Connecticut Home: Man Caves
What began with a simple wish for a place to play pool turned into this upstairs/downstairs "fan cave" in Greenwich.
Last year, when Kris Humphries split with Kim Kardashian, his wife of 72 days, he took swift action to preserve his dignity—and built himself a man cave to hide in. It was actually the folks at the DIY Network who transformed his unfinished basement into a shining example of dude decor, but Humphries is a guy’s guy and he knew that a “manctuary” (complete with several bars, a kegerator and 120-inch projection TV) would help him rebound in no time.
Man caves are not all underground, of course; they can be in the attic, the garage, an outbuilding, down the hall from the family room, or even be the family room. They can be all about media, sports, recreation or just lounging. The common thread is that they are all designed with guys in mind.
Man caves can be grand or small, plain or tricked out. We found three—very different in style and use—that more than fill the manly bill.
When Chris O’Brien and his wife, Liz, started planning their dream home in Greenwich, they didn’t talk much about his passion for sports collectibles. “It was funny,” remembers architect Mahdad Saniee. “Chris’s collection was really an afterthought. He did say he wanted a place for his pool table, so he could play when his friends were over.”
As it happens, Chris’s treasure trove of sports memorabilia today numbers between 300 and 400 pieces. Although it was smaller five years ago when the house was built, he still had enough stuff to fill an entire room—and then some. Saniee suggested they build a separate gallery above the basement billiards room, and use its walls to showcase the homeowner’s one-of-a-kind finds.
“I’ve been a sports fan all my life,” says O’Brien. “I was infected with my father’s passion for all sports, and I’ve now infected my sons. My involvement has always been a way for us to enjoy something as a family.” His collection is built around memories and meaningful moments in sports—not resale value. It covers just about every sport, from his beloved Yankees baseball to women’s gymnastics, hockey, skating and tennis. It includes at least 100 baseballs, numerous footballs and helmets, signed photos, boxing gloves and a signed Shaquille O’Neal basketball sneaker, size 23, from his days at LSU. O’Brien has never sold a single item.
The sports gallery is made up of catwalks overlooking the pool table; a striking double-helix staircase connects the upper and lower levels. Down below, custom shelving (with object-specific lighting) runs around the perimeter of the room. The man cave continues through doors that lead to a home theater, a workout space, a TV lounging area and an empty room where the O’Brien boys practice knee hockey.
As much as the guys like hanging out in all of these rooms, O’Brien says he hates to admit it but since the advent of Xbox, “there isn’t a lot of billiards playing going on.”
Duo Dickinson is a thoughtful, ecologically responsible architect who lives and works in Madison. His man cave reflects his values, interests and penchant for innovative building—but at the end of the day, it’s where he and his two college-aged sons go to work out, play music and watch football. Dickinson’s “man barn” is a separate structure a scant 60 feet—but worlds away—from his home on a wooded site north of the Post Road.
The 1,400-square-foot barn was built almost exclusively from reclaimed materials (the self-described “wood fetishist” says that at last count he had incorporated 31 different species in the building). In the beginning, the getaway was designed simply to give his family room to grow; relocating a guest room to the second floor of the barn meant his sons no longer had to share a room in the house. Dickinson soon commandeered an area at the top of the stairs and turned it into a workout space.
The open-plan first floor is outfitted with deep sofas and lots of chairs for lounging. Says Dickinson, “It allows us to worship the TV.” A piano, Ping-Pong table and full kitchen offer opportunities to play, eat and compete, while at the same time “disturbing no one.” Lest anyone think this space is completely off-limits to women, the architect is quick to add that it’s spacious enough for parties, and even for Thanksgiving dinner, which they hosted last year.
Designed by a true automobile aficionado, and the owner of a 21-acre estate in Kent, this retreat is an over-the-top paean to wheels and the guys who love them. But in planning his huge garage (which looks more like a barn), this businessman, trader, avid racecar collector, driver and sportsman never lost sight of how it would sit on the property, which features glorious westerly views of the mountains and Housatonic River. The structure complements the classic look of the main house, with a twist—the home’s cedar shakes were reinterpreted as vertical siding, with very little ornamentation. On the inside, the garage is refreshingly modern, with clean lines and unfussy finishes.
This manspace was driven by the owner’s extraordinary vintage and modern racing car collection (it includes several Ferraris, an Aston Martin, 10 motorcycles and a dozen or so other treasured rides). The gallery space/showroom has a concrete floor with radiant heating, light panels in the walls, a full exhaust system and garage doors that look like walls when closed.
The owner’s goal was to also create a haven, so he added a loft space furnished with bold red sofas, a full bar, complete kitchen, deck, several TVs and a guest apartment with double-sided fireplace and a steam shower.
Oh, yeah, and there’s a separate room (with lift) for servicing his vehicles.