Nearly a century ago, Virginia Woolf argued that a woman needed a room of her own. What would she say now that it's men who are demanding more than a workbench in the corner of a cluttered garage?

"Men are actively pursuing retreat spaces in their homes," said Bay Area architect Colleen Mahoney. "Creating a nice 'man cave' is a way to invest in something that they love."

Mahoney recently designed a stunning music and media room in Kentfield for a man who loves to share music with friends -- whether they are guests listening to rare recordings on state-of-the-art equipment or musicians performing an impromptu concert. An attorney, Mahoney's client is also an accomplished pianist who wanted a home addition large enough to accommodate his two grand pianos.

The high-performance media system in a Kentfield man cave includes a 103-inch roll-down screen that shows images from high definition video projector 29
The high-performance media system in a Kentfield man cave includes a 103-inch roll-down screen that shows images from high definition video projector 29 feet away. (Robert Valdes)

"He wanted to be able to play music into the wee hours of the night without disturbing the rest of the family in the main house, as well as invite musician friends over to perform or listen to music," said Mahoney about the multipurpose design.

Therefore, the acoustics needed to be concert-hall worthy. Mahoney, whose office is in Mill Valley, worked with acoustical engineer David Walsh to determine the height, width and length of the space for optimal acoustics. Then she brought in Scott Sullivan of Novato's SoundVision to create a high-performance media system, including a high-definition video projector with a custom long-throw lens that can cast images a distance of 29 feet onto a 103-inch roll-down screen at the other end of the room.

"Beyond all the technical requirements, we wanted to create a room that was both beautiful and comfortable," Mahoney said. Exquisite woodwork begins with the white oak display cabinetry and culminates in the dramatic cathedral ceiling suspended from a hidden steel frame. A neutral color palette, soft furnishings and custom lighting create a sanctuarylike feeling in this man's retreat.

By contrast, some men find comfort in a more rough-and-tumble space. Designer Robineve Cole of J. Hettinger Interiors in Danville recently created a sports-centered man cave out of an expansive attic in a grand Piedmont home. "The owner wanted a room to entertain friends and display sports memorabilia," Cole said. "But he also wanted it to have the sophisticated appeal of an upscale steakhouse."

The 1,500-square-foot room runs the entire length of the home. Walls were taken down to the studs and put back together in less than two months so the house could be part of a showcase tour (the owners paid for the renovation). A team of professionals worked round the clock to completely overhaul the space.

Designer Robineve Cole converted a 1500 square feet attic into a man’s sports refuge on the owner’s multimillion dollar home in Piedmont,
Designer Robineve Cole converted a 1500 square feet attic into a man's sports refuge on the owner's multimillion dollar home in Piedmont, Calif., on Friday, May 24, 2013. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

"Before the renovation, there was no plumbing, no air conditioning, and only three outlets in the entire space," Cole said.

Now the room features a sports bar complete with a flat-screen television at one end and a large game table/media room with an 80-inch flat-screen television on the other end. The transitional area between the spaces includes a small bathroom and two previously undiscovered decks that were revealed when storage closets were removed. Part of the front deck is taken up by a new air conditioning unit installed by way of a crane to keep the space comfortable. The back deck offers spectacular city views should the owner and friends choose to climb through a window and sit outside enjoying cigars.

"Neither the current or previous owners had any idea these decks existed," Cole said.

Wall displays include framed sports jerseys, baseball caps and other memorabilia collected by this die-hard Yankees fan. Cole used the Yankee colors of blue, gray and white as the palette for the room and provided ample seating throughout the space -- including some baseball stadium chairs flanking the window entrance to the deck. Everywhere you turn there are clever sports-themed details like the baseball diamond pendants over the sports bar, photographs of cheerleaders in the bathroom or hand-painted silhouettes of baseball players on the wall (done by Cole's daughter Francesca).

Alan Briscoe carved a personal space out of a room in his 120-year-old Victorian in San Francisco, Calif. where he relaxed Wednesday, May 29, 2013.
Alan Briscoe carved a personal space out of a room in his 120-year-old Victorian in San Francisco, Calif. where he relaxed Wednesday, May 29, 2013. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

"The owner was very involved in creating this space," Cole said. "He wanted a comfortable, fun place that was attractive but not something he'd have to worry about messing up. He wanted friends to feel comfortable hanging out there."

But what if a man isn't that interested in entertaining a crowd in his sanctuary but wants a quiet place to read and reflect? Such was the case for handyman Alan Briscoe, who was sharing an office with his wife, textile fabricator Laurel Sprigg, in their San Francisco home. Things changed when their son moved out, Sprigg moved her projects into the vacated room, and Briscoe claimed the 10-by-12-foot office as his own.

"It was the first time in our marriage that I'd had a room to myself," Briscoe said. "I decided I wanted to turn it into an office and study, and surround myself with things from my childhood."

Briscoe's father was a seasonal ranger at Yosemite National Park, which meant that Briscoe spent most summers there. Memories of those summers inspired him to choose a kilim rug for the floor, iron and weathered wood bookshelves and a print of Tenaya Lake -- one of the places he recalls from his childhood -- made from an original Ansel Adams negative to decorate the wall. Briscoe also had a Jackson Pollock poster printed on canvas, referencing his years studying art in college.

He made the desk himself out of a thick piece of claro walnut he'd obtained from fallen-tree wood salvager Glen Holsworth, choosing to leave a "live edge" on the desk in keeping with the woodsy feeling in the room. A whimsical deer antler chandelier found on eBay and a leather recliner from Bernhardt make for a comfortable reading room, while Briscoe's great grandfather's tools, used to build circus wagons for Barnum & Bailey, are displayed on the bookshelves.

"We have a media room elsewhere in the house, but I really wanted this room to be a place where I could honor family members who had passed on and gather childhood memories," Briscoe said.