It’s a man’s world

Clayton resident Audie Cerow’s man cave. He built the personal space, outfitted with Toronto Maple Leaf’s regalia, about 10 years ago when he finished the top story of the garage on his secluded waterfront property in the Windward Cliffs neighborhood. Photo by Amanda Morrison/ NNY Business

Some go all out when creating personal retreats

The first rule of the man cave: it can’t be too clean.

“Man and cave. What’s clean about either of those two words?” Clayton resident Audie Cerow asked on a recent tour of his man cave. “There’s nothing wrong with a little dirt.”

For the uninitiated, man caves are some variation of garage, spare bedroom, den or basement, specially equipped with stereos, large TVs, video games and other entertainment deemed manly and, quite often, capable of impressing friends and guests one might invite to it for parties.

Mr. Cerow’s man cave, which he decided to build about 10 years ago when he made the decision to finish the top story of the garage on his secluded waterfront property in the wooded Windward Cliffs, appears at first glance to violate the first rule — it’s neatly organized down to folded blankets on the couches and nearly immaculate.

Mr. Cerow disagrees, pointing out barely noticeable cobwebs that hang from the rafters of the roughly 600-square-foot sanctuary, which has a loft with a bed and full-bathroom.

“My wife doesn’t clean up here,” he says. “It’s mine.” If she did, the space would look different in subtle, yet, in his view, important ways. “The pictures would be hung differently,” for example, he says. It might look too much like the house, and that would defeat what the man cave stands for: escape, refuge, indulgence in masculine hobbies free from what can be the prying or judgmental eyes of women.

Exclusivity might be the second rule of the man cave. Mr. Cerow’s wife and two grown daughters all do, in fact, come up to the man cave for specific events or parties.

“Women aren’t discouraged, but it’s definitely more of a man cave than a woman’s cave,” he explains.

That’s where the “refuge” function comes in.

“She enjoys that I can come up here if I’m bothering her,” Mr. Cerow says when asked if his wife had any objections to the cave. The house can feel much more like her space at times, so the cave is “a place to go if she nags; she mostly stays away,” he says.

And, of course, it’s a place to relax.

“It takes you away from regular life,” Mr. Cerow said. “It’s nice to put your feet up, crank up the music and just be in your own space.”

Despite speaking of his man cave with a certain hushed reverence, Mr. Cerow says he doesn’t spend “nearly enough” time reveling in its amenities, which are substantial: flat screen TV, stereo system, bar (cold beer is vital to the man cave, he notes), vintage shuffleboard bowling, two couches, wood stove, various games. He estimates that he only spends four to five hours a month inside it.

But it’s not the amenities that make the cave what it is. Mr. Cerow describes himself in three words: laid back, devoted and fanatical for hockey. The cave, as most man caves do, reflects to a tee these characteristics, most notably with its huge repository of memorabilia of Mr. Cerow’s team — the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The first object that greets a visitor to the cave is a coat rack made from intertwined hockey sticks. The walls are lined with Maple Leaf photographs, each of which has its own story, one of which shows Mr. Cerow at a dinner celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup — one of the highlights of his life because “all of my heroes were there,” he says. The TV is perpetually set to a game. And there’s Mr.

Cerow’s most treasured object in the cave: a complete set of tickets from the 2004-05 season, all unused because of the lockout.

“The space itself is one thing. The theme and the things in it are what make it,” Mr. Cerow explains, adding that other Maple Leaf fans would be “dazzled” by his collection.

He acknowledges that this ability to impress through his immediately apparent devotion to the Leafs is part of the cave’s function.

“I do like bringing people up here,” he says. “I feel like I have a story to tell.”

He also says the space is pretty unique among his friends, who appreciate being able to use it. His other competition comes from the so-called “BartInn” in Clayton, a man cave in a garage boasting three TVs and a more “rustic feel,” Mr. Cerow says. The BartInn has a different theme, however. They’re more into NASCAR and hold a big Super Bowl party each year, so despite what he calls a “friendly rivalry,” Mr. Cerow’s Maple Leaf niche has pretty safely inoculated him from home-turf competition.

And all of this didn’t come with too daunting a price tag, he says. In part because his brother-in-law was out of work at the time and helped with construction, Mr. Cerow says it was “pretty affordable,” putting the price tag at about $10,000.

Mr. Cerow recently had a new Sonos sound system consisting of two new speakers installed in his house, enabling sound to be controlled wirelessly from any location using an iPad. The system will be used to control sound in the man cave, according to Dan Throop of River Audio, who did the installation and opened a new store in Clayton in June.

“The beauty is that you can pick up the speakers and install them wherever you want, you just plug them in and you’re done,” Mr. Throop said.

The Sonos technology is not new, but is just becoming known in the north country, Mr. Throop said. While he has not yet completed any installations in man caves, Mr. Throop said he could “certainly see it catching on in” in these spaces.

Rob Murphy, store manager of Installations Unlimited, North Syracuse, said that he’s been hearing the term man cave used less and less in recent years.

“We used to do a lot of bar and basement installations, but that’s kind of tapered off,” Mr. Murphy said. “We’re seeing a trend in people wanting a place for the family to get together and entertain.”

Within the last two years, Installations Unlimited has seen the demand for remodeling basements and dens to “give men their own kind of place” give way to demand for remodeling outdoor spaces like patios, backyards and sunrooms. This can include installations of items like planter or rock speakers with wireless controls.

“Customers want to be able to control music from the pool area,” he said.

In terms of revenue for Installations Unlimited, Mr. Murphy said outdoor installations are a “similar scope of work and product” as man cave installations. He also said the amount that most clients spend ranges widely, typically anywhere from $2,500 to $8,000.

Bobby Ferris, owner of Big Apple Music, Watertown, agreed that the idea of man caves is more family-oriented now, typically something like a family home theater room with projection TVs.

“It’s not just a place where men go to get away, now it’s a place where the family goes to get away,” Mr. Ferris said. “It’s an extension of the home now. Women are enjoying it, too.”

Mr. Ferris said that in the past year, his store has only installed one man cave that was intended to be used as a man’s exclusive place. He said Big Apple typically outfits about 10 to 12 rooms along the lines of the more family-oriented man cave per year, a “decent part of his business.” The costs of these rooms can vary greatly, anywhere from $2,500 to $100,000, depending on the space and what people want, according to Mr. Ferris.

“My impression of a man cave is basically whatever someone wants to make it personalized,” he said, adding that the man cave is usually outfitted with the amenities a man wants, sort of as an allowance from the woman to give the man his space, but later becoming the more family-oriented place.

“It’s like a billiard room — the focus is on what the man wants. When you personalize a room, it becomes more of a man cave,” he said.

Big Apple installs 80 percent of the merchandise it sells and makes free visits to homes to advise people on the best equipment to suit their needs and space, Mr. Ferris said.

“They all know what they like to do, but they don’t know how to get it done,” he said.

Mr. Ferris also said that he saw a spike in the family-room type man cave during the recession, in part because families found it more feasible to spend around $4,000 on a home theater room that they could enjoy repeatedly, rather than on a much more expensive one-time vacation.

“I did notice that when things got tougher, people spent more money on their homes,” he said.

With the economy now seeming to improve, Mr. Ferris said he has been starting to see more demand for audio systems in cars and boats.

“People are traveling again,” he said.

Leah Buletti is a staff writer for NNY Magazines. Contact her at 661-2381 or