The Men's Room

Selling good design to men will make their lives (and yours) better.


The American male’s aesthetic tends to revolve around an HDTV image and a comfortable couch. Maybe that’s why 54 percent of Boston men are single. Many of our town’s bachelors—and, as the top stag city in the nation, we have a lot—fail to link their crappy pads to their dearth of dates. But guys, consider this: Your place communicates your (lack of) ambition and taste to potential mates. After all, what woman wants to partner with someone who thinks milk crates make great bookshelves?


“More than once I’ve been scared off by guys who wouldn’t even let me see their place, always insisting we go to mine,” says a single girl friend. “If a man is that embarrassed, it must be bad.” Another friend told me about a man she dated for more than a year—until he moved into a basement unit with no kitchen or heat, and a bathroom covered in rust and a “gross film.” She stayed for three nights before calling it quits. “I still get the chills thinking about him living there,” she says.

When I first met the tall, handsome man who would become my husband, he was impeccably dressed in a Paul Smith suit, Brioni tie, and French cuffs. None of this translated to his apartment, though, which was essentially a 1,000-square-foot dumpster. Not only did his home lack any discernible trace of his wardrobe’s panache, it also lacked a dirty laundry–free path from the kitchen to the bedroom. Technically, the apartment was “furnished,” but I’m not convinced a couch existed under all those clothes. (Note: At least one single male staffer at Boston magazine also lacks a sofa, and it’s not because he’s aiming for a Zen ambiance.)

I suspected this was due to a serious marketing disconnect between men and design. To prove it, I surveyed 10 major men’s magazines (that’s about 2,000 pages) and found just two ads for home design–related products and only two design–related articles (including one about a new sex-aid couch called the Liberator Wedge). So it’s no wonder most guys are design-challenged!

But how do we spread the good word? “Men are very interested in the technology behind the products we sell,” says Doug Gates, owner of Showroom, a Back Bay furniture-, closet-, and kitchen-design store. “You have to lure them with the specifics of what this can do and why it’s cooler. You show them the longevity and comfort and tell them how well their future partner will respond to their aesthetic prowess.”

In other words, men want to know how their toys will positively impact their lifestyles. Forget that the target lifestyle may involve throwing parties, scoring dates, and impressing friends. Ken Dietz, of Boston-based design firm Dietz & Associates, explains, “Men are interested in what design will allow them to do, that if the ottoman opens up, they can put their board games in it. Women talk in terms of how they want a design or a room to make them feel.”

So by appealing to men’s love of gadgets and practicality—rather than their emotions—designers can help the “looking for love” demographic start cleaning up its act. This is good news for the next generation of women. Maybe someday imagining shared space with a chosen mate won’t require Xanax-laced optimism. Even better, perhaps one day in the not-so-distant future, domestic design disturbances will involve a civilized discussion of a Tollomeo lamp’s placement—not a knock-down, drag-out my-Armani-couch-versus-your-overstuffed-grad-school-nightmare brawl.