I recently talked over the phone with Kyle Schuneman, interior and set designer of Live Well Designs in Los Angeles. In the course of our conversation he again and again argued for men taking a greater role in the design and decoration of their living spaces.
With this notion of masculine spaces in mind, I put a few questions to him to see just how he imagines a male space, how it might differ from a female space, and how the much ballyhooed "woman’s touch" might very well benefit from a few male fingerprints from time to time. Here’s what Schuneman had to say:
How would you define a masculine space? It's not just the spare bedroom with the oversized flat screen?
A masculine space is a room of rich textures and deep colors. It marries clean lines and a functional approach with a hint of quirk that comes from the unashamed addition of personal and sometimes foreign objects to an otherwise pulled together room. A masculine space is very different than a space "decorated" by a dude. It’s a style just like any other and it takes effort. For the last century men have been alienated from design, leaving it as a woman’s domain. In a lot of ways it is an unexplored venture.
How do you design a masculine space? Is it a question of materials, forms, light?
Masculine spaces are achieved through layering. This doesn’t mean clutter, as a masculine space is usually very classically laid out and streamlined, but rather the texture is a place to do something interesting. Whether it’s a leather bed or a wood root side table or a more playful item like the hint of a camo print on a pillow, masculine spaces need to feel rich. Layering the old with the new like using an old locker room bench as a coffee table with a classic Eames seating group give a wink and a nod to the past and always create conversation starters. Neutral colors for walls like taupes and grays are also reminiscent of a factory or a loft, which are both considered very iconic masculine environments.
Do you think that men and women approach interior design differently?
Yes, and a very face value answer to this would be that men equal function and women equal form. But through my experience I have found that there is something much deeper in their motivations, which is that men have a need to claim their space. Yes, men want their place to function right, but they want it to be known as "theirs" with no apologies. I have found that women have a much more collaborative agenda when it comes to interior design. They consult magazines, friends, and television shows to get ideas and pull from each to design their space. It reflects much more of the trends of the time while men, being less interested in experimenting with new themes, hold on to the classics of design.
You mentioned that many men aren't terribly present in the design and furnishing of their homes, which is perhaps why we get these unsophisticated, hyper-masculine "man caves" hanging on the periphery of lacy, frilly homes. How do you empower men to take a greater part in the design of their houses?
The "Man Cave" is as much a psychological move as it is a physical space. It's a rebellion against the rest of the home because the man is often estranged from the décor that fills the other rooms. It is his way of claiming his territory and representing himself. Good design is always collaborative and both sides need to be willing to have some give and take. Women need to open up to the man’s ideas and men need to take a valid interest. I always say that if someone wants blue and the other wants red, purple is not the solution as no one ends up being happy. It is about the yin and yang that make a good collaborative room and men need to realize that their taste is a very valid balance to the woman’s point of view.
For someone with a strong modernist aesthetic already, clean lines and honest materials might be de rigeur. How then do you create a modern masculine space that's not some over-the-top Bond villain lair?
It is always about mixing in textures. Soft textures and rounded edges as accents aren’t dichotomous with masculine design. Adding a rug in a natural fiber like jute or a chunky wool in a solid color will only add to the modern and masculine aesthetic and still warm up the space to feel welcome. Another way of softening edges is through plants. Succulents are a great way to add softness while still keeping a manly edge and what is great about plants is they give the man something to take care of and take pride in. When you interact with your space you become much more intertwined with it and it builds a positive cycle.
Many men truly cherish having their own spaces, but how would you advise those who want to see their aesthetic run throughout their homes, not just play out in the basement or den?
I think any good design has a balance of both aspects so going into a discussion about a room or a house with that in mind should definitely give the man some latitude to express his ideas. Suggesting that he really wants leather as the upholstery fabric will give him a voice in the room while still letting the woman decide on the style of the sofa or vice versa. I think many men like their own space because they are so misrepresented in the rest of the house. But if their ideas were incorporated throughout they would be much less likely to retreat to just one comfortable spot.
What's your stance on neon beer signs?
Tough one. If it's old enough to be considered retro it could be cool in small doses. However, many people confuse commercial design with residential design and this would be a classic case of that. It is a similar offense to arranging your bookcase like you would a store inventory.
A palette of material: I love incorporating old metals, new woods, and innovative fabrics when putting together the palette for a masculine space. I think a great, unexpected idea is to use men's suiting fabrics to upholster a sofa or chair. It is a classic design and the fabric is ultra soft while giving a wink and a nod to male design.
Three pitfalls to avoid in designing a masculine space: Just like in female design, going overboard can end up disastrous. If you put so many antlers up on the wall it just becomes overkill instead of an interesting and whimsical addition to a minimalist room. Using only one texture, like all wood furniture or all leather leads to a room going from masculine to drab. It pulls the look of the room down by making it seem all out of a showroom instead of collected overtime. Finally, I would say letting your beloved collection take over. If you have so many matchbooks in jars everywhere it can go from being a cool conversation starter to an eerie element in the villain’s home of a horror movie.
A few modern pieces: The bachelor pad has almost become an iconic character in pop culture but by getting rid of the bearskin rugs and rubber sheets you can really create a sophisticated and masculine space with the addition of these: