Home: A Boy’s Life: Room With a Dude

When a woman does the decorating, a man needs his space

I SAW MY future, and it scared me. A flash-forward in the movie of my life actually happened at the movies, during a screening of last year’s hit Juno, when the title character meets the young couple that will adopt Juno’s unborn child. Jennifer Garner plays the wife, Vanessa, who is meticulously put-together, just like her house — scent sticks in the spotless living room, candles and perfumes neatly arranged on the bathroom countertop, fluffy monogrammed towels hung in perfect alignment. At one point during Juno’s first visit to their house, Jason Bateman, in the husband role, shows off his slice of domestic bliss.

“Vanessa gave me my own room for all my stuff,” he says, before the camera pans a tiny office he’s stocked with guitars, rock-concert prints and CD towers.

“She gave you your own room, in your own house, for your stuff?” Juno stutters cynically. “Wow.”

This scene hit home for me because my one-bedroom apartment is basically that exact same room. It’s like Sam Ash Music, GameStop and the local comic book shop merged and let me set up a bed in the stockroom. My girlfriend, on the other hand, breaks a sweat when the bejeweled pillow on her bed is out of place or when she catches me trying to empty one of the seven million scent-stick-candle-things that make her place reek like Bath & Body Works Gone Wild. In the darkness of that cineplex, reality unfurled in front of me: When the day comes for us to cohabitate, there will be only one way to preserve my way of life and avoid drowning in a sea of Black Raspberry Vanilla Body Butter.

I will need a man room.

In the olden days, a man’s sanctuary was simply a home office or the backyard shed where you could keep the lawn mower and crack open a cold Pabst in peace. That simply won’t cut it today, thanks in part to our increased cultural obsession with interior decorating and shows like Man Caves on the DIY Network, a cross between Pimp My Ride and Trading Spaces in which guys build the hideaway of their dreams. (The phrase “man cave” feels creepy, though, like the place where the backwoods psycho hides the spring breakers he kidnaps in a slasher flick; let’s stick with “man room.”)

So I began some advance reconnaissance for the day when I’ll be in the market for my own habitat of dudedom, and what I found was surprising on a few levels. For starters, man rooms are becoming a home-design staple, not a rare indulgence. After I put out a call to find a few sample man spaces, the deluge began — from the guy in Horsham with a 15-seat home theater and an air-hockey table to the Medford basement bar and 57-inch TV setup known among the owner’s friends as “man heaven,” every self-respecting guy seems to have his own lair. To be a real man, you apparently can’t just watch the Phillies game in your living room anymore.

For Jason Schaeffer of Berlin, New Jersey, his first man room began as a practical matter. “It was mostly just a place to put all my stuff,” he says. “I wasn’t going to get away with Boba Fetts in our bedroom.” When Jason and his wife, Reena, upgraded to a bigger house, the most obvious choice for the man den was where most guys end up — the basement. Jason went all out, from displaying his Star Wars memorabilia to installing coin-operated video games and a bar shuffleboard table. The payoff, he found, was more than just the beer flowing from his custom tap. “It helped sell the house,” Jason says. With his first house, the buyer insisted he leave the kegerator behind; when he sold the one with the Dave & Buster’s basement to an older woman, she kept the video games and pool table for her grandkids.

Then there’s the “wow” factor. As Nick Albrecht and his wife, Christy, were house-hunting in Bryn Mawr, one particular feature conjured up the stuff man-room dreams are made of. “It happened to have a urinal in the basement,” Nick says. “That sold me.” Nick’s space is still a work in progress, though as an Eagles season-ticket holder, his 53-inch projection TV and Fathead of a massive Birds helmet on the wall are a good start. He’s planning to section off the laundry area and add a pool table, but the crown jewel in his man room — and the entire house — is still the urinal. “That’s my first stop on the tour,” he says. “The guys love it. The girls always go, ‘Ewww.’” And perhaps that’s how it should be, lest you end up with a Bartlett Pear-scented candle on your pisser.

There is, of course, a level of masculine bliss that only a few can attain. As if comparing yourself to six-foot-seven, 330-pound Eagles right tackle Jon Runyan doesn’t already make you feel like less of a man, consider the room in his Mount Laurel home. A few stats: 2,000 square feet, six 60-inch plasmas on one wall, a bar in the shape of a football wrapped in dimpled leather like pigskin, and a neon sign with the team logo and “Club 69,” in honor of his number. “It’s not a cave,” says big Jon. “It’s a whole building.”

It’s not surprising that a guy whose name rhymes with “Bunyan” has a playroom with 24-foot-high timber-framed ceilings. But when I asked him who came up with the concept, Jon sounds more like Paige Davis than an NFL lineman. “The architect had designed it as a typical square,” he says. “But the house is a French-country kind of look, and there are segmented arches throughout. So I suggested, hey, why don’t we make the bar in the shape of a football? That will complement the arches in the rest of the house.” That earned Jon some style points from both his architect and his wife, Loretta, but doesn’t help him when the missus declares it’s closing time for Club 69 at 3 a.m. on a Sunday night. “She’s been down here many times yelling at me for being too loud,” says Jon.

And so it goes. Though I will never intimidate anyone with my physical size or my wall of plasma TVs, it’s comforting to know that even Jon Runyan, in his 13,000-square-foot house, needs a place he can call his own. Someday when I need a man room for myself, I’ll be happy with something between Jason Bateman’s rock-’n’-roll closet in Juno and a basement TV lair like Jason and Nick have enjoyed. Only now, it’s got to have a urinal.