Remember when they found that amazing underground bunker in Season 2 of Lost? And there were all those records in there? The pretty close-ups of the needle dropping on Patsy Cline, again and again and again?
Okay, granted, they were marooned on an island and living on a beach and in a little jungle. And it was probably really hot on the island, so the cool basement-like feeling in "The Hatch" must have been extra pleasant in addition to the feeling of relief to be in a modern human dwelling with all its securities, its familiarity and ordinariness. But still, that place was sweet.
In a way, it felt like the ideal man cave. But can there be such a thing?
HVL Fixtures Clockwise from 12: Gaines, Altamont, Medfield, Burton, Stanley, Thorndike, Vestal, Marlow
A cave is a cool dark dwelling built into the earth; in nature, it's formed by rock. A man is… well, no one’s figured that out yet. A man can be a lot of things, and it’s best to leave it at that. There can be no one ideal man cave because each man’s ideal is different. An ideal man cave must be made in the image of the man for whom it is built.
The “man cave” has accumulated a somewhat negative connotation—with good reason. Is it as primal or atavistic as its name connotes? Is it a place for men to indulge in all the whims of an (arguably) grown-up version of a treehouse, complete with implicit "no girls allowed" sign? Is it a space in the home that, by definition, lacks any semblance of visual grace?
We think it’s time to rethink the man cave.
A treehouse for our age, these sustainable houses, by Danish architecture student Konrad Wòjcik, are both shaped like & set among trees.
In a recent interview with the BBC about his new album The Ship and the ongoing listening gatherings he's been hosting for it at his studio, Brian Eno (producer of David Bowie, U2, Coldplay, and Talking Heads; pioneer of ambient music) said something striking: “None of us realizes how much we are distracting ourselves. To spend a while just doing one thing now is rather amazing. It’s a luxury now.”
He’s right. Today, to do one thing at a time, to give one thing our entire focus, is a luxury.*
If doing just one thing at a time is a luxury, might it make sense to make a luxury space devoted to doing one thing?
As Ray LaMontagne said, "Man needs something he can hold onto: a nine-pound hammer or a woman like you." Some men like to keep their hands busy. If both hands are busy—especially when dangerous tools are involved—it might be harder to multitask, making the luxury of focus an unavoidable necessity. The woodworking shed** is a traditional incarnation of this tendency. It’s a meditative and fulfilling pastime, making something with one’s hands, developing and refining a skill.
But some men need to truly relax: sit, put their feet up, give their hands a rest.
With this in mind, a more urbane man cave could become a place to do just that: focus on one thing at a time.
And few things reward single-minded attention to the extent music does. Especially when you put a little money into it. Even more so when you choose to enjoy recorded music in its most sonically robust form: vinyl.
The problem with getting the most out of vinyl is that it can be a royal pain in the ass. The size and heft of the equipment, the tangle of wires, the delicacy of the stylus. The immensity of speakers. Not to mention moving a record player, replacing a worn-out needle cartridge, and how much space records can occupy. If this woman’s charming blog illumined nothing else, it’s that some wives have a love/hate relationship with—or maybe just resent—their husbands' stupid record collection. That could come down to money spent on the records, the room the collection takes up, hearing music she finds grating or annoying more often than they would like, and the negative aesthetic impact of some music-playing equipment and wiring.
Author Haruki Marukami's office and record collection (listened to while writing and referred to throughout his work). And that's not all of them.
That’s where Symbol Audio comes in. They make all-in-one mid-century modern cabinets. Made of black walnut, with tube amplifiers built in, equipped with the legendary Sumiko Blue Point cartridge. Speakers and even (in some cases) storage built in. Minimal switches and buttons. And they look damned handsome.
Symbol Audio's flagship Modern Record Console
It got us dreaming about a sweet space: masculine, warm, minimal, and modern, where one can indulge in that luxury. Doing one thing at a time. Giving a record our complete attention.
Maybe a space where a man goes to get some alone time, or shares a drink, an hour, and an album with a friend. Nothing quite so reductive as a man cave, but a place to take care of oneself.
Less man cave, more Bat Cave: a cool, quiet place with some awesome tech and ambience, where you only bring the people that really matter to you. Like letting them in on a really good secret.
A place to be set free, even for just a single thin hour.
And while the word "cave" has all its attendant associations of darkness and coolness, let us not forget that it's with a little light that it comes alive. In fact, the world's earliest extant example of art is the paintings of animals on the walls of the Lascaux cave (illuminated and brought to three-dimensional life by Werner Herzog in his documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams); without a little light, this art cannot be seen.
Representation of the extinct Megaloceros, or Irish Elk, on Lascaux Cave Walls
To appreciate art—whether it's a favorite album on 33 1/3, a book that changes how you perceive life and the world, or a dram of Scotch that took 16 years to develop to the bit of perfection in your hand—you'll need a little light. And that's where we can help.
Keep the vibe intimate and calming with low light. Set the mood with a couple of sconces on dimmer switches. The design details of well-selected ones can contribute significantly to the room's atmosphere. Is it a mid-century modern den for one? Is it an industrial zone, like the basement lab in the original The Fly, or the whole apartment in which Jeff Goldblum seduces Geena Davis in the heartbreaking remake? Or, hey, if you're not really sure what your sweetspot is, take our style quiz.
Set a floor lamp next to your lounge chair so you can pore over liner notes. Or, if your chair of choice is next to the wall, a vintage throwback sconce like our Stanley with its optional cord covering going up the wall might supply just the sort of handsome detail that pulls a room together. Finding the exact track to drop the stylus on is an impossible task without light shining down on the record. Consider a picture light and securely mounted work of art above a big station like the Symbol Audio Modern Record Console, or a pendant over a piece of furniture with the record player on top. Something like a staggered multi-light Marlow, below, could go great over a bar cart.
What do you think? Do you or the man in your life need a space like this? Already have one? Could such a room even still qualify as "man cave" or does it need a different name? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below.
Featured image at top of page: The Gramovox Floating Record Player, as featured in the article "Vertically Unchallenged" on Design Milk.
*Maybe this is why so many men confess, if pressed, to really enjoying mowing the lawn. You can’t multitask mowing the lawn. You can’t even take a picture and send it to Instagram without messing up the straightness of your lines.
**Lately, there have been feminine rejoinders to such masculine spaces as the woodworking shop and the man cave; the She Shed reimagines the former space while the Lady Lair does the latter.