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To the man cave!

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Giant screen TVs, sports memorabilia, minibars and plush recliners... the musty den has now morphed into a luxurious retreat for men. Architects and designers say the cavemen are queuing up

No, it's not because he occasionally behaves like a Neanderthal that a man's private sanctuary is referred to as a 'man cave'. Far from it. The man cave bears no resemblance to a Pleistocenic hole in the rock wall;these preserves are sleek and stocked with the best a man can get, including the clichês. A man cave, manland or manctuary is a fellow's personal domain - a measurable piece of real estate, and not a notional zone to which he retreats when he needs to collect his thoughts, and other items. It's also an expression of his identity, even if that hideous 'Throne of Guns' chair seriously question his credibility. The chair is probably why the woman with whom a man cohabits, is more than happy to relinquish a portion of the house to him. In his man cave, a man can literally go ballistic with the dêcor;this is his fiefdom and he sets the rules, even if the cardinal one prohibits his wife/partner from stepping in. (Such acts of daredevilry have been reported ). But what the man cave essentially is, is a progression of the den - the quintessential gentleman's refuge - even though the former may not always evoke the velourscented civilization of the latter and modern male fantasy holes do suggest a cultured primitivism.

Mumbai-based interior designer Shilpa Gupta says the room is born of a lifestyle change. "Earlier, men would talk of gathering around a cricket or football match at the gymkhana with their friends. They now prefer to move the action to their dens at home. Consequently, these rooms are kitted out with giant flat-screen TVs, multi-media ensembles, projectors, minibars, recliners, and other men-centred paraphernalia, " says Gupta, whose store Mosaic in Bandra, mirroring trends in the interiors market, partly simulates a 'man cave'. "They can spend up to Rs 10 lakh on this room, and that doesn't count the cost of the electronic devices in it. " Those who don't have an entire room to themselves lay stake to a corner of the house which they can call their own.

Tennis ace Rohan Bopanna, who's a collector of sports memorabilia (he bought the bat with which Tendulkar scored his 100th 100), has installed a man cave in his new house. "I've had the room painted black;it's equipped with a projector, a home theatre system and is sound-proof and carpeted, " he writes from Monte Carlo. "I have a few La-Z-Boys in there and the walls are tennis-themed with a corner dedicated to a collection of my favourite classics - from the Bond to the Godfather series - and obviously a Bollywood collection. While this is my 'man cave' because I get my space there, it's also a place I visualise friends and family coming together and having a great time either watching a match and cheering, or the room in which to have a movie-date night with my wife. Since I travel all the time and live in hotel rooms, coming back home and having a cave of my own surely makes it so much more exclusive, " he says.

Having cottoned on to the truth that the epithet 'man of the house"is nothing but a token, ego-advancing formulation, and the house was indeed of and for the woman who'd eventually dress it up her way (because women eventually have their way in such matters), the man cave gives its owner a guilt- and reproof-free space for expression and relaxation.

Param Natarajan, a former corporate communications specialist in Bangalore, who took up carpentry a couple of years ago, started out tentatively by colonising a balcony in his house. But the dust never settled, and his wife promptly shunted him out into the garage. In the West, garages, attics and basements are often remodelled as man caves (and perhaps do more justice to the term), but in India's space-shy urban reality, it's usually artful intervention that can chisel a cave out of a cranny. Unless of course, you've got the leg room.

Then all it takes is an interior designer to convert one of the four bedrooms into a boy's hobby hub, or an architect briefed at the drawing board itself. In what can only attest to its growing popularity, architects of large independent houses say clients now specifically ask them to plan for the cave. Sandeep Khosla, principal architect at Khosla Associates, says one in five clients wants one.

Then again, not every man can stake his territory where he lives. Some have to chalk out their circles elsewhere. Samir Singla, who runs a successful catering business called Uncle Sam's Kitchen in Chennai with his wife Punit, is currently developing his office into his den. "My home is not big enough to accommodate both my idiosyncrasies and my wife, " he jokes. So, Singla set about installing his favourite things in the company's centralised kitchen and corporate office. These include a pair of 3-foot tall self-assembled speakers, a 6-foot long aquascape, and a hydroponic system where he plans to grow herbs.

"I've built a bar, set up a coffee station, put in a recliner couch, my LP player and record collection, my cookbooks, my fleet of radio-controlled helicopters, and a 50-inch TV, " says Singla. "I'm an outdoors person, but once this room is ready, I'll be spending a lot of time in here. I plan to have the guys over to watch matches, knock back a few drinks and listen to music, " he says, adding that his wife can now have the house.

However, when a couple shares a house equally, it's only fair that they split the cave down the middle too. When Goabased engineer and real estate businessman Royston Costa built his 30-sq-mt lair on the outskirts of his estate in Raya, he had hoped it would be his personal hideout. "But I had to justify it to my family, so I invited them to use it as well. The ultimate aim however is to have it to myself, "he confides. His co-owned cave is neatly halved. One part keeps his effects - a drum kit, guitars, amplifiers, microphones, minibar and books, and the other half has his wife's easel and canvasses. Costa, who builds holiday homes in Goa, says it's usually city homes that accommodate dens, because that's where a man would want to get away from the stress of work and even family life. "You'll find dens typically designed to have wood paneling, leather couches, a library, sports or movie memorabilia, a flat screen TV and a minibar - a place where the guys can come together to smoke cigar and have a game of poker. If you have the space you can fit anything into a den, from a pool table, to a jukebox or even have it resemble a small sports bar, " he says.

Ashiesh Shah, creative director of an eponymous architecture and design company, rightly calls the 'cave' a trophy room - presenting a proud exhibit of its habitue's prizes and collectibles and an object of distinction in itself. He believes the attention men are paying their personal spaces will soon usher in new opportunities for interior design retail;men's retail in India has so far been hegemonised by clothing, grooming, technology and sports. "The movies have helped the trend along, with houses in LA and Miami offering design templates, while a show like Entourage is perhaps the best example of a masculine space, " Shah says. (Incidentally, there's even a home renovation reality show called Man Caves on American TV, where Super Ball winner Tony Siragusa and contractor Jason Cameron, offer to trick up a bloke's room to mirror his interests. )

"Men are very specific about what they want of their rooms. Even if a couch looks ugly, but allows a guy to sink into it, he'll keep it, " says Shah, who has designed several 'manlands' across the country and has even been tasked with filling some of them with his client's collectibles of choice, including assorted cigar humidors from different countries. He says, "We often put in artificial ventilation in these rooms to let out the smoke or the rooms ends up smelling musty. " Even if it's a cave, that won't do.

 

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