"It's an oftentimes primal metaphor for a gentleman's specialty retreat which can serve multiple purposes. Most of us have a certain pastime or collection that deserves to be indulged in a retreat of one's own," says Amy Christie, designer at Yessick's Design Center.
From pool shark to car collector to online gamer, a man's interests determine the space that will house them. For Tom Poteet, the man cave diverged into two rooms: a main floor living room overlooking the pool, and a plush downstairs theater. "I knew I wanted a room with a bunch of TVs and a bar where my buddies and I could hang out and watch sports," says Poteet, so both rooms are equipped with excellent sound systems and flat screens. In the man cave off the great room, two 42-inch and a 72-inch television span one wall and are controlled by an AMX remote that can also adjust the home's lights, AC and the whole house audio system. From the ceiling, multicolored disco lights can pulse in concert with the beat of any song. The Poteets recall one Halloween when about 200 guests packed the room, dancing to the humming beat of the music and lights.
Custom cabinetry fills an alcove with a full wet bar, mini fridge and ice-maker, plus room to display team loyalties: a helmet each for Auburn, UGA, and the Atlanta Falcons. Poteet and his wife, Monique, came up with the room's eclectic style. Rarely noticed, a small, sculpted monkey grasps the ceiling's light fixture, while a rattan monkey supports a table in one corner while a vintage-looking metallic mermaid lamp fills another. Marilyn Monroe puckers up from a sizeable portrait behind the couch. Black-and-whites of other Hollywood greats usher guests downstairs to the incredible home theater where a 135-inch screen brings the visual impact of sporting events to life. Poteet imported red theater curtains from New York to line the walls and conceal the door, and ornate gold crown moulding adds dramatic flair. Two levels of black recliners, nine in all, have a perfect eyeshot of the screen, thanks to an engineer hired to determine their ideal distance and height. Rope lighting illuminates the aisles and imported theater carpet. Twelve speakers and two, 1,000-watt subwoofers create dynamic surround sound quality.
Trey White's man cave evolved from an at-home UT football memorabilia room to an office at Athens Distributing. The theme, décor and color palette of his office man cave can be summed up in a word: orange. After relocating to a home on the lake with lots of windows, White needed wall space for all his team paraphernalia. Mary Jane Fitzgerald of Talented Interiors created the ultimate fan's domain, recovering his two couches, which were an unsightly crimson, with pleasant orange patterned fabric and tastefully arranging his multitude of mementos.
Now, small office meetings are held on a piece of the old Neyland Stadium 20-yard line White acquired in 1998 while a countdown clock slowly ticks away the minutes until the first game of the season. Among other artifacts are a 1911 letterman sweater, a UT armband from the 1920s, a vintage stadium seat cushion, an upside-down preserved alligator and a Tennesseeshaped Chattanooga license plate from the National Championship year, 1951.
Jerseys are used as pillow covers on the couches and bowl game programs dating back to the first Tennessee ever played in, 1939's Orange Bowl, are stacked in a wall niche. Both men cave in to the fact that family, which is so much a part of their identities, works its way into the hallowed retreat. White's office is packed not only with mementos of his favorite team, but also photos of his wife and kids, (at times in UT apparel, with the likes of Peyton Manning or at a game) and his kids' artwork.
"We use this room nine out of 10 times to watch TV as a family instead of our great room," says Poteet of his manly living room, and the theater is often filled with beanbags for a movie night with the kids.
For many men, family objects will end up in their cave out of necessity. "It's rare that you have a nice, big man cave totally devoted to that purpose," says Andy Johnson of Against the Grain Custom Woodworks. "But you can make any space your wife will let you use into a man cave. It doesn't have to be a $50,000 room with a sliding door over a TV."
Johnson creates custom wood pieces, like cabinets or entertainment centers that personalize the man cave with almost any style or finish a man could want. While stock cabinets may require using fillers to fit a given space, custom work can often more efficiently fill an entire area with useful storage. For the most part, simple styles such as Shaker are popular because they stand the test of time and are a nice background for various décor. "The wife is sometimes adamant about making it not too manly, but a nice place for anyone to hang out, so being able to cover up the TV with custom cabinetry makes the room flexible."
Cave décor has certainly evolved from prehistoric native drawings: Christie has designed the interiors of man caves through Yessick's and recommends a variety of rich textures, which she says "achieve a collected look." For the floor, she likes "rustic surfaces such as stamped concrete, cork or bamboo, or handscraped and distressed hardwood, even a porous stone laid on a diagonal."
Tones inspired by nature tend to be masculine and a somewhat neutral palette, including "rich chocolates with amber undertones such as Benjamin Moore's Log Cabin or Toasted Marshmallow juxtaposed with earthy greens and charcoals in the upholstery."
Smoky glass lamps and oil-rubbed bronze light fixtures are also appropriately masculine and add reflective qualities. "I'm a huge fan of ethereal landscape artwork married with sumptuous wool area rugs, which often act as a benchmark for my spaces. This isn't a man cave; it's an executive 'mantuary.'"