Picture the home of a single man living alone. In your mind, what does it look like?
If you imagined a place strewn with pizza boxes and beer bottles, and not much by way of décor unless you count computers and giant TV screens, well, I’m saddened but not surprised. That’s one of the stereotypes.
What do we know about the actual living spaces of single men with places of their own? Whatever is out there, it is not enough.
That was my take-away from an article by Joanna Scutts, “The invention of the bachelor pad,” in a terrific special issue of Curbed on living alone. Some of the key templates for single men’s places seem to come from fiction (The Great Gatsyby), movies (James Bond films, Rock Hudson’s apartment in Pillow Talk), or fantasy (Playboy magazine), rather than the homes of real single men. Hugh Heffner was a real person who had an actual playboy mansion, but in the heyday of Playboy magazine in the 50s and early 60s, very few single men had places of their own, much less mansions.
Here are a few of the questions I would like answered.
What do the actual homes of single men look like?
I’d like to see someone do a systematic study, observing and analyzing a representative sample of the homes of single men of all different backgrounds and all different places. Or, start with one place, but explore it thoroughly.
What kinds of images of men’s homes are presented in men’s magazines?
I don’t want someone to just flip through a few issues of a few magazines and report their impressions. I’d like to see a careful study.
What would single men like their homes to look like?
One problem with looking at the existing homes of single men is that they are constrained by the available images and narratives. For example, as Scutts pointed out:
“Designer Orlando Soria’s HGTV show Unspouse My House is one of a tiny number of shows on the juggernaut home-design network ever to focus on single people, despite their increasing demographic dominance.”
Only two of the episodes focused on men, and as the title suggests, they were men who were “unspoused” by a divorce or break-up, not men who had always been single.
I’d like to see someone generate a wide range of different kinds of living spaces and interior designs, and do a study in which single men rate the appeal of each of them. (As a social scientist, I’d want to see comparison groups. How do the preferences of single men compare to those of single women? Does it matter if they were newly single after a divorce or widowhood or had always been single?)
Joanna Scutts described Rock Hudson’s apartment in Pillow Talk as a “minimalist pad…full of ‘masculine’ design cues still popular today: dark colors, wood, exposed brick, leather, artwork featuring hunting scenes…” Is that what large numbers of single men would want if their imaginations were stirred by lots of other possibilities?
Would they embrace another popular stereotype – the man cave, “a space for a man to play video games, relax, drink, watch sports, and hang out with his (male) friends”?
“Today’s aspirational single-guy apartment,” Scutts suggests, “seems to resemble a sterile, upscale hotel.” Offered a plentiful and creative array of alternatives, as portrayed in magazines ranging from Dwell to Architectural Digest, would single men still favor the ones resembling sterile, upscale hotels? (And what is the demographic profile of the readers of those magazines? How many single men are already subscribing?)
Just about every new year brings a new record number of single men. More of them than ever before are likely to stay single for life. Even those who do eventually marry will take longer to get there than men have for generations. Then, many will become single again, either by divorce or widowed.
Not all single men live alone, but many will do so for a good, long time. Shouldn’t we all start taking their homes more seriously?