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Guys gone wild: ‘Man caves’ craze takes off

About seven years ago, Terry Marcell and his good buddy Brad Hansen sat with blankets bundled over their legs in Marcell’s cold garage. Marcell’s wife wasn’t thrilled about hearing them scream and yell throughout an entire Seahawks game, so they huddled on lawn chairs in front of a 13-inch TV screen.

“This stinks,” Marcell said.

Yes, it did stink. But Hansen had an idea.

“We should make a shop out in the woods where we can hang out and watch the game. You know, like a Man Hut.”

As the saying goes, every great dream begins with a dreamer. The Man Hut that stands today on Marcell’s property in Woodinville, Wash., has the power to knock many a man to his knees in worshipful awe. The testosterone-fueled, 1,200-square-foot structure boasts rows of real movie-theater seats, a “Hawk’s Nest” balcony level with extra seating, a surround-sound system, a movie-style popcorn popper, hot-dog makers, an Astroturf carpet that can absorb beer spillage with ease, and multiple large screens so that not just one — but three — sporting events can be watched at the same time.

Each Super Bowl Sunday, the Man Hut’s lights are dimmed and at least two of the three screens — one of which is a 7-by-7-foot movie screen — are tuned to the Super Bowl. Whenever the crowd’s team of choice scores, lights flash, an ooga horn sounds, a bell rings — and, perhaps most importantly, guests can jump up and down, crash into each other, shout as loudly as they want and drop all of their popcorn on the floor in a fit of football-inspired jubilation.

Welcome to the beating heart of a true man cave.

Triggered in part by the “Man Caves” series that airs on the DIY Network, men across America are daring to visualize something they’ve craved in the most primitive recesses of their brains for years: A place of their own.

It doesn’t matter whether the magic happens in a basement, a garage, an attic, a shed or a barn. What’s important is that the man of the house gets a refuge that’s tailored to his specific interests.

“It’s not about the family. It’s about the guy,” said Jason Cameron, a general contractor who co-hosts the “Man Caves” show along with former NFL defensive tackle Tony “The Goose” Siragusa.

“It’s about his wants and his desires and what he’s into ... Is he a cigar smoker? A wine drinker? A football fanatic? It doesn’t have anything to do with anybody else. It’s about him.”

And rather than feel offended by the presence of a man cave, many wives and girlfriends tend to love it once it becomes a reality in their homes.

“My husband works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, and he’s one big ball of stress when he comes home,” said Christina Lombardi of Middletown, N.J., who successfully applied to have her family’s basement transformed into a man cave by the DIY Network. “It’s nice because now he has a place where he can go for an hour or two every night and vent and play his video games and just relax ...

“And on Sundays it’s kind of nice not to have to watch every single football game.”

During football season in particular, man caves can provide salvation and sanity for many couples, said Michael Winter, director of programming for the DIY Network.

“If you [have a Super Bowl party] in somebody’s beautifully decorated living room, it’s gonna get trashed,” Winter said. “In a man cave, guys can cheer in the most vociferous way they want and if they spill a beer, it’s not the end of the world ...

“Wives want the man cave.” 

Caves with a specialized flair
The man-cave movement is based on the premise that in many homes, the woman takes charge of setting up the entire house just the way she likes it. So isn’t it only fair that the guy should get at least a sliver of space to call his own?

“We’ve joked that we should contact a Pottery Barn and find out which wives are spending the most money there,” Winter said. “That guy is probably the guy who needs the man cave most.”

When they actually come into being, almost every man cave includes two key ingredients: a flat-screen TV and a bar. Beyond that, anything goes.

The DIY Network has helped to create a soundproofed rock ’n’ roll lounge, a ski lodge, a golf-lover’s paradise complete with a virtual-reality driving range, a cigar den and several sports bars and sports-themed clubhouses — sometimes in spaces as small as 10 feet by 15 feet.

“Honestly, anybody can make a man cave,” Winter said. “This is really about what you want to have in your space that becomes your own.”

Eric Lombardi, the husband who works as a commission broker on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, said he considered installing a retinal scanner at the top of the stairs to his gleaming new man cave.

