Normally, I wouldn’t advise separation as a way of dealing with life, but sometimes, people just need to get away. So why not carve a personalized retreat inside your home? It can be like a mini vacation spot, social meeting place or fortress of solitude, depending on your needs. And as adaptable as it is, a good “man space” or “woman space” is always there waiting for you — this domain of awesome where you, and only you, reign.

Why your own space is important, even if you live alone

We have dedicated rooms for cooking, eating, sleeping and personal hygiene, but many decline to give themselves a “happy” space. Living rooms and family rooms don’t cut it — these are often shared places filled with other people’s tchotchkes.

Even if you live alone, you probably design these spaces for guests anyway, not yourself. Or you go completely in the other direction, tossing stuff around without much thought. (Hey, I’m not judging. I do this too, sometimes. Clutter is an epic evil, especially with lots of gadgets, cables and boxes around.)

The idea is to craft a carefully constructed area that surrounds you with the things you love or that make you feel good. It requires mindfulness to develop and care for, so even if you can’t tame your whole home, at least there’s one oasis that’s smaller and easier to maintain.

• DO decide on a purpose. If your space is a functional one, decide what the primary functions will be. My husband loves to read; I like fiddling with gadgets. Actually, I like messing with devices while I’m waiting for my toenails to dry, so I’ve got a place especially suited for pedicures and games.

To start, think about what gives you juice. Are you a gamer? Amateur photographer or artist? Aspiring filmmaker? Weekend DJ? Sports nut? The best personal spaces are built around a purpose or maybe two, tops. What you don’t want is a clustered mess of gear from various interests, all clamoring for attention. Instead of awesome, this is a recipe for a headache.

• DO pick a theme. Futuristic? Mid-century modern? Victorian era “man space,” with club chairs and bound books? Peaceful, Zen-like natural environment? If there’s a style you naturally love, go for that and do your best to stick with furniture and décor that works with this. If you’re not sure which look to go with, think about how you want to feel when you’re in there (high energy? serene? creative? etc), and consider what types of themes can deliver that for you.

• DO assess your gear. Not everyone can afford to install their own multimedia room, so that big screen TV may have to wait until you save up for it. But in the meantime, if that old tube TV is what you’re working with, a little DIY magic can do wonders. Paint it, set it on a wood table that’s been refinished, add some vintage radios and retro-looking speakers around it — whatever works for you. That goes for all of your gear. A little creativity can go a long way. You can flesh out your space little by little over time without driving yourself crazy. (A new big screen here, new audio system there, plush couch, then gaming chair, etc… You get the idea.)

• DON’T use the cave as a storage closet. Over time, there’s a natural tendency for things to pile up, especially if you’re dealing with boxes, cables and such. But the cave is not for storage. No one wants to hang out in a closet — including you — so don’t even think about stashing wayward stuff in here.

• DO curate. This is your space, so if there are objects you love, this is where you give them a spotlight. (Frankly, your spouse would probably love to get your old bowling trophy out of the living room, anyway.) So if you’re proud of that trophy or the snapshot you took in Macchu Picchu, be sure to put it on display. But make sure to curate your collection. You can’t give 40 different items their own spotlights — unless you live in a mansion.

• DON’T forget to set ground rules… Others are not to infiltrate your space when, say, the light is on, a sign is up or between certain hours. Sure, this is easier to accomplish when there’s a door to close, but if your only walls are imaginary, the ground rules are even more important.

• …But DO be gentle and understanding when talking about it. Not everyone “gets” the cave concept, and some people could take it the wrong way. So talk about what you’re doing and why, and be gentle about it. To help grease the wheels, you may even want to volunteer to help your partner make a retreat of their own too.

Of course, if you live with parents or roommates, things get trickier. Boundaries are often limited only to your own bedroom. But even then, all is not lost. Consider setting aside a clutter-free corner, if you can, one that makes it easy for you to engage in your favorite activity — whether that’s reading eBooks, gaming, or just relaxing.

When the hubby and I lived in a tiny 550-foot apartment, we managed to eek out little personal areas, and now in our bigger studio, we carried them over. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It helps us keep our sanity, which makes both of us happier in the long run.

The Cave of Awesome, TechnoBuffalo-style

I asked a few TechnoBuffalinos about what gear they’d equip their personal caves with, and here’s what they told me:

Jon Rettinger
Gaming it out

  1. Samsung 8000 series 55″ LED TV
  2. Mac Mini (for streaming content)
  3. Xbox 360
  4. PS3 (for games plus Blu-Ray)
  5. x Rocker Pro Series Pedestal Black Video Gaming Chair (pictured above)

Jon Quach
Engineering some sweet audio

  1. Maxed out 27″ iMac
  2. Behringer Xenyx X1204 USB (for audio engineering, i.e. voiceovers, podcasts, livestreams, etc…)
  3. M-Audio Monitors — haven’t decided on which. (Again for audio engineering — I like good sound)
  4. Air conditioning unit!
  5. “I just got my super ballin’ Herman Miller Aeron chair today, so I’m good as far as ergonomic seating goes,” but maybe a set of IKEA furniture to jazz up the space.

Noah Kravitz
Geeking out for multimedia AND
retro style

  1. Lighting: Cortina lamp from Pablo diffuses light, works on a dimmer and can set any mood. (“I actually have one of these, but I need to get it fixed.”)
  2. TV: Samsung D7000 or D8000 TV (the new 2011 models). Sammy’s new flat panels have a “borderless” design that’s super duper sexy in person, and makes for a smaller footprint. The 46″ D7000 sells for around $1750.
  3. Console: Xbox 360 with Kinect
  4. Music System: A surround sound system built around the old DCM TimeFrame speakers. (“My man cave would be filled with nostalgic goodness — TimeFrames would fill that need, for sure.”) Used ones are cheap, and they sound good. Or a Sonos S5. For $400, this one-piece wireless music system controllable via smartphone or laptop sounds great and doesn’t take up too much space. It also plays music from a connected drive and supports inexpensive music subscription services.
  5. Furniture: Mid-century modern looks and coddling armchair design of the Eero Saarinen Womb Chair & Ottoman goes for nearly $3,000 dollars from Knoll. But this knock-off brings the price down to a more reasonable $500 or so.

What gear would you pick for your cave of awesome? Tell us about your dream space below.