Welcome to the man cave

Scott Morgan's Man Shed outside his Edgartown home boasts a TV outside in addition to sports, Star Trek, and political memorabilia. — Photo by Eleni Collins

Man caves have been around for a long time.

Andrew Carnegie had one, so did Mark Twain. You could argue that Thoreau’s cabin in Concord was a man cave — a place designed by males to be used by males. Unlike Thoreau’s place, however, man caves now are designed as places to play games, watch games, hang out, and, you know, do stuff.

Man caves have changed over the years. Teddy Roosevelt’s was adorned with heads of dead animals. Today you’re more likely to see 60-inch plasma TVs as the room’s trophy headliner.

What you’re unlikely to see these days is an old couch sprouting its stuffing in front of a prehistoric TV with a coat hanger aerial and a cement floor littered with empties and chip bags. That’s very 80s.

The biggest man cave we’ve ever seen on the Island belongs to Dave Seward in West Tisbury. He and brother Doug filled a cavernous three-car garage years ago with auto and sports artifacts as well as family memorabilia. The collection’s diminished recently but was an Island Mecca for resident Red Sox fans.

Last week we poked around some other Island man caves of more recent vintage and found signs of evolution but the same DNA strands: sports memorabilia that makes visitors jealous, games (e.g., ping-pong, pool, blackjack), a bar, and an environment that’s easy to clean up.

What’s different is purposeful, often whimsical, masculine design. No Dresden or damask. We also did not find any “No Girls Allowed” signs. Man caves on the Island seem not to be hideouts as much as celebratory man-friendly places.

In Katama, custom builder Norman Rankow applied his considerable talents into designing his man cave. Built behind the house as a separate building, Mr. Rankow placed the 14′ by 24′ structure “between the bocce court and the pool to provide access to both.”

His man cave comes with a bathroom and a spare guest bedroom but the main cave is the showstopper. Two sets of wide doors provide catty-cornered cross-ventilation “So I can smoke a cigar without smelling the space up,” he said. A pitched cathedral ceiling is finished in narrow tongue and groove mahogany, the perfect background for the jerseys of the five 2009-2010 starting Boston Celtics players.

The floor is constructed of level finished brick. “I like this because I can just hose it off if there are spills,” he noted.

“This isn’t a men’s only place. We use it for guests and there’s Wii on the big screen for the grandkids. The women in the house are fine with it. My wife, Margaret and our daughters, Angela, Jennifer, and Melanie use it as much — well, almost as much — as I do.

“The whole family is comfortable here. It’s open to all,” he said.

“The intent is more of a social, multi-functional room but I come out often at night for a cigar. It’s a place to come and relax, smoke ’em if I got ’em, watch a game or a movie, visit the sports memorabilia. My favorite? It’s really the sum of the parts. It’s my stuff.

“It’s a little over the top but this is my business. Maybe it’s my mid-life crisis but it’s cheaper than a race car,” he added and laughed. “And these things are necessary. The bar is necessary. The big screen is necessary. And having the time that I love surrounded by friends and family is necessary,” he said.

Sports bling is wicked important in man caves. Bob Jackson points with pride to a soda and beer can dispenser, adorned with a New England Patriots logo, looming as the centerpiece in his second floor retreat called Man Town.

He’s also proud of his 60-inch flat screen, though he admits he liked it more before its computer was crisped by lightning this summer. With the Patriots’ season just beginning, a replacement’s on the way.

Mr. Jackson has 40 years of Boston sports memorabilia on display and a framed color print of the 2000 Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School state championship hockey team for which his son Michael played. He’s got seats from the old Boston Garden and was angling for a Fenway Park men’s room trough urinal, a legend around the American League. “Jill [his wife] wouldn’t go for that,” he said while grinning.

“My wife and Callie, our daughter, like me to have my own space. It doesn’t mess up the house. But it’s also a family room. These two couches are pullouts so my daughter can have her friends over,” he said.

“This used to be my office,” he says of the room, “but I moved the office to the basement when we began this eight years ago.” Mr. Jackson operates the Plane View restaurant at the airport.

Man Town is the only place in the house in which Mr. Jackson watches sports. A Patriots season-ticket holder, he watches road games with his pals, a core group of approximately 15 men. That time is guy time.

Man caves are appealing for several reasons. “I suppose sports bars are a commercial version of man caves but they are expensive to go to and here you get to be with the people you like,” he says. Friends, including Mike Sylvia and Mick Vukota have set up their own versions of man cave heaven. “Four of the guys have them. We rotate among us now,” he said.

Mancaving on the Island as the practitioners describe it is in line with the gestalt of “Defending the Caveman,” Broadway’s longest running one-actor play ever. The play articulates the male point of view, while being sympathetic to the female side of issues. Playwright and actor Rob Becker once described “Caveman” as a vehicle for showing that “Men have emotions, but they express them differently.”

And sometimes they spill the beer while they’re doing it.