There's no more controversial space within the home than the "man cave." Previous generations called it a den or study, something classy-sounding that suggested scotch and cigars. But man cave evokes donkey sauce and empty beer bottles.
Whatever you call it, a guy needs a dedicated space within his home to escape to and reboot. "There's a sociological concept of third place," says legendary potter and designer Jonathan Adler, whose instructional series, Decorate Like a Designer, is streaming on Wondrium now.
"The basic gist," he continues, "is that people need a spot that isn't home, which is the first place, or work, which is the second. It's a spot to relax, recharge, build relationships, do needlepoint — whatever."
So how can you build a space that's comfortable and feels like an extension of yourself as an adult, but doesn't terrify your partner with visions of your college brahs hanging out and doing beer bongs?
- Ban secondhand trash.
"Often a man cave is where your hand-me-down decor goes to die," says Adler. It’s the last-stop-before-the-dumpster for things like frat rec-room couches, neon beer signs, and other male equivalents of those "Mommy Needs Her Wine" signs you see in gift stores.
Guys generally take what they're given, then figure out how to fit it around a big-screen TV. But a man cave is your chance to find the style that appeals to you, in an environment where you don't have to take a back seat to your partner. No more "Whatever you want is fine with me, dear" compromises.
Adler suggests starting small: Take yourself to the local flea market and give yourself the challenge to find one rug that speaks to you. "Maybe something squishy and hand-knotted," he says. One single decision makes the next one easier and, bit by bit, you've designed a space that's uniquely your own.
- Add more tables. No, more than that.
Just like a workshop needs lots of counter space — otherwise, it devolves into chaos — your man cave needs plenty of tables.
The reason, beyond variety and texture, is just practical. "Wherever you're sitting, you should be able to reach out your arm and set down a drink," says Adler.
- Don’t be afraid of dissonance.
I’ve decorated my man cave with things I enjoy: an industrial desk; a vintage turntable on a refurbished ’70s school desk; framed new-wave posters. But I recently inherited my dad's old easy chair, one of those tufted-leatherette, brass-tack-studded numbers that belongs in a law office.
It doesn't fit, physically or aesthetically, but it's where he used to doze off with a book in his lap on Sunday afternoons, and those are memories I want to hold on to.
So what should I do?
Adler says the dissonance is the point. "That's one of the things I hate about decorating magazines," says Adler. "They always look like the decorator has just been there, and the pillows have been newly fluffed."
Instead, he says, we should strive to fill our man caves with things that are "personal and memorable and meaningful." The objective of a living space, after all, should be to look lived-in.
"I'm a pretty spiritually bankrupt person," Adler says, "but I do think there’s an element to design that can be quite meaningful on a deeper level than just the visual." And the meaningful things in our lives don’t always color-coordinate.