Anyone can throw together an assortment of boy toys, regardless of meaning, and call it a man cave. It’s more meaningful when you carve out a space that defines who you are and conveys a special theme.
We were visiting the home of another couple we had befriended a few years back when the husband pulled me and two other dads aside. “Want to check out the man cave?”
The others with me gleefully agreed and we descended the basement stairs. Their spacious home came packaged with an equally expansive basement that stretched over 1,500 square feet. It was three times the size of my first apartment in New York City… and this was just the basement.
Recently finished, it featured fresh paint, carpeting, a makeshift bar complete with beer taps and seven different game areas. I was amazed at first. There was foosball, a full-sized billiard table, a classic arcade game like Pac-Man, and plush leather couches. The utility elements were tucked away in closets – one of the smartest design elements. Water heaters are often associated with buzzkills when they are in plain sight.
What was lacking was anything that meant something. I looked at the bare walls and the only thing hanging was a clock that featured a beer logo. The lights that hung over the billiards table were generic. It looked like something prefabbed and ordered on a Platinum Amex card.
Carving out a space for yourself should mean something more… it should reflect a person’s personality, family history, or a unique and masculine spirit.
When we returned home, I looked at what I had created in my basement, part of which represents my man cave. I felt a small sense of pride when I did so. Each nook features something that is special to me and worth displaying. I went back and tweaked it further to declutter it so I wouldn’t have too much on display.
If you’re going to create a space for yourself in your home, and call it a man cave, make sure you take the process one step further to ensure it conveys elements of history, poignancy, and purpose.
Here’s a handy five-step guide to planning your man cave:
The Scale of the Project: Your first goal is to designate a purpose for the space you plan to use. If you want a place to play poker with your friends, watch movies, or listen to music, focus your investment in this area. Cut no corners and designate all other uses as secondary. That way, you can focus your energies on creating a special area in the home dedicated to your favorite passion. It can be anything, even a jam studio (complete with sound-dampening insulation). Don’t try to make this space a multi-utility area because your kids, wife, and in-laws will make it their own!
If you plan to demo the area and electronics or a home theatre are part of your plan, make sure you have a strategy for wiring everything behind the walls. If you go down to the studs, you can easily accommodate a wired 7:1 surround sound system.
The Man Cave Things you Own: Take inventory of the items you have that may be in storage or stowed away in the attic space. Is there anything special you want on display? Take them all out and be honest with yourself. If something resonates with you, add it to the list of items you want to feature.
This is a great time to ping relatives who may own something that you were fond of as a child. My uncle had a number of technological pieces from the 70s that I loved to tinker with as a kid. Most notably, an Atari gaming system. He hasn’t supplied anything to me but I’ve told him I would compensate him if he were to sell me a few items. You may have a relative that possesses something that brings back wonderful memories—ping him or her and see if they’re willing to part with it.
Setting up Vignettes: You can organize items around certain themes. A wall could feature World War Two memorabilia you inherited from your grandfather. Another could hold the trophies you won in high school or collegiate athletics. I have a friend who plans to install a glass case in his basement to feature his collection of music-related items from his days gigging in bands.
Don’t throw it all together in one area, delegate areas in your cave that speak to a particular story or espouse a special theme.
Custom Carpentry: One area worth investigating is to hire a carpenter to create a functional display area in your man cave. I designed a bookshelf to replace the original one in our basement and used PowerPoint to mock it up. It looked like the work of a 3rd grader but I was able to articulate my vision. The carpenter I hired was extremely forgiving but he got the gist and was able to take it one step further.
You can use this opportunity to create a home office, and perhaps one that even tucks away when not in use. I used the cabinets beneath the bookshelves to house speakers, a turntable, and the guts of my home theatre. If your mission is to showcase your fishing trophies, the carpenter can designate the correct dimensions on different parts of the wall if you plan to add shelving.
Your Family: Let’s be honest, a man cave represents a selfish project, so ensure you’re not skimping on other home-related projects that would otherwise shortchange your family. If your kitchen is in dire need of an upgrade, or your child’s bedroom needs a fresh coat of paint, tackle that first. The key in all of this is to ensure 1) you’re putting your family needs before your own and 2) make damn sure the man cave does not fall off the to-do list! Even if you have to delay it by a few years, keep bringing it up when you’re discussing home-improvement projects with your wife.
And keep stashing money away so you can afford to create a killer man cave when the opportunity presents itself.
Here are some more visuals from the man cave I created. I provide these with humility as I do not take myself that seriously, but if it sparks an idea on your end, all the better.
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