By Lee Wallender
Who said that these spaces were for men only? Everyone loves playing billiards or knocking around a ping pong ball or air hockey puck. And that 60″ flat screen TV? Well, it is capable of displaying family-friendly and cultural entertainment, as well as NFL and Fast and Furious 7, right? The spare corner that gets strong morning sunlight is a perfect spot to roll out a yoga mat. And the kids might love a section to set up an easel for watercolors or a table for crafts.
The result is a fun, multi-purpose rec room that accommodates everyone in the family.1
Finding a Space
It is important that you carve out a dedicated place for your new play-zone. If you try to place it in rooms where other things are happening, you will never feel like you have totally escaped. All of those distractions that you are trying to avoid will be hanging around and driving you mad.
So, from best to worst, here are five places to locate your future fun room
Classic mancaves, just like real caverns, are located underground. Deep within the earth, the basement provides a temperature-moderate, sound-insulated space. If you are lucky enough to have a full basement, that space will be the same square footage as the floor above.
One problem with locating your mancave in a basement is that the basement must be finished before you can even begin installing the mancave. Finishing a basement is laborious. It entails building out wall framing with wood or steel studs; insulating, wiring, and covering with drywall; laying sub-floor and finish floor covering; installing drywall on the ceiling; and wiring lights and receptacles.
Using a spare bedroom for the mancave gives you one overwhelming advantage over the basement: it is already finished, so you can get started right away on decorating. Spare rooms always have code-compliant electrical wiring and lighting already in place. Some rooms might even have an attached bathroom. Raucous mancave noise percolating to the rest of the house, or vice-versa, can be a problem. But this is remedied with simple sound-proofing techniques, such as installing a second layer of drywall on shared walls.
While a garage may seem like the perfect place for the mancave, think of this: where does the car go? Consider also that garage conversions usually bring down the value of your property when you decide to sell. Home buyers tend to look down on conversions, mentally calculating how much less money to offer in the transaction to cover mancave-demolition costs. On the other hand, there is a growing trend towards using garage space for storage – and not for storing the car. If you’re not going to use it for vehicle storage, the space might as well become a leisure area.
That aside, garages are great spaces for your mancave. Many garages are already minimally finished with basic drywall, receptacles, and one or two lights, though finish flooring is always lacking. One other advantage that other spaces cannot touch: the big garage door. When weather is favorable, you can swing it up and open your mancave to the world.
Walk-in closets represent the finest in the art of making do. Turning a walk-in closet into a mancave demonstrates true creativity and builder’s spirit.
The closet’s main downside is obvious: it is small, often no more than 16 square feet. But tiny can work to your advantage. For one, you have less surface area to finish, so your project cost will be greatly reduced. This means you can upgrade the quality of your materials by using real hardwood veneer panels, architectural stone, solid hardwood flooring, or textured wall panels.
Attics are not “upper-level basements.” There is a reason basement finishing is a billion-dollar industry, yet few companies take on attic finishing: they are difficult to work with.
Sub-flooring must be built on open joists, and often those joists require additional support to accommodate the increased dead and live loads of your mancave. Also, there is the small matter of those slanted walls. While you cannot entirely eliminate them, you can mitigate their effect by building short kneewalls around the perimeter to disguise the low, acute-angle areas where the roof meets the floor.
Laying It All Out
The best-case scenario: you have a large finished basement. All essential services – electrical, plumbing, heating/cooling – are in place, freeing your inner designer to create the fantastic mancave of your dreams. Second-best: you have a large basement (not a crawlspace) with a poured concrete floor. Begin your layout by prioritizing key areas that define this as a fun place to hang out. Two must-haves for many homeowners: a wet bar and a media area for your TV or video projector screen.
For many, these two items “make” the mancave. But why not add extra areas?
- Game area, with billiards or ping pong tables
- Two or three rad, retro ’80s video game consoles, like Pac Man
- Ballet barre running along a wall with floor-to-ceiling mirrors
- Studio area for throwing pottery on a wheel
- Sunny spot next to a window for setting up a desk and writing that great novel
Building Your Entertainment Empire
No mancave is complete without entertainment. In the past, mancaves could get by with a single cable TV jack. Today, the rulebook is different. 4
You might already be familiar with TV cables, like Monster Cable. Running one of these through walls is non-compliant with building codes. It would be would be akin to running electrical extension cords through your walls.
You will need premium bulk cable from a specialty cable maker that is approved for in-wall applications.
Projectors, flat-panel TVs, and other video displays will require 5 RG-59 cables, which can all be bundled within the same protective jacket. RG-59s are common, cheap, and easily obtainable coaxial cables.
Digital Visual Interface (DVI), Firewire, and HDMI cables cannot be run directly through the walls. You will need to run them through a 2″ flexible conduit from the media equipment to the projector.
Wet Bar: More Than Cocktail Shakers and Kegs
A wet bar means that, in addition to the bar top where you serve food and drinks, you have a separate, fully plumbed area – water supply, sink, and drainage – plus an electric outlet for a mini fridge and one or two outlets along the counter.
To make a wet bar, think in two stages: first, the wet work area that has the sink and outlets, and second, the dry bar area (no sink, no outlets) for serving the food and drinks and for socializing.
What About Electrical and Plumbing?
Unless you are handy with plumbing and electrical systems, you may want to call in professionals for this part of the job.
If you decide to do it yourself, you will need to be a detective and find ready sources of electricity, water, and drainage. Does the space have a bathroom nearby? If so, you can break into the back of the bathroom wall and use the bathroom’s systems for the wet-bar.
Create Wet Area From a Vanity Unit
The wet area will always be placed against a wall, because that is where most plumbing and electrical systems are located.
While you could build your own sink base from scratch, it is far easier and faster to purchase an inexpensive bathroom vanity unit. RTA (ready-to-assemble) bathroom vanity cabinets, available online, are shipped flat-packed by freight or parcel post and assemble quickly with cam-lock fasteners. Standing 30″ to 36″ high, they are perfect for mixing drinks or sodas or for making simple snacks.
The reason you want bathroom cabinets, instead of kitchen cabinets, is that bath units are often paired with vanity tops (i.e., countertops) that perfectly fit the unit and often have seamless, integrated sinks. 5
“Hack” the Bar From IKEA Parts
You have more leeway in building the bar since it is considered “dry” (no sink) and has no outlets. You will not be building the bar from another vanity cabinet because vanities are too low for the “patrons” to stand next to while chatting, nibbling, and socializing.
IKEA’s familiar Billy bookcases stand at the perfect height of about 41″ and act as flexible building blocks for the bar. 6
Place the bookcases 30″ apart from each other. Then put a beech Numerar countertop from IKEA across the top and secure through the bottom with screws. The six-foot-long counter will overhang the bookshelves on each side by about 5″.
The mancave has evolved from a dark, sports-centric dungeon to a large, lively, multi-purpose room available to everyone in the family. Yoga, crafts, writing, reading, and dance are fun activities to be enjoyed in this updated version of the mancave, as well as favorite traditional activities like billiards, ping pong, and movie-watching.
Lee Wallender began remodeling homes when he transformed a World War I-era farmhouse into a comfortable new home. He has been writing about home remodeling on About Home Renovations since 2006.