Decorating for the Male Living Space

One of my favorite Reddit subreddits is /r/malelivingspace. Perhaps it’s cultural, or maybe genetics, but there is something unique about a living space as created by a male. When it’s good, it can be modern and minimalistic (and beautiful) more often than not, it’s a “trainwreck”. Sometimes it’s hard for us to get out of the “just put all the shit that I like out and it will look good” mentality. As men, we rarely elevate our living area beyond “college dorm room chic”.

It’s not surprising. Living alone we are left to our own devices. Many women tend to instinctively bring color and life to their residence. Most men don’t have this touch (or are too afraid of appearing to have that touch). Evidence of this is the constant requests for decorating ideas on Reddit. The plight of the single male “How do I improve my room?”

I’m no expert, but as a DIYer that is constantly looking for ways to improve my space, I’ve spent countless hours designing, building, painting and decorating my living area over the years.

Color

As a male, we usually eschew color. We like our grays. There is nothing inheritly wrong with gray. It’s safe and it works a lot of the time, but it’s also cold and lifeless. A great color when used selectively, but overpowering when used to excess. The fantasy of gray works better than the reality.

Color is vital to creating an inviting, human space. Men can’t be afraid of (a little) color.

Paint

Painting is a pain, but paint on the walls can do wonders for your environment. It’s investment, not just paint, but all the materials you’ll need to apply the paint to your walls. It’s a worthwhile investment though.

Rule Number One : Color, in a large area is going to look and feel darker than it does on that little paint chip (those cards that you get from the paint shop with color samples on it). When you think you have a color that you like choose the paint color two shades lighter to get the same effect on your walls.

Your walls should be bright. Walls reflect the light around them. Even the most colorful dark walls can transform your room into a dungeon (this is a bad thing). Be careful with saturated (more intense) color. Walls are not the focal point of a room, and as cool as it might be to paint your walls some wild color, do you really want the walls to compete with everything else?

Less is more when it comes to your walls. Be subtle, but don’t be afraid of color.

Color Temperature

Color has a visual temperature and humans subconsiously respond to that temperature. The temperature of color is something you should consider especially when painting, but even when making other decisions. Blue is a colder color. Reds and oranges are warm. It has been proven that warm colors tend to make people happier, and cold colors tend to depress people. That’s not to say that you should shy away from cold colors (remember that your walls are a backdrop, so what you layer on top of walls is important too).

If you’re confused about color choice, you should try to try to keep your walls as white as possible with a hint of a color you like that fits your personailty.

Up Your Paint Game

There are surfaces in your room(s) that can be painted that are not your walls. Trim around doors, windows, and baseboard trim can (and should) be painted. It’s safe to paint these surfaces white, but painting them a complementary color can up your paint game.

This is your chance to choose a color from you paint chip that is a little lighter (or darker) and paint your trim. Or maybe choose a different color!

Light

Light is incredibly important in your living space. You can never have enough light (it is easy enough to turn off lights). If you don’t have built-in light fixtures, you should make sure you have ample standing lamps to properly illuminate your room (Ikea has their “NOT” lamps for $20 each).

Light is best when it’s indirect. It may be hard to avoid indirect sunlight (more on this in a bit), but you should try to avoid light fixtures that cast direct light on your environment.

Lamps with lamp shades, or sconces or torch lamps that bounce light off the ceiling (or walls) is going to be much more pleasant than the harsh light from that direct light bulb. Multiple, soft light sources are going to create the best environment.

Match your light bulbs too. Manufacturers make bulbs in different color temperatures. Daylight bulbs can be harsh with a blue-white color. I personally prefer soft white bulbs which have an orange-white color. Whichever you prefer, make sure that all of your bulbs have a similar color temperature.

Dark

Although light is important to your atmosphere, there will be times that you want darkness. Dark shouldn’t be your natural state, but having the option to remove light can be beneficial (watching a movie, or creating a romantic atmosphere).

It’s simple to think that you can just put up a set of blinds and be done with a window. Windows require some design effort as well.

For the most part, blinds are function without any form (it does the job, but not beautifully). If you don’t already have blind on your window(s) be aware that blind choice is important. Color, material, and style are all important considerations. In general, I would say you buy whatever blind makes sense for you because a blind should be functional.

Once you have blind (or decide not to use blinds), you should consider window treatments (curtains and perhaps valances). This is where you can add some of those more intense colors (or even patterns) that you avoided in painting your walls.

Window treatments give your windows a more finished look. It softens your room and gives it more color.

Art

A room feels empty without art on the walls. A blank wall feels unfinished. You need to fill that space with art.

Posters

Unless there’s some intrinsic value to a poster, you should be getting rid of any artwork that is poster sized. Posters are difficult (or expensive) to hang correctly. Frankly, there’s nothing that screams “man cave” like sports or movie posters.

