“Man cave (noun): a room or space (as in a basement) designed according to the taste of the man of the house to be used as his personal area for hobbies and leisure activities,” explains MerriamWebster.com. Teddy Roosevelt had one filled with hunting trophies. Winston Churchill’s was an art studio where he enjoyed painting, and Mark Twain used his for billiards.
According to a blog post on the aptly-named Art of Manliness site, Twain said this about his “man retreat: There ought to be a room in this house to swear in. It’s dangerous to have to repress an emotion like that…Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.”
While swearing is more mainstream now than in the 19th century humorist’s day, man caves still serve a valuable role in men’s lives and they’re not just for the rich, powerful and famous any more. Just about any man with a spare room can have his own getaway spot. As was the case with the Twain’s billiards room, it can be a place to enjoy a favorite pastime with guests, or express one’s creativity in solitude, as the famed prime minister did.
Wellness Benefits of Man Caves
Finding that time and space can be a challenge for men with hectic schedules and active households. “Especially for dads of young kids, recharge time can be important. So a man cave – even just a time-bound ‘no fly zone’ for the rest of the family – can be very important,” Dr. Daniel Singley, a San Diego-based board-certified psychologist specializing in men’s mental health issues, explained in an email.
The Center for Men’s Excellence founder pointed out that recharge space is particularly valuable for introverts who need solo time. “One key aspect of self-care includes spending time with friends, with your partner, but also time alone when you don’t have to worry about meeting anyone else’s needs,” he added. “Video gaming, playing guitar, or whatever – the activity isn’t as important as having the option,” he noted.
Who’s The Man Cave Denizen?
For men in the Columbus, Ohio area, general contractor and National Association of the Remodeling Industry board member Aaron Enfinger creates those options, along with spaces worthy of presidents and other power players. He gets more men in committed relationships than singles, he said, and that hasn’t changed in recent years. ‘”I think the driving forces lay more in the nature of men than any other reason. Most clients have a significant other, but we have built projects for singles, too,” he elaborated.
What his Cleary Company team really enjoys is when there’s buy-in from the other half of a couple, the GC noted: “It is always more interesting when the partner shares the excitement and passion for the space!” This likely means that both are in full agreement on the budget, scope and purpose, as well as the value to the home and relationship of having this space. (Speaking from professional experience designing numerous residential projects, one common way to create costly problems is when there are strong disagreements between the homeowners.)
When thousands of dollars and valuable square footage in a home will be dedicated to one party’s exclusive use for extended hours, particularly when there are children in the household, there can be friction to work through. “It can be pretty difficult for dads to assert their needs related to hobbies because they seem selfish or superficial,” Singley observed. They’re not, he maintains. “Setting up a space dedicated to watches, bottle cap collecting, or whatnot sets the stage for him to have an environmental cue and a place to do it. Benefits of engaging in these parts of his life include a greater sense of meaning and life satisfaction.”
St. Louis-based smart home technology consultant and Origin Acoustics executive, Joe Whitaker, sees a fair mix of singles and couples with man space projects, he wrote in an email on this topic. For the men in relationships, especially those with children, it’s often about meeting deferred needs. “A good number of these happen as children reach the end of elementary school, or as a marriage reaches 10 to 15 years. These man caves tend to be an escape where they can thrive amongst things they have typically given up for a decade, but sorely miss,” he shared.
In cases like these, Singley suggests a communication-first strategy for the cave-seeker: “Lead by talking about his partner’s needs. Then frame having a personal, private space as a need, not just a frivolous want – and be able to talk about the feelings and meanings that go along with having that type of space.” Research has shown that by first fostering empathy and understanding, people are more likely to find common ground, the psychologist wrote. “The trick is to stay engaged in a way that’s fair to all sides.”
“For the single man,” Whitaker added, “the man cave typically is an entertaining space where there live things that can be shared with others. And with all that extra expendable income with no spouse or children, the single man’s cave tends to be a little flashier.”
His work enables the technology that delivers the crispest video images in the right light and with the richest musical notes. It keeps the room at the optimum temperature and humidity for wine, cigars and art preservation, as well as for occupant comfort. It safeguards security and privacy.
