identity.
“Too much has been shown on television that to be the ultimate man cave it has to cost a fortune,” said another man friend. “That is just not true. I know a guy who built a shed in his back yard that has a small table and a coffeemaker — a great place for the guys to socialize, talk politics and life.”
What matters is freedom, added another Facebook man. “My grandfather had a workshop that made me (as a tiny, fledgling man) feel instantly content.”
The reality of the cave doesn’t even have to be on land. “Mine is my boat,” said a waterman friend. “This is my island escape. It’s a place where a man can battle the elements, satisfy the need to feed the family and overcome nature with a fishing pole and a carefully chosen lure. At the end of the day, as the wind dies and the sun sinks below a glassy calm water, the men can sit on deck with adult beverages and enjoy their accomplishments and good company. If a fish was caught (and it complied with all federal, state and local fishing regulations), it will be grilled and shared with all.”
So it’s not always a place of rest and reflection. For some, man space is about establishing his story and heritage. Some men want to share that story.
One friend sees his basement sanctuary as “our place,” where he and his wife, kids and friends hang out. He’s fashioned his cave in the style of his family’s Hole in the Wall pub in Ireland, complete with mementos brought home from his travels, a well-stocked bar, musical instruments, fine art and a “killer” sound system. From there, he’s happiest as the gracious host. “I enjoy going down there on my own to listen to or play music. But for me, it’s not a place of solitude. Frankly, I enjoy it most with others.”
Mix and Match Themes
for the Man Cave
Architects today regularly include
man caves in new construction blue prints. Designers and do-it-yourself shows offer a multitude of themes to
personalize the man space. The possibilities are limited only by the bounds of imagination and budget. Regardless of theme, some essentials include: a television (some say the bigger the better); a drinking station, whether a cooler, kegerator, liquor cabinet or Margarita machine; comfortable seating; and random memorabilia. (It’s not ‘gathering dust’;
it’s being admired!) For inspiration,
here are some man cave ideas you can mix and match.
The sporty man cave gives you a chance to rescue those trophies, posters, jerseys and sports equipment from storage. Signed photos or collectibles can take pride of place. Erect a shrine to a team or hometown.
Viva Las Vegas! Ban all the clocks from the Vegas man cave, but add game tables for poker and blackjack, a pool table, a well-stocked bar and even slot machines. Where else are you going to hang the Dogs Playing Poker print?
Love the smell of motor oil in the morning? Think NASCAR or American Chopper. Tools can double as design elements and trade craft. The garage is the best place for this cave. Go with a color scheme of black and red, or orange and black. Hang those tool calendars with girls in bikinis and paint some sweet flame detailing on the walls. Leave room for the kegerator.
For the sake of authenticity, it helps to be actually tinkering with a car or motorcycle.
This one’s family friendly. Who could resist a home theater
with surround sound, cozy recliners and a popcorn machine? With framed movie posters and an extensive collection of
DVDs you’ve got the basics covered. Surely The Godfather, Rocky and Terminator can share space with Disney and
Show off the guitars, drums, keyboard, amplifiers and speakers along with an audiophile’s sound system. Frame the concert posters and tickets alongside album art. Jam with a few friends and party like a rock star.
It has a rustic ambiance and really cool weapons. With firearms, duck decoys, fishing rods and tackle, you’re ready for the hunt. Taxidermy and camouflage are welcome here, where man versus wild. Feel free to display the hat-wearing, mounted deer head or Billy Bass.
With a computer and printer/fax/scanner, you could manage your day job from home. Go Mad Men with modern furniture (complete with a sofa for a quick nap), a rolling bar cart and an extensive Rolodex. Include some real books, fine art and a television for current events.
He-Man Happy Hour
Since most man caves feature adult beverages, why not be up front about it with a full-on bar theme? Choices are unlimited: a pub with polished wood, a dart board and Guinness; scotch and cigars with jazzy music and art; or spring break with neon signs, tiki mugs, surfboards and beer on tap. A big screen TV, karaoke, or pin ball machine add interest to the mix.
Why limit yourself to one system? Just get them all — Wii, Playstation, Xbox. Be prepared to construct intricate shelving to organize systems, controllers and games. At least two specialized seats, or “rockers,” are a necessity. Arcade games lend an old-school flair.
Trekkies need a cave too. Of course, it
has TV and a super computer; but the sci-fi sanctuary is about collections and memorabilia — Star Wars, Star Trek, X-Men or Doctor Who. First-edition comic books are a plus. Space-age decor enhances the mood.
In the 20-plus years since its first appearance in print, the man cave has gone mainstream. Interior designers note that when economic recovery gains traction, the concept of the cave will explode like the universe in the Big Bang Theory. Pick a theme and individualize it. Dust off the old trophies and memorabilia and embrace your history and heritage. Tell your story — get in a man cave state of mind.