Home escapes: Modern twists on the man cave
Over the course of the last decade or so, “man cave” has become a familiar term. Added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary in 2012, a man cave is cited as a noun originating in 1992, and defined as: “a room or space designed according to the taste of the man of the house to be used as his personal area for hobbies and leisure activities.”
Though the word itself is modern in its origins, it’s a safe bet the concept behind the man cave is as ancient as the cohabitative human experience. The fun part is customizing the space to fit your passions. Then the really fun part is either inviting others in to experience it, or maybe keeping others out!
“Over the course of the last five to seven years, we’ve seen requests for man caves and similar spaces go through the roof,” said Holly Tanner, co-owner of L.H Tanner Construction.
The Melbourne-based general contractor group is currently working on building a large man cave for a client in Rockledge featuring an auto garage, complete with vehicle lift and workshop. Once construction on that project is complete, they will get started on a similar one for a beachside collector of classic cars looking to showcase and work on his vehicular investments.
“People have more toys than they ever have,” Holly said. “They love their cars, boats, trailers, motorcycles, four wheelers, etc. — but don’t want to lose their living spaces.”
Tanner said the average cost of man caves built by L.H. Tanner in recent years is somewhere between $150,00 - $200,000. The construction firm handles every step of these projects, from planning to building. Tanner notes that many clients are opting to add safety features, such as hurricane reinforcements, impact-resistant windows and increased security measures, to their construction projects.
“In some cases, these are really more like mini houses we’re building,” she said.
BACK TO BASE
For some, a man cave is an opportunity to create an immersive haven for a collectible passion. Themed retreats often start as a small collection of items on a shelf, then perhaps overtake an entire wall and keep growing as space allows. For Gary Lowe, a lifelong fascination with the Star Wars empire inspired “Echo Base,” which occupies an entire room of the Viera home he shares with his wife, Rosemary, and their son, Bryce, 19.
Lowe’s man cave was named after a rebel stronghold camp from in the movie Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. The idea for the space came to Lowe after watching Star Wars: A New Hope, at a drive-in theater in Asheville, N.C., in 1977.
“I was 8 years old. It was a big deal,” remembers Lowe, now a retired Naval officer-turned-research associate at Peraton Corporation.
“Back then, blockbuster movies were rare, and this one changed the entire landscape of a nation. My dad worked for Woolworth back then, and was able to get the official action figures as they became available. That was the beginning.”
Lowe has fond memories of working on HO scale model railroads with his grandfather. The model locomotive collection eventually included over 60 engines and took up most of a two-car garage.
“I really admired his passion for the project,” Lowe said. “It was part of what inspired me to build my collection of Star Wars items in my own life.”
Star Wars has long been a beacon of imagination for Lowe’s, one he now enjoys sharing with friends, family and guests who visit his sci-fi shrine. Everyone who enters Echo Base must submit to Lowe’s one mandatory custom — they must agree to having their picture snapped while holding one of the realistic lightsabers. These full-size replicas feature sounds, lights and details identical to the cinematic originals. Whether visitors are avid Star Wars fans or not, the reaction is usually the same upon entering the room — utter amazement.
“You can see the wonder in their eyes as they take it all in,” said Lowe. “The passion that went into the space really draws people in and brightens their perspective.”
TUNES AND BOARDS
Not all man caves are purely recreational, some serve as a means to expand a work or creative space. Case in point, the music-making, surfboard-shaping studio of the McDowell family. This detached Cocoa structure originally served as a super-sized dog house, but over time has morphed into a more multi-functional space used by the entire family.
When Pono McDowell, his wife, Kanani, and their three children, moved to Florida from Hawaii 15 years ago, the cultural adjustment was tougher than they expected. Often, they found themselves longing for the Hawaiian culture and tradition they’d been steeped in back home.
The “Ohana Cave,” or “Family Cave” space they’ve built in the backyard has become a Hawaiian haven of sorts for this active family of five. Pono (whose full Hawaiian name is Ponokamihalana’auikekaihala’I) has converted half the shed into a surfboard-shaping studio, where he handcrafts surfboards and paddleboards for his family. The other half was transformed into a practice space for Kanilehua, the traditional Hawaiian band Pono and Kanani perform with.
“The total investment so far has been less than $10K, but has been totally worth the work to build,” said Pono. “It’s a spot the whole Ohana can escape to.”
BUILT TO ENTERTAIN
A well-appointed gathering space serves as the center point for any home, so for those who love to entertain, this is often a planning priority.
With this mission in mind, long-time Brevard residents Bob Socks and Ilene Davis, set out to create an “entertainment escape pad” smack dab in the middle of their North Cocoa residence.
Officially known as “Bob’s Man Cave,” this poolside bar and casino-style oasis is also woman-friendly. The fun focused space serves as the perfect setting for the parties and neighborhood get-togethers the couple enjoys hosting regularly. Over the years, the addition of a fully stocked bar has been augmented by an Elvis Presley slot machine; blackjack, craps, roulette and poker tables; interesting wall hangings, and most recently, a collage by Brevard-based artist, Derek Gores, which pays homage to the late, great, Hugh Hefner.
“Occasionally we’ll host faux, winner-take-all blackjack tournaments using our set of high-dollar chips, it’s very exciting,” Bob said. It’s all for fun. We don’t really gamble for money, as we’d likely have no friends left.”
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