Masculine Design: Beyond the Man Cave
August 11, 2011
Hello! Today I’m featuring an important topic that many couples face, it’s the age old struggle between masculine versus feminine in design. This tug of war is not rare, rather it’s a common issue in so many relationships, and even plays into many a discussion of décor here in my own home. One of the struggles I’ve recently faced in our shared master bedroom (always a work in progress!) is how to balance my mister’s love of dark furniture and his more traditional taste against my love of white and bright with touches of modern.
Today, addressing the topic on a larger scale, Courtney is back with his monthly contribution. To me, this is a fascinating topic, and I willingly embrace any tips that address the issue of how both masculine and feminine style can coexist in harmony.
Please welcome back Courtney and his interview with top designers addressing the definition of masculine style, and how to successfully balance it with feminine tastes.
“A college friend recently moved in with his long term girlfriend and called me to complain. He was distressed that all his favorite pieces of furniture and home accessories were being either sold, relegated to the guest bedroom, or simply being placed in that black hole known as offsite storage. As more of his beloved possessions exited the new apartment, he became increasingly agitated and an argument ensued.
After the dust settled, I went over to play “design negotiator” which is relationship counseling, but with furniture. Sitting them both down, I asked a very simple question, or so I thought. “What is it about his things that make them ineligible to enter the apartment?” She turned to me and said quite simply “Courtney, his stuff is totally way too masculine and it just won’t work in here.”
Too masculine? Aside from his international beer bottle collection and large screen TV, my friend’s possessions were run of the mill items picked up over the years from IKEA, CB2 and big box stores. What was it about his possessions made them :too masculine”? Can’t masculine peacefully coexist with feminine design?
Seeking answers, I sought out advice from two designers I respect for not only their fantastic design talents but their ability to break down complex design issues. I asked several questions of Joe Cangelosi of Joe Cangelosi Design and Brian Dittmar of Brian Dittmar Design to get their take on what elements create a ‘masculine’ space, how it deviates from a ‘feminine’ style space, and can the two exist in harmony? Here is what Dittmar and Cangelosi had to say:
Q: First and foremost, is there such a thing as a ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ room? Don’t people define spaces, and not the things within?
Joe Cangelosi (JC): There is absolutely a difference!
Brian Dittmar (BD): Yes, I think so. A ‘masculine room’ is the result of a feeling that is created through a collection of objects versus each object being one way or the other.
Q: So you both believe in the concept of a masculine space, so how would you define it? I think many people, including my friend’s girlfriend, hear the term “masculine” and think “man cave” – large screen TV and leather sectional.
JC: A masculine space is first about form. Lines are straight and furniture has visual weight. The space is edited, with bold choices in colors and accessories. The space is about the overall impact as a whole. In contrast, a ‘female’ space has more curved lines, furniture is visually lighter, and the space is more about the details.
BD: Generally speaking, I would say that masculine spaces have very clean, tailored lines on all furniture pieces; a certain formality and order to the space, often times paired with symmetry as a strong design element; and either monochromatic color palettes or deep, rich, bold color palettes that have a definite presence.
When you then mix together objects like metal, horn, lacquer and leather with fabrics like wool, mohair, tweed and cashmere, and add in some geometric patterns or animal prints, you begin to create a space that would typically be classified as a ‘masculine’ space.
Q: If I hear each of you correctly, masculine spaces are about the whole taken in context rather than the individual items within a space. Expanding on this concept, how does one go about designing a masculine space?
JC: I have found that masculine spaces are more used. These are not rooms to be admired from afar. Men generally want to put their feet up, and enjoy themselves. That being said, furniture should be made well to withstand a lot of use. For instance, watching a game with the guys is a lot of fun, and very active. Nobody wants to worry about spilling something on the rug or the coffee table. The materials chosen should meet the function of the room.
BD: It really is all in the mix of objects, materials, and styles. I would tend to classify Neoclassic, Biedermeier and Art Deco furniture as being more ‘masculine’ in feeling, though that is not to say those styles of furniture don’t go in any other sort of room. But they, along with most contemporary/modern furniture, have a very strong sense of architecture, line and form which lend themselves well to that feeling being created in a ‘masculine’ room.
Q: At the risk of sounding sexist, do men and women approach design differently? Do you find your approach to projects differs from your female colleagues?