Rule Number Two: If you can’t hang your artwork on a nail or picture hanger, it doesn’t go on the wall. In other words, most of your artwork should be framed. Most of your framed artwork should have glass (not plastic), and include a mat.

Framing artwork is expensive. It’s more expensive than you think. You probably don’t want to spend the money to frame anything that doesn’t have value to you. Framing a movie poster will cost you hundreds of dollars (to do it right). A smaller 8x10 piece of art may cost $50-$75 to have framed.

You can easily frame artwork yourself as long as it’s a standard size (5x7, 8x10). If you have an oddly sized piece of artwork it may be harder to find a frame. Craft stores will typically have precut mats that fit a frame (so you can find mat precut with a 5x7 opening that fit within an 8x10 frame). Many frames come with a white mat.

Larger pieces of artwork can be difficult to frame yourself. Usually the frames will be thin plexiglass fronts with cheap frame components. The plexiglass will bend and it will never look right. I’ve never seen a cheap way to frame artwork 24"x36" that is worthy for hanging on your wall. At best, you end up with something barely any better than four thumbtacks in the corners.

There are inexpensive options as an alternative to framing. Stretched canvas artwork can be less expensive, but still has the depth to make it look good. This is an especially good option for reproductions of artwork that were originally oil or acrylic paint.

If you just need to fill space, you’re better off visiting stores like Marshalls, Michaels, Joann Fabrics, or a varitey of other stores to find pre-framed artwork. Buy inexpensive pieces to fill the walls of the rooms that are most public, and as you replace the art with pieces you love, move the inexpensive art to the less traveled areas of your living space.

If you’re willing to spend a little more money (or if you’re looking for something more specific), there are a variety of online stores that sell framed artwork at a reasonable cost.

Accessories

Rule Number Three: Buy at least one plant for each public room of your living space. Try to buy bigger plants that act as room accessories and not small nick-knack plants. Put your plants into real pots (not plastic).

If you don’t have a green thumb, you can always consider buying fake plants.

Nick knacks

As a guy you’re going to have those nick knacky things that define your personality. Comic books, Legos, sports memorabilia, etc. We think this stuff is cool (I just got an awesome Melinium Falcon Lego set myself). These are the things that define you, but these are also the things that can make your space look cluttered.

If you want to display these items in your public area, create a small area and put your favorite items there. Put the rest away somewhere else. Don’t overpopulate this area, instead choose a few items to highlight to your guests.

Books, Pillows, and Chairs (oh my)

Now that we’ve gotten rid of most of the stuff that makes you unique, I’m going to suggest that you find generic objects to use as design elements to fill in the rest of the space. This includes things like books for shelves, pillows for chairs and your couch (or bed if you’re just decorating your bedroom).

These items should create pleasant contrast in your room and help create a pleasing space for anyone who might walk into your room(s). This is another opportunity to play with color.

Storage

You don’t need to display your movies, music, video games, tropies etc (the only exception may be certain books). Hide these things away if they take up a significant amount of space. These aren’t design elements any more than your dishes or your tools are design elements (there are always exceptions to the rules).

Shops like Ikea carry bookcases with solid doors and other storage solutions. The added benefit of storage that can be hidden away is that you don’t have to worry about dust and cleaning these things. Things can’t be ruined or broken if they’re hidden away.

Cleaning

Many people struggle with cleaning their space (myself included). It’s one of those activites that doesn’t actually produce anything (the least of which is “enjoyment”).

Reduction

We aquire a lot of stuff in our lifetime. Sometimes we need to ask the question “will I miss this?” Are there things you can get rid of that will simplify your living area?

Picking Up

Although cleaning (dusting, vacuuming, wiping, etc.) is important, that’s not usually what a guest is going to notice. Clutter is an eyesore, and something that is easy to fix if you can commit yourself to combating it.

Picking up is easy, and it’s super quick as long as you do it often enough. It doesn’t take longer than 30 minutes a week to pick up your living space, you just have to commit to doing it (maybe on Thursday night, before the weekend in case you have guests coming over).

Weekly Cleanup

Empty ALL of your garbage cans and change the sheets on your bed at least weekly.

If you’re a single guy I’ve discovered that the bathroom doesn’t need to be cleaned weekly, in fact I don’t even start to see evidence of the shower/toilet/sink needing to be cleaned until week three.

Just put your weekly cleanup items on your calendar and stick to it.

Look at your space

Sometimes it’s easy to become adjusted to the way your space looks. Once a month you should stand at the doorway and look at your room(s). How cluttered/messy is this room? If this were someone else’s space, how would you change it? If you were someone else, how do you think they’d change it?

Just Hire Someone

I’m not someone who cleans with a degree of skill. It’s probably because I don’t really care enough. For $100 (or so) every other week, you could just hire someone to clean your living space.

You can also hire someone to wash your clothes, and do things like change your sheets, etc. It all comes down to how much you’re willing to do.