The Social Cave
“Guys have consistent wish lists,” Enfinger said, but he has seen some trends emerge. “In recent years, the shift has been to bars. Whether wine or spirits, (in our area it is bourbon), wet bar or dry, the focus remains on spaces that foster connection. I think that is the most common thread in the themes and purpose for the spaces. It is always around entertainment.”
“The whole project may not be focused exclusively on the bar, but one is always present. TVs and an emphasis on sports are also ubiquitous,” he commented. “Sports are a fantastic way to connect with friends and family that share a passion for a particular team or sport.”
Creating a bar at home, especially one with sports viewing, enabled socializing during Covid shutdowns across the country, and has become a major home design trend. “They are always designed to serve multiple people,” rather than enjoying exclusively on one’s own, the contractor commented. “It is an okay experience to smoke a cigar alone, but sipping a delicious whiskey while puffing on a nice cigar with friends can be a great bonding experience! That is what our clientele craves, an opportunity to spoil a friend or five with a nice whiskey and a cigar,” Enfinger added.
“The biggest change over the years is that the focus on a theatre room that rivals a big movie theatre has declined in most situations,” he disclosed. “Only the largest budgets can afford both a lavish theatre and a tricked-out bar. The cave dwellers have had to make some tough choices over the years,” he mused, “and pragmatism is winning the day with a beautiful and tricked-out bar with a sufficient media experience included.”
Though they derive their name from the caveman stereotype, man caves often turn cave-like basements into attractive, useful home spaces. “This underutilized square footage is continually calling out for improvement,” Enfinger commented. For those who live in colder areas and forced indoors for a portion of the year, the basement man cave keeps socialization going throughout the year when it’s too cold for most people to gather outside.
The Wired Cave
“Beautiful, fully LED-lit bars are a highlight in any man cave. Huge TVs and great sound are an instant and obvious trend, as the ‘sports bar’ feel is much easier to attain now,” Whitaker pointed out. This is because large quality displays and speakers have all come down in price. In an interesting flashback to earlier decades, some of the latter have become design elements again, the technologist reported. “There has been a shift to ‘displaying’ higher end free standing speakers as focal points in a room.” Everything old is new again?
“It’s all about the music,” Whitaker declared. “With the popularity and acceptance of all the streaming music platforms, the man cave’s audio system typically turns into a modern day juke box allowing everyone to choose their favorite tunes and crank it up.”
It’s also all about sports, he added, enabled by having more than one screen and smart home capability. “You can have multiple events going on,” he explained, using competing hockey and basketball finals and NFL Sunday with different teams playing on different screens at the same time as an example of this phenomenon. “All the other smart home features are important for big crowds at home, but for a different reason: Being able to set the scene with lighting, temperature, tv channels, music selection, and all the other technological things that have to be prepared by pressing one button is a way to drastically reduce the stress of entertaining prep!” he enthused.
The Solo Cave
All of this entertaining, combined with the demands on a man’s time for career and family, can create a need for quiet solitude. Enfinger sees this being facilitated most often with dual-purpose man caves that have solo zones designed in. “These spaces can foster quality alone time too – a place to relax and restore without the pressure of keeping guests occupied.”
As Singley emphasized, that quality alone time can be crucial to a man’s mental health, but he cautioned, “Time alone can get taken to an extreme in which it becomes avoidance. Wanting too much space disproportionate to others in his home, and either self-isolating or just sending his family the message that they’re secondary to his man cave time” can be destructive. (So can using his private space for activities he’s hiding from his partner, be they drugs, pornography, gambling, etc., the psychologist added.)
Whatever his interests, “Always design around the passions of the man cave’s main occupant,” tech pro Whitaker suggested. While adding the colors, scents, objects and sounds he loves, “A man cave shouldn’t be a gimmicky item storage room, but a true peek into a man’s soul, — one he is willing to share with those he calls friends and family. This is a museum of a man!”
Contributors Enfinger, Singley and Whitaker will be sharing more man cave insights in an hour-long Clubhouse conversation tomorrow afternoon (June 21, 2023) at 4 pm Eastern/1 pm Pacific. You can save the date and join this WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS discussion here. If you’re unable to attend, you can catch the recording via Clubhouse Replays here or the Gold Notes design blog here next Wednesday.