gives her barn a man-cave makeover to accommodate a treasured family heirloom
Fun fact: according to a study by anthropology professors at the University of California, three-quarters of American families can’t actually park their cars in the garage. Not because they lack the driving skills to parallel park a humongous Hummer between the chest freezer and the clothes dryer, but because most carports are already packed to the gunnels with domestic clutter.
Owning too much stuff is symptomatic of the modern malaise. Unlike our ancestors, who bought very little (by today’s standards, at least) and expected those things to last a lifetime, these days many of us behave like hamsters on a homewares treadmill. Given how cheap it is to update not just the cushions on our sofas, but the couch itself, is it any wonder our garages double as storage units for everything from shoes and seasonal sports equipment to unfinished craft projects, missing bits from flat-pack pieces of furniture and op-shop bargains in need of upcycling?
I can honestly say it’s not an issue at our place. Not because my husband and I are minimalists – far from it – but because we don’t actually own a garage. Ours burned down in an electrical fire in 2009, sending all of our clutter conundrums up in flames, and we’ve never got around to rebuilding it. We simply park our cars on the driveway and, on wet, wintry days, make a mad dash for the front door.
This sans-garage state sufficed until this month, when my husband Jason arrived home in his grandfather Herbert Joseph Frederick Hinton’s 1966 Chrysler VC Valiant Safari station wagon, a family heirloom that has been “in restoration” for almost 25 years.
As far as classic cars go, the Valiant Safari’s aesthetic appeal is rather more bogan than bourgeois; Fred’s vehicle came complete with his original cowboy bolo bootlace tie dangling down from the rearview mirror.
Like many men of his era, my husband’s grandfather was mighty proud of his car, which was kept in as mint a condition as the day it rolled off the production line. Fred always drove slowly in the fast lane, and no one else was allowed behind the wheel until the day of his death in 1991.
Just between us, my husband’s family are born-and-bred Westies and, in what sounds like an episode of Outrageous Fortune, when Fred passed away they didn’t think to call a funeral director. Instead, Uncle Lance sat
Fred’s still-warm body in the passenger seat of his Valiant Safari for one last blast up the motorway, delivering him direct to the undertakers in Henderson. But as a makeshift hearse, the Valiant Safari had a notable drawback – namely no seatbelts – and every time Uncle Lance rounded a corner, Fred’s corpse slid sideways to thwack him on the shoulder.
My husband was a teenage hoon when he inherited his grandfather’s car. His surfie mates were suitably impressed, largely because they could fit 10 crates of Big Horn beer in the back on road trips to Piha. However, less than a year later, while working the night shift as a roading contractor on Auckland’s northwestern motorway, he spun out of control and pranged head-on into the concrete median barrier they’d only just finished installing.
The wrecked wagon was transported to his father’s workshop, where it sat gathering dust for the next 20
“The Valiant Safari’s aesthetic appeal is rather more bogan than bourgeois.”
years. But more recently, my father-inlaw Rex took it to bits, panelbeated the dents and put it back together, so that now all that’s needed to get it roadworthy again is a tune-up, new door locks, some shiny chrome trims and a horn that actually honks.
Naturally, my husband also needs somewhere to park his classic car during the untold afternoons of polishing and tinkering that lie ahead.
“What you need,” I told him, “is a man cave.”
Like a generously proportioned garden shed, a decent man cave should combine comfort and practicality with plenty of storage. And, forgive this shameless bout of gender stereotyping, but a masculine space should also offer safe refuge for the man of your house to peacefully potter away on his DIY projects, or sink a few cold bevvies watching sport instead of cartoons and Coronation Street.
This is not the first time I’ve suggested a man cave to my husband. Seven years ago, I had plans to pimp out the foaling bay in our stable block with a beer fridge, bar leaners and a big-screen TV, but my interior design intentions were thwarted by a pair of blue lines on a pregnancy test. When we found out we were expecting our first child, I figured a family rumpus room was somewhat higher on the priority list than a blokes-only zone, so I carted my husband’s power tools off to our haybarn instead.
This time around, I heaved the hay bales aside to clear a corner of the barn for a petrolhead heaven decorated with roading signs and paper bunting cut from the pages of a men’s magazine (no, not Penthouse or Playboy, but the high-brow Smith Journal). The space is furnished with industrial cabinets, taxidermy, a collection of beer bottle labels from Fred’s own shed, my husband’s retro spacies machine (game Pac-Man, anyone?) and a retro vinyl couch of a similar vintage to the car.
That mustard-coloured couch is neither snug nor soft because, as a rule, a man cave should be comfortable, but not so comfortable that you never see your fella again at the weekend.
The Chrysler Valiant Safari now resides in its own manly shelter, complete with decorative bunting, beer coasters, old pots… and a few pretty flowers.