Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Jayson Franklin and Morgan Gagne of Manly Vintage.
There’s a good chance the first interior decorator was a guy, scratching pictures of a glorious hunt on the wall of his cave, trying to show off for his friends. This was the first man cave, if you will. Unfortunately, the modern man tends to be as afraid of “decorating” as the stag is of the spear. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A well-planned, coordinated, organized, and stylish space will bring more pleasure and comfort than a space with random furniture and objects all shoved together. No one with any sense would advocate that a man should necessarily quit his full-time job and compare color swatches while watching every episode of Design Star, let alone have a decorating opinion for every inch of his abode. However, he should at the very least care about his home and especially the things he keeps therein. You don’t have to be a feng shui devotee to understand that your surroundings can have a profound effect on your mood and well-being.
But don’t think the entire castle has to be developed at once. In interior design, like any creative project, it’s good to start small. Baby steps. Manly baby steps.
And of course the best place to start is the room that bears our name.
What Is the “Man Room?”
The man room or “man cave” can be defined as any place a man sets aside to pursue his interests, whether with friends, family, or by himself. It can be an office, a study, the basement, or a shed out back. For the purposes of this post, the man room is not a shop or workspace, but rather a place for a man to relax and enjoy himself.
There are lots of activities men do that would warrant an entire room and the label “man cave,” but we’re staying traditional. If you clicked this article for advice on the most stylish gaming chair to park in front of your Xbox and 50 inch television, sorry man, no help here. However, if you love big solid desks, bookshelves full of books, and comfortable seating where you can read, write, and share beers with your close friends, then these tips are for you. Regardless of whether your tastes lean towards the mid-century coolness of Don Draper or you favor the rustic backwoods ethos of Ernest Hemingway, we have an approach to manly decorating that will steer you in the right direction and away from that same NASCAR poster you’ve had on your wall since college.
Note: #1: While the tips in this article are specifically focused on decorating a man room, they can also be applied to things like sprucing up a bachelor’s pad.
Note #2: Some dislike the terms “man room” or “man cave”–we know, we know. But it’s the easiest way to refer to it, and men strive for efficient communication. So try not to let your blood pressure rise too much–retire to your man room to smoke a pipe if needs be.
What Does “Manly” Decorating Entail?
The word decorating is completely scary for some men. If it makes you feel better, swap out decorating for “planning,” or even better, “designing.” Designing the room that you want is very personal, but there are some tried and true considerations. We at Manly Vintage have three simple design rules to keep in mind when purchasing pieces and organizing a space:
- Quality – Buy things crafted with care. If you’re not sure if a piece is built to last, buy vintage furniture. While we may be a little biased towards antique and vintage furniture, current manufacturer standards tend to be below the standards of our grandfather’s generation. Furniture that used to be manufactured in the United States is now made in foreign countries using cheap labor and then shipped overseas to Big Box stores. Look to see how the wood is joined together. Dovetailing and Mortise and Tenon are two quality ways for wood to be joined together. A lot of furniture is made with particle board or other cheap materials that very quickly break apart, whereas solid hardwood furniture will last for generations with proper care. Furthermore, if real hardwood gets scratched or dented, then you can refinish it. If you’re buying something like a dresser, for example, open up the drawers and see if the inside is made of solid wood, particle board, or wood with a veneer top. Look underneath the furniture, the backside. Is it finished on all sides? How heavy is the piece? Taking the quality into consideration will ensure that the furniture you purchase will last a lifetime or more.
- Comfortable – All good furniture has been designed with both form and function in mind. A great chair is more than just a fabric bag stuffed with as much cotton as possible and a built-in cup holder. The art of making furniture has been been evolving and improving for thousands of years, and those who make it well know what they’re doing. Take the classic Eames Lounge Chair made by Herman Miller, for example. As far as lounge chairs are concerned, many consider it to be one of the most comfortable chairs of all time. When you sit in it, it literally conforms to your body. It was made by an artist who studied the human form and designed it for that purpose. If you’re on a budget and in a time crunch, you may consider buying a chair at Target or Wal-Mart, but a big stuffed beanbag isn’t going to give you the true comfort that a thoughtfully designed and crafted piece will.
- Personal– This is the perfect space for that lifelong collection that your wife just doesn’t understand. Whether it’s Star Wars action figures, album covers, or oil cans, it’s important to surround yourself with things that are meaningful to you. If you have a collection, display it. If you don’t have a collection, you should consider starting one. Having a room where you can organize your objects, display them, and keep them safe is one of the best reasons why every man should have a room “just for him.”
What Do I Put in My Man Room?
Of course every man needs a solid desk. This is where you’ll sit to read Jack Kerouac, browse the interwebs, write a letter to your congressman, or refine your collection of federal duck stamps. We lean towards a mid-century modern executive desk in teak or walnut, but the more traditional styled oak or metal desk gets the job done and are practically indestructible.
