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Somewhere to socialise, hide or retreat – they are different things to different men. Felicity Monk gets exclusive access to some Kiwi Man Caves


The Man Cave. The Mounge. The Manctuary. Call it what you will, and although the activities that take place in there may differ, its purpose is one and the same. A dedicated tinkering space for a man to make, break and fix things. A room where he can be solitary or social, busy or not, where he can sift and scratch and lurch about as he pleases. Empires have been planned, Super Mario Brothers conquered and many beers guzzled in these designated masculine environmen­ts.

Various incarnatio­ns of the Man Cave have been around since, well, men lived in caves. The Victorians had a ‘growlery’, a room in which blokes could get away from their womenfolk and mutter and grouch to their heart’s content.

The Den, where men retired after supper for a spot of whisky and a game of cards surrounded by mounted moose heads, was always popular. But the last few decades has seen it rendered nearly obsolete; seized and re-branded with egalitaria­n fervour, the ‘rumpus/family/games/ media room’.

Then there’s the Shed; as Kiwi as a sausage roll and just as abundant throughout the land. (Unless you live in an inner-city suburb where they are deemed unsightly and fail to complement the landscaped aesthetic of the backyard. Or they stand in the way of your infinity pool. Then they are bulldozed.)

The Shed and the Man Cave share much in common. In 2005 The Shed magazine – “Where dreams are made real”– launched nationwide. And while most magazines are in readership decline, last year The Shed enjoyed close to a 50 percent growth in circulatio­n on the year prior. Its readers include a guy who has made his own Tardis and another who has made his own jet engine. Publisher Jude Woodside, owner of not one, but two sheds, says as well as being a place to make things, a shed is also “a place of retreat and for some reason certain men require that… they sort of go there and hide. It’s personal time out, a form of mental relaxation for them.”

But there is an important distinctio­n to be made. The Shed implies productivi­ty and home improvemen­ts, it often stores useful domestic items such as lawnmowers and leaf blowers and No.8 wire. In contrast, the Man Cave holds no such promise. Things may be built or fixed, and they also might not. Ever. Those men who don’t identify as being particular­ly “handy”, or perhaps simply don’t have the time to learn, find they have little use for an uninsulate­d, rustic, outdoor abode. Yet they still want a space to call their own, preferably something warm, comfortabl­e and hopefully indoors.

The Man Cave movement has been gathering momentum. A popular television show in the United States, Man Caves, sees two presenters, one a licensed contractor, the other a former NFL player called ‘The Goose’, create or renovate a Man Cave for one lucky guy – like a Pimp my Man Cave with do-it-yourself instructio­ns along the way.

Websites like ‘ My Bad Pad’ and www.mancavesit­ (the “official Man Cave site” whose motto is: “Taking back the world, one Man Cave at a time”) offer ideas for cave customisat­ion. For US$15 you can become a member and participat­e in cave exchanges and submit photos of your man-o-vations and classy inventions such as a BBQ that resembles a gigantic rifle and a do-it-yourself Keg-o-rator.

Here in New Zealand we tend to go for a more modest cave,


Cole Schierenbe­ck in his Mounge

nothing too fussy or flash. That way it doesn’t matter when mince and cheese pie gets trampled into the carpet. Recently, was given exclusive access to four Man Caves and their proud owners.

Sunday Once a month on a Friday night, seven or so men descend on Ant Timpson’s clubhouse, an old garage next to the family home. ‘The Analog Club’ (it says so on the door, scrawled in black marker) has been meeting on and off and in various locations around Auckland for 15 years. The all-male members gather to watch film reels using old school projectors that Timpson, 42, collects.

The founder of the Incredibly Strange Film Festival and 48 Hours Furious Filmmaking competitio­n explains: “The whole idea is that it is the antithesis of the home theatre, of people that have Blu-Rays and thousands of dollars worth of equipment, which is just not the point of watching.”

Old film posters line the clubhouse walls; most of them contain illustrati­ons and obscure titles. The Disco Dolls in Hot Skin poster is a particular eye-catcher. In it, a lady wearing suspenders and showing her bottom reclines on a bed above the words “She boogies in your lap!” There are shelves stuffed with old film scripts and a disco ball fixed up in the corner of the room, this pinched from his small son’s bedroom – “He’s too young to appreciate it.” In another corner stands Tron, a creaky-looking stand-up arcade game, which, reveals Timpson with pride, is very rare indeed. Large soft armchairs are pushed up against both walls, all facing the front where the white pull-down screen is hanging.

Timpson uses his clubhouse purely for these social gatherings: “It would be kind of weird being alone in here.” He says the most important aspect of the club nights is the socialisin­g; watching the films is secondary. The men drink beer (which is chilled at room temperatur­e in the freezing clubhouse) and talk in indecipher­able code that involves “trivial insider pop culture references and dated terminolog­y”.

