Giant TV screen with surround sound. Check. At least one wet bar trimmed in mahogany with a touch of teak. Check. Plush leather chairs and sofas against the lush richness of jatoba or wenge wood flooring. Check. Pool table, poker table, assorted signs and pendants. Check. It’s a long way from a primitive cave, but just right for the modern man. So how did this all get started?
In the Beginning
"For a man's house is his castle, and each man's home is his safest refuge," said Sir Edward Coke, The Institutes of the Lawes of England, in 1628. The problem with Sir Edward’s famous quote, of course, is that most men share their castles with wives and children.
When Turkish tobacco became all the rage in Victorian England, smoking was considered too indelicate for feminine tastes. The logical thing for the well-to-do gentleman was to create a smoking room: a place where the men could be boys and the women could be elsewhere.
Velvet smoking jackets and heavy velvet drapes were designed to absorb the smoky fumes and keep them from the more sensitive parts of the household, while weapons, armor and the heads of various beasts adorned many dark wood paneled walls.
It didn’t take long for the concept of man’s home as his castle to make it across the pond, but nearly 150 years passed before the creation of the first American man cave: the secret lair in the basement of the Wayne Mansion where Batman first kept a filing cabinet and some lab gear, then later outfitted with a collection of gadgetry, space-age weaponry and pimped-out crime fighting vehicles.
“Let’s call the basement, man cave,” is the first credited use of the term that appeared in a 1992 guest column in the Toronto Star. That same year, author John Gray’s ‘Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus’ hit the bookshelves and suddenly the man cave was a respectable place for the male members of the tribe to chill out.
No longer a lounge or smoking room, and no longer the exclusive purview of the ruling class, the man cave - whether it’s a garage or basement retrofit or a highly customized original build – is a place to get your man on with your bros and watch the game, down some beer or some prime single malt, share some Turkish tobacco or dare we say Cuban, secure in the knowledge that the male space is off limits to the ladies. Most of the time.
As Seen on TV
Pulling the curtain back on upscale homes in shows like MTV’s ‘Cribs’ series that launched in the fall of 2000, eventually led to the DIY Network’s 2007 launch of ‘Man Caves’ with hosts Super Bowl winner Tony Sigarusa and contractor Jason Cameron teaming up to transform spaces into mantuaries and help extend interest in the trend.
According to the DIY Network, “Guys need an exclusive space to hang out in their homes -- a refuge where they can enjoy what they love, whether it's a soundproofed basement used as a rock 'n' roll lounge and adorned with limited edition guitars; a room where diehard ski fans can chill out with a roaring fireplace and alpine atmosphere; or a lush golf-lover's paradise, featuring a state-of-the-art virtual reality driving range, media center and top-notch equipment storage space.”
Not Your Average Room
||Listed as one of the most expensive penthouses in Manhattan, Creekmore Industries chose the wenge flooring for its inherent beauty. Other woods can be stained to mimic the appearance, but none can compare to the elegant styling and versatility of wenge. Photography: Evan Joseph
Some academics have called mantuaries the male reaction to female dominance in decisions about décor in the majority of North American households: a place to hang posters that would never make an appearance over the living room fireplace, for raucous cheers and jeers when the team is playing, for music and video games cranked just a touch too loud.
But that doesn’t mean turning a spare bedroom, basement recreation room or half the garage into a man cave has to become a battle between man and wife. “A well-built, well-cared for man cave can add value to your home, like any other improvement,” says Steve Gagliano of mancavegifts.com. “Mine is a combination game room, media room with a pool table, a hockey table and a bar,” he says. “Everyone enjoys the space.”
Although the sharing generally stops for special events like game day for his beloved Longhorns of the University of Texas in Austin, a town where even man cave walls wear the team’s trademark burnt orange. If you do decide to sell your house, the man cave can add value as long as it’s clean and tidy. “You can keep your sports memorabilia,” Gagliano says. “But you might want to repaint the walls a more neutral color.”
The Manhattan Project
|Behind these nine-foot high antique Oak doors, hides a three-story penthouse that sits atop a tall building in Manhatten. The beautiful dark flooring, made entirely out of wenge, has a higher natural resistance to wear and abrasion, making it the ideal wood for this upscale penthouse domain. Photography: Evan Joseph
Brian Creekmore thinks he’s seen the Grand Pooba of Man-Caveliness: it is part of a three-story penthouse that sits atop a tall building in Manhattan. Behind nine-foot high antique oak doors imported from France is an enormous man cave worthy of any caped crusader. His company, Creekmore Industries LLC, is a wholesale hardwood supplier specializing in flooring and other specialty wood products.
The company sourced and milled the wenge (Millettia laurentii) flooring used throughout the space.
“This is one of the most expensive penthouses in Manhattan for a very exclusive client,” Creekmore says. “It’s a beautiful project with the big, dark floor styling that you would expect with this clientele.” He says the client had seen wenge in other locations and insisted on it for this project. The wood was milled into different lengths and widths of up to 10 inches from planks that were up to 20 inches wide.
The Janka hardness rating for wenge is 1630 (as comparison, red oak has a rating of 1290). This indicates the wood’s prime suitability for use as flooring given its higher natural resistance to wear and abrasion, says Creekmore. However, the primary reason for choosing wenge for the Manhattan project is its inherent beauty and color range. “Wenge gives a classic, chic look. It is exclusive and extremely strong. Other woods can be stained to emulate the look of this exotic hardwood, but it’s just not the same,” adds Creekmore.
The attraction to wenge is the stunning, natural color range from dark brown to black, which helps accentuate steel and other colors. “Dark colors are currently what drive the import of exotic wood,” Creekmore says.
RIP Man Caves?
According to LA Times writer Adam Tschorn in a March 2012 commentary titled, ‘Death of the Man Cave (1992-2012)’, the “safe house for the Y chromosome is no longer safe.” He writes that the term man cave became so overused that it lost any meaning, even spawned the term ‘mom cave’ with Martha Stewart overtones, then suffered what he considers a fatal blow with the inclusion of a man cave at the 2012 Philadelphia International Flower Show.
“Yes,” writes Tschorn. “The man cave has gone from sacred space to flower-show bait.” Michigan's Lake Superior State University included ‘man cave’ in the 2012 edition of its annual List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness.
But Mike Yost, a retired U.S. military intelligence officer, co-author of ‘The Man Cave Book’, and founder of mancavesite.org, thinks the rumors of the man cave’s demise are premature. The site features hundreds of photos of man caves ranging from the incredibly creative to the bizarre and ridiculous. Yost admits the passion displayed by the site’s man cave aficionados surprised even him.
“A lot of people do a lot of the work themselves,” Yost says. “They bust out their power tools and their wood tools. It’s great to see the craftsmanship.” Asked about the most amazing man cave he’s ever seen, Yost says it’s a bit of a blur: “I’ve seen so many, some that are way off the beaten path. Some rooms look like they’re made out of rock, that they are a real cave. Most are pretty traditional though.”
One thing for sure, what self-respecting man cave would be complete without the natural richness of fine, durable wood? And a huge TV.
(Story by George Butters, New Media Drive)
Copyright © 2012 by the International Wood Products Association. Published by Bedford Falls Communications, Inc. and circulated to an audience of 20,000 architects, designers, distributors, manufacturers, and users of imported wood products in North America.