Keywords to use in your searches: Jens Risom, Steelcase, Paul McCobb
The chesterfield sofa is a classic English couch that is traditionally made with brown leather, quilted buttons, and a low base. It’s also as comfortable as hell. It looks good in a variety of decorating styles. Because of its timeless look, it can mix well with a classic study room or blend well with modern furnishings. Good design matches with good design, period.
Keywords to use in your searches: Flexsteel, Pearsall, Goetz
Shelving serves the primary function of keeping your precious stuff off of the ground. In your man room, your shelving can store not only your beloved beer mug collection, but also your personal library. Every man needs a library. But some men are slightly intimidated by the thought of amassing one. They might think, “I haven’t read enough books to have anything close to a library.” A library is not just a collection of books that you’ve read. A library is a collection of books that you have access to, are able to cite, reference, and read in the future. As Edward Tufte said about his personal library, “The important books in my library are the unread books.” Shelving should be solid, substantial, and allow for a growing collection. Small shelves that attach to the wall are good for books and items that are reached for on frequent occasions, but more substantial shelving is required for not only a current collection, but also room to grow.
Keywords to use in your searches: Cado System, Globe Wernicke, Steelcase
A Coffee Table
A stylish coffee table is just as important as the couch that sits across from it. The coffee table will end up being the centerpiece during those late night bull sessions, a place to rest your feet after a hard day, or just somewhere to display a couple of really good books. You could go mid-century with the coffee table or you could go a little more masculine and re-purpose, taking a piece designed for something else and refashioning it for something new. A classic example of re-purposing would be refinishing an industrial push cart from a factory and turning it into an industrial coffee table. This has become such a popular DIY that stores like Restoration Hardware have been selling refurbished carts for over a thousand dollars. However, antique railroad carts can be found on ebay, craigslist, estate auctions, or estate sales. There are many other examples, such as coffee tables made out of old storage boxes, steamer trunks, slabs of old wood, or stacked ephemera. Your man room needs at least one DIY project and the coffee table is the perfect place to start.
Keywords to use in your searches: industrial, lane acclaim, steel coffee table, danish
The lounge chair is a man room necessity. A man needs somewhere to sit after a hard day: a place where he can reflect on the day’s victories and losses and just relax. An old La-Z-Boy will not suffice. Do not ensconce yourself in anything less than leather. Yes, a leather lounge chair will end up being expensive, but in the long run it will be worth it. A good leather chair will last a lifetime. Leather is one of the most versatile of upholsteries. It is water and spill resistant, pretty much child-proof, and eternally stylish. There are two chairs we highly recommended for the discerning gentleman looking to build the ultimate man room. Both of these chairs were designed in the early 1900’s.
The first is The Barcelona Chair by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. This chair, which my wife dubs “the bachelor chair,” was designed for the World Exposition in 1929, and has been an icon of masculine design ever since. Made of leather and stainless steel, the Barcelona has a timeless look that will fit well with any decor.
Another great chair, suitable for any man room is the LC2 chair designed by French designer LeCourbusier. This chair, created in 1928 has a modern and yet reserved look that may appeal to many men who find the Barcelona lines too jarring. The best part about both of these chairs is that their design is no longer protected by copyright so there are enough knock-offs made that they can generally fit within any budget.
Key Words to use in your searches: Bertoia, Baughman, Eames, Womb Chair
Wall decor should be a healthy balance between your own personal tastes and straight up traditional man trophies. Think Teddy Roosevelt’s taxidermy collection, vintage beer advertising, clocks, paper ephemera (maps, historical charts, b/w photos), fine art, and a weapon or two. Most local newspapers sell large prints of photographs that once ran in the paper (going back many decades) and reprints of whole pages of the paper, and a great option for wall decorations is to get a print of an old historical picture of your town, or a reprint of the front page of the paper with a news story that means something to you. On the flip side, like many men, we can’t think of anything we would rather have on our walls than the multitude of paintings and drawings done by our sons and daughters. The key is arrangement, and this is definitely one time where you might want to pull in some outside help. As in all things, practice makes perfect; so if your first try is a cluttered mess, who cares? Pull it down and try again until you’re pleased with how things look.
Key Words to use in your searches: Taxidermy, vintage/antique maps, tin signs
In the end, designing the ultimate man room is about creating something that will work for you. Figure out what pieces you want, and then be willing to wait to find them. It definitely doesn’t mean walking into a furniture store and loading up the truck with the number of items that you need just because they were the first thing that you laid eyes on. Choose quality over a quick purchase and don’t buy poorly made pieces that are just going to wind up in the dumpster in a few years. Whatever your style, whatever your budget, do it with purpose and make it your own.
Manly Vintage is a Chicago based design collective with an affection for the classics, the American, and the cool. We specialize in machine age through mid century modern furniture and décor. High design, with working class attitude. We promote the idea that style is not emasculating, and that good taste, and good design, make the gentleman’s life more enjoyable.
Last updated: November 26, 2017