Women are not allowed in The Analog Club. “For their own safety,” says Timpson. There is, he says, a “slight whiff of misogyny about it. I would die of embarrassm­ent if the conversati­ons we have in there were recorded. Half the time it’s men being boys trying to outdo each other with politicall­y incorrect statements.” Timpson thinks to own a clubhouse is to have some kind of arrested developmen­t. “You can’t fall back on a tool shed scenario where you pretend to tinker. A clubhouse is to regress in age.”

He admits there is nothing about a clubhouse that benefits the family

other than a man’s improved mental state. “I think they are absolutely essential if you have the space. Someone’s got the space. It is the last bastion. It’s an emotional time out that you need from the banality of suburbia – not that anything ever exciting happens in here.”


Cole Schierenbe­ck’s Mt Albert mounge couldn’t be more different. The 36-year-old’s room on the ground floor of his house is as neat as a pin. It’s carpeted, insulated and well lit (with dimming capabiliti­es). A pool table occupies the middle of the room (he restored it himself), his beloved 1973 Vespa is parked in one corner on its own rug, a TV in another. A long red couch stretches along one side, which Schierenbe­ck swears has a permanent indentatio­n of his body. “It’s a really good space to chill.”

On display is a skateboard, a backgammon set, Hairdresse­r of the Year trophies and a collection of miniature plastic baseball caps representi­ng different major league teams that American-born Schierenbe­ck has been collecting since he was a boy.

The Stephen Marr salon hairstylis­t says he is a night owl and reckons he easily spends around 20 hours a week in his mounge, though is quick to point out that’s after family time, from around 9pm onwards. “I spend a lot of time down here. Too much unfortunat­ely, and it’s nothing to do with my wife. It just sucks you in.”

A couple of nights a week he will cut a mate’s hair from home so has fixed a mirror to the wall. He points out a singed patch in the carpet where straighten­ing irons have left their mark. “It takes a thrashing to be honest.”

Schierenbe­ck builds things, fixes things, tinkers with his Vespa, watches television and practices golf putting on his Pro Putt System KLX (in his backyard he has a chipping green and he fires the golf balls off his deck). His mounge, he says, is his “creative space” and an “escape. I look forward to being down here.”


Practical and functional and probably the most productive, John Shepherd’s man cave is in the basement of the Auckland home he shares with wife Leonie and their two sons. He describes it as small and ordered where “everything has its place. There are jars and boxes of bits and pieces, a television and a Playstatio­n. Tools are hung on the walls, but they don’t have shapes sketched around them. It’s more to do with putting everything you’ve got on display because that’s what the space is all about, having your stuff out.”

Shepherd is unequivoca­l when asked what his man cave means to him. “I wouldn’t be the man that I am if I didn’t have that space. I need to have that space. I must have it.”

The 36-year-old creative says his chief cave activities include fixing his bikes and making toys for his young sons. Recently he made a hovercraft out of a cereal box and an old electric motor.

Three-year-old Juno, who has been visiting the man cave since he was a baby, observing from the jolly jumper, now helps his dad fix his broken toys. “He likes to use the hot glue gun, he likes cutting pieces of wood, nailing nails, screwing screws into things – anything he wants to do, we do it. If it makes a mess it doesn’t matter.”

Shepherd says the more time his sons spend in the man cave, the more practical skills they are going to learn, which is important to him.

When other guys see the man cave for the first time, he says, they are always impressed. “Which I totally love. I keep saying to Leonie: ‘This is totally going to add value to the house.’ Because if we ever put it on the market and a couple come around to look at it, she’s going to walk upstairs and go: ‘Yep, sweet.’ He’s going to walk downstairs and go: ‘We’re buying this house.’”


Brad Nobilo’s den is the most traditiona­l of the lot; a throwback to the old days. In it he stores his golf clubs, dive gear and duck shooting parapherna­lia, including shotguns. Fixed to one side of the wall is a rack of fishing rods and a Marlin bill (which he caught). It has been vertically mounted – “quite phallic, actually,” remarks the 33-year-old. There’s also a dartboard which has its own spotlight and a hole-in-one trophy. The Auckland-based planning consultant says the den, in which he spends around half an hour a day, is mostly used for dart practice. “The fellas come around and we sit in the armchairs and drink whisky and play darts. It’s a place to go and get things done. It’s something that is mine, because the rest of the house isn’t really. I just live here with Karyn [his fiancée]. You move in with these fancy women and you make the house nice together like how you want it, but it’s really how she wants it. And there’s not much room in these little bungalows so that is how all my stuff ended up in the den. It is hard to describe the benefit to my wellbeing, the serenity and separation that wee room allows.”

 ??  ?? Ant Timpson in his Clubhouse
Ant Timpson in his Clubhouse
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