JC: Yes! The male clients I have worked with usually want to see an edited selection of two or three choices for each item that will go in the space. Generally, I have found that a lot of female clients like to see a lot more choices before making their selections. Many female clients also focus a lot more on the details of a piece, and male clients generally are concerned with craftsmanship, quality, and price!
BD: Perhaps, though it’s hard to say for sure. I certainly don’t think that female designers are not capable of designing for a male client that wants a ‘masculine’ feeling space. Mary McDonald (of recent fame on Bravo’s “Million Dollar Decorators”) is a perfect example. She is obviously a very feminine person, but her design sense definitely skews to more of a masculine aesthetic.
Q: I once talked with a potential client who was set on incorporating his grandfather’s large taxidermy collection into his 800 square foot studio apartment. He was convinced that taxidermy equaled masculinity. So how do you steer clear of falling into the “bachelor pad” cliché when designing a masculine space?
JC: Well taxidermy is just not my thing. I don’t like it, and choose not to work with it. I also refuse to purchase gimmicky furniture like one of those reclining chairs with a built-in refrigerator for a 6-pack in the arm. That actually exists! I wish I was making it up! I mean, honestly, talk about a stereotype!
BD: I would try to steer clear of making the space too flat and void of an interesting mix of elements. Often there is a fear with male clients that they don’t want a space that is overly decorated. But going too far in the opposite direction can make the space seem incomplete and possibly rather boring. For example, you can have beautiful floor-to-ceiling draperies in a space and not have them be frilly or frou-frou.
When you select the appropriate fabrics and trim, you can make them very tailored. even possibly adding menswear inspired detailing. Those draperies will give the space the finished, cozy quality that many people desire, however some male clients I have encountered before equate them with something their grandmother had without being open to the idea that there are many different ways to execute them.
Q: But let’s say that the client is stuck on having an English pub feel for his study. What suggestions do you have for turning something potentially stodgy into a modern room?
JC: My favorite type of design is a traditional skeleton with modern execution. Why not have wood-paneled chair rails, moldings and wainscoting? But paint them white, or maybe distressed gray! Then you can upholster the walls in an interesting fabric, perhaps ultrasuede in blue, green or taupe. You will then have the look of a pub, but with an aesthetic of this century.
BD: I would say to them that we can have one Chesterfield sofa or one collection of framed duck prints or horse prints but that we must mix in other items that are not of that style. Otherwise you are almost certainly going to create a space that is a cliché. And ‘themed rooms’ never really work. Taking that Chesterfield sofa and perhaps mixing in a French Deco armchair, a Biedermeir bookcase with a mid-century coffee table will give you a ‘pub-like’ feeling without being a historical reproduction of such a space.
Q: Let’s circle back to my friend who is fighting to exert some piece of himself into his new home. Do you have any tips on how couples can work together to ensure a bit of both of them end up in their home?
JC: One way to resolve this is the “envelope versus accessories” method. One person gets to choose the framework: paint color, kitchen cabinets, floors, sofas. The other gets to choose the details: drapes, cabinet hardware, faucets, pillows, etc. This usually works as a nice compromise. But, when all else fails, each person gets to design his or her own bathroom, with no questions and no input from the other!
BD: It’s all about compromise. Both people need to give and take a bit in the process. Often times one has more of a final say in the matter, but the most successful projects I have done for couples have been ones where each get to have several pieces that they love go into the mix. The benefit of this approach is also that the overall feel of the space is more than just one note, and can have a feeling of a space evolving over time and being a collection.
Thank you Brian and Joe for your fantastic insight into creating a masculine space!”
Yes, thank you Brian and Joe for your advice in this discussion! It’s true, harmony comes from compromise when both have a say in what goes into a space. I’d agree that ‘masculine’ spaces tend to feature deeper colors like black, brown, gray and navy blue, and also incorporate darker wood tones as well. They include angular lines, more industrial finishes, leather and menswear fabrics like tweed and wool. Do you agree?
This was such a great interview Courtney! Be sure to stop by and say hello over at his blog Courtney Out Loud.
What say you? Do you agree with these designers’ definitions of masculine and feminine? Which style to do you find yourself drawn to, and how do you strike the balance in your personal spaces?