“You’d have to have certain chromosomes to come downstairs,” he joked.

Lombardi’s man cave is an Irish sports pub that includes comfortable leather seating, a full bar, a dartboard, a 42-inch flat-screen plasma TV, a PlayStation 3, a foosball table, oodles of sports memorabilia and an antique desk with a computer where he can play fantasy football.

“I’m religiously down there every Sunday watching the football games,” Lombardi said. “Once a week, friends of mine will come over to watch football. We’ll barbecue upstairs, watch the game down there. It’s great.”

Where boys can be boys
Marcell, a demolition contractor and the owner of the mondo Man Hut in Washington state, noted another benefit of such structures and spaces.

“We get to hang stuff on the walls here that women don’t want on the walls in the house,” Marcell said.

In Marcell’s case, the stuff decorating his Man Hut includes a heavy and ornate sword, a Harley-Davidson lamp, gym lockers, an old-time barber chair, 30-year-old Seahawks drinking glasses on a special display shelf, and sheet metal on the walls to reflect the lights that flash when teams score touchdowns. Good friends donated much of the memorabilia lining the walls and surfaces of the Man Hut.

It’s also absolutely OK to throw a football inside the Man Hut and to pee outside on a nearby tree. And upon entering the Man Hut, games abound.

One game involves a group of guys holding onto metal handles connected to a device with a flashing red light. The last person to push a button when the light turns green gets hit with an electric shock.

“Men have to be immature to have fun,” Marcell said.

Cameron, the contractor who co-hosts the “Man Caves” show, said certain rules apply in a man cave.

“If we don’t want to clean it, we don’t have to clean it,” he said. “And there are no doilies. No candles. Certainly no scented candles.”

Marcell’s wife, Alise Marcell, said it makes her happy to know that her husband — and increasingly, their son, Preston — have a fun place to relax and just be guys. And from time to time, she joins in the fun.

“About 95 percent of the time, I don’t make an appearance out here,” she said. “But the three of us can watch movies together in here. We can have kids’ birthday parties in here ... We have a pingpong table we can unfold. It’s just fun.”

Marcell added that his wife is even talking about hosting book-club meetings and organizing karaoke nights in the Man Hut.

“See, there’s a reason we call our place a Man Hut instead of a man cave,” he said. “We’re civilized people. We let women in there and everything.”

A man cave in a down economy?
Considering that the economy is tanking and so many families are struggling to pay the bills, the very notion of a man cave may seem like an extravagance from a bygone era — say, the dot-com boom, for instance. But those in the know insist that a man cave doesn’t have to cost an outrageous sum of money.

Winter, the director of programming for the DIY Network, said a man cave the network created for a man who loved to smoke cigars only cost a couple of hundred dollars. That money covered a ventilation system that would prevent his wife from ever smelling the smoke.

“We just brought his favorite chair in there and a nice book rack for his favorite books and magazines,” Winter said. “It doesn’t have to be tens of thousands of dollars.”

Cameron of the “Man Caves” show said a typical cave might range in cost from about $3,000 to $6,000 if a homeowner is willing to do all the labor himself.

“Everything we do on the show is not really expensive,” Cameron said. “We typically buy materials at Home Depot. It’s amazing what you can make with two-by-fours and ... with paint and trim ...

“For a room like we do, you’re probably looking at a four-day project.”

Marcell’s magnificent Man Hut took longer than that to complete, but it wasn’t all that expensive, either — in large part because so many of the items inside it were rescued free of charge from demolition jobs. That includes the movie-theater seats, the movie screen, the barber chair and the cabinets.

“The Man Hut’s green, you could definitely say that,” Marcell said.

Marcell scored the two 35-inch TVs for about $100 each through Craigslist, and he did the bulk of the labor for the Man Hut himself.

And that, quite simply, is the man cave way.

“Again, it’s not about the cost of the items that you’re putting into it,” Winter said. “It can be as simple as taking your favorite things from around the house and putting them into one space. Paint it your favorite color. Bring down a little mini-fridge so you don’t have to leave at halftime.

“This just requires that guys really look inside themselves and really be honest with themselves about what they want.”

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