A Room of His Own

What do men want in home design? A place to relax, tinker, and enjoy solitude.


story by mary klest | Photo by susan mcconnell

“I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.” – Henry David Thoreau

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Fred Resner

When Fred Resner and his wife, Aline, built their Barrington house in 2003, they contemplated how to finish off the 3,700-foot lower level. Resner knew what he wanted: “I envisioned a space with different areas where my friends and I could relax and release.”

Resner is an insurance agent who values his family, friends, and home. “A guy needs time each day to corral his thoughts. Time to reflect, contemplate the future, and organize.” Resner gets up every morning before his wife wakes and spends time in the lower level of their house. The space has a lounge area with a big screen television and massage chair, a bar, poker room, wine cellar, and game area. “It’s the games that let me and my men friends be boys again. We spend hours playing,” he says.

A pool table, Pac Man, Atari, chess, darts, and shuffleboard invite whomever enters the room to take part and enjoy. A tabletop unfolds to reveal a roulette wheel and other casino-type games. Resner says the number one draw for his friends is the pool table followed by shuffleboard and poker. “Guys can be guys, out of the sight of women,” he says. One of the guys Resner likes hanging out with is his son-in-law, Mike Chapman, who lives in Inverness. “I enjoy the games, playing cards, and having our family gatherings here,” says Chapman. He is building a similar room at his home. “It will be my get-away,” says the father of two small children.

With the help of his wife and an architect, Resner got the space he sought. “He has time to relax, pursue his interests, and entertain friends,” says his wife. “I’ll do what I want upstairs. It actually improves the time when we are together.” This sentiment is shared by many of the wives whose husbands have created a “man cave” or spot for themselves in their home.

A thoughtful person, Resner ruminates about the nature of men. “We are protectors. We are here to make sure everyone is safe. That we don’t lose the house or the business,” he says. His lower level room is not about boundaries or boasting. It’s about balance. Resner is holding on to something he feels is fading in popular culture—male camaraderie.

“When does a man most feel like a man?”

“When he is listened to.”

Do you wish someone would rescue and protect you?

“No. I don’t need that,” he says.

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Ed Wichman

Ed Wichman’s father and grandfather were Barrington businessmen who worked with their hands. They appreciated good tools. Ed Wichman does too. A retired Industrial Arts high school teacher, Wichman created a unique space in his downtown Barrington garage. Like a handyman museum with all the comforts of home, it salutes the craftsmen who made these tools, the tools’ history, and their continued practical use. Wichman built a 2,400-foot addition to his house in 1993 with the tools he had on hand.

In his workspace, Wichman insulated the walls. He added lighting, a ceiling fan, a heater, and TV. In another of the three stalls, a Model T Ford bought by his father in 1954 stands ready. “I like restoring cars, even back when I was in high school,” he says. He jokes about tinkering in the garage: “I spend a lot of time sorting screws.” Linda, his wife, laughs knowingly.

When Wichman enters his garage, a special feeling comes over him. “I’m independent. I can do what I want to do.” What he likes is to build things. With wood, he crafted his own kitchen cabinets. He constructs birdhouses, feeders, and pens. Inside his garage he’s got a welding machine and lathe he employs for his projects. “I’m happy when using these tools,” he says.

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Garo Kholamian

Drive through the streets of the Barrington area and you will see more outbuildings, barns, and sheds than in other Chicago Suburb. Some contain music studios, offices, or workshops—but often, this is where tractors, tools, machines, and off-street cars rest waiting for their owner’s dedicated attention.

For a long while, Garo Kholamian aspired to design and build a structure. He studied architecture in college and owns GK Development in downtown Barrington. “I wanted a space that could be used as a workshop, a potting shed, and for storage,” he says. Kholamian first looked for an area in the house, but there wasn’t any. He explored building an addition and expanding the garage. “Ultimately, a separate building seemed better,” he concluded. “I wouldn’t disrupt our home, and I can take my time building it.” The cedar walls and shake roof complement the Arts and Crafts style of the main house.

After several months of manual labor, Kholamian’s workshop is nearly complete. “It’s a nice contrast to my day job where results take a very long time. Construction takes a lot of concentration and effort, but I see the outcome right away.” The loft, cathedral ceiling, and window frames are made with repurposed pinewood from a forest in Canada. His decision to add a loft makes the interior appear bigger and gives him the storage space he needs.

His three boys helped. “Construction is certainly not their passion right now. But I think it will provide a great memory for their future to see how you can accomplish things yourself,” he says.

Wife Nancy, recalls the excitement when the windows were framed. “We were so happy to see the view,” she says. Nancy appreciates all the attention that her husband gave to the details and design of the building. After all, it does include space for her much-wanted welding machine and plasma cutter.

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Create Your Own Space

A dedicated space for the man of the house is an ongoing trend, says custom homebuilder and remodeler Patrick A. Finn. Key considerations for creating such a space are budget and available space. “Some men know exactly what they want especially when it comes to TVs, sound systems and chairs. Some leave the decisions about color, fabrics, and finishes to the lady of the house,” he says.

Finn is also seeing a trend away from having a dedicated office space in the home. “With laptops providing portability, people can set up and work anywhere in the house.” The mix of work and pleasure makes sense for the man who wants to be comfortable and productive.

Most of the man spaces Finn designs are located in the lower level of the house. “Some guys want it decked out just so. They want LED lighting, a bar, and customized features. It’s individualized to reflect who they are and what they enjoy.” That said, he knows of a lawyer who makes cabinets in his garage and Barrington Hills executives who fix their tractors in outbuildings. “Each of them puts their own spin on it,” he says.

Here are some things to consider when creating a space to call your own:

  • Is the space big enough? Measure and assess the space before diving in. In many homes the basement, attic, and garage are underused. Check the ceiling height in whatever area you are considering.
  • How will it be used? A game room, gym, or home theatre will require different materials and design approaches.
  • What’s your budget? Prioritize how you will spend your money. The space may be a simple do-it-yourselfer or custom-designed by a professional.
  • Will the space need new wiring, outlets, a fuse box, plumbing, insulation, HVAC, flooring, a security system, or windows with a view?
  • Will it be a themed room? Consider how collections will be displayed and organized. A theme is used to express what inspires, what’s fun, or relaxing.

A first step is to clear out the existing area. Relocate, store, or get rid of whatever is currently there. You will have a clean canvas to create your own space. Enjoy!