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Making the most of 'manspace'

Once, a man's home was his castle. These days, he's lucky if he gets a corner of the garage to call his own.

"Women typically have control of the house," says Sam Martin, author of the new book Manspace: A Primal Guide to Marking Your Territory (Taunton Press, $24.95). "And the guy's stuff gets pushed into some closet or relegated to a bedside table."

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But as Martin's book documents, some men push back. Flip through the chapters and you'll find an amateur astronomer's private observatory, a Japan buff's rustic teahouse, a hunter's collection of more than 300 taxidermy specimens. And plenty of places to serve and drink beer.

After building a manspace himself -- a 165-square-foot shed he assembled with a circular saw and a hammer -- Martin began hearing about other guys and their places. "I discovered that it's a very common thing for guys to have a space of their own," he says. "But a lot of guys with their own spaces think they're the only one." Which certainly isn't true.

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Here are just a few:

Mario's basement

He's widely considered the greatest race-car driver who ever lived. But even Mario Andretti can't outrace his stuff. "Before this house," says Andretti of the memorabilia displayed in his Nazareth, Pa., home's basement barroom, "most of this was packed in a closet."

And what stuff it is: the keepsakes of a champion, neatly arranged on the walls, in cabinets and in niches set into the room's expansive bar.

Awards and plaques, citations from grateful charities, medals and championship rings, keys to enough cities to start his own state. A coffee table made from the Ford-Cosworth engine he drove in his very last race. A pinball machine bearing his name and likeness. A joke speeding ticket from the Long Beach, Calif., Police Department (for exceeding 170 mph). A letter from President Richard Nixon, congratulating Andretti on winning the Indy 500.

Yet Andretti's manspace is neither museum nor trophy room (his 400-plus racing trophies are displayed elsewhere). The bar, pool table and wall-mounted TV sets make it a place to hang out with friends and family, watch sports and share the stories his mementos bring to mind.

"Sometimes even I'm surprised when I remember what a certain thing is or where it came from," Andretti says.

Tellingly, gifts from fans -- paintings, drawings, a clock featuring models of the cars he has driven -- share the walls with racing awards and other records of his career milestones. "They're not arranged in any order," he says. "It's like life. Some days are more interesting than others, but they're all important."

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Loren's Motorplatz

Loren Hulber's 120-acre historic farm in Lehigh County, Pa., includes woodland, corn and soybean fields, orchards, beehives, organic gardens -- and a stone and wood carriage house containing one unforgettable manspace. The restored 1928 Texaco gas pump standing near the door offers a clue to what's inside: seven classic, perfectly restored automobiles that gleam like giant Matchbox cars just taken out of the box.

"I wanted a place to enjoy all the cars together," Hulber says. For first-time visitors, it's hard to know which car to gawk at first: perhaps the 1955 Porsche Spyder, silver with red interior, the same model that brought James Dean to his untimely fate. Or maybe the 1932 Deuce Roadster, the definitive hot rod. Or possibly you would be drawn to the multiple trophy-winning 1965 GTO, which could probably fit one of the other cars under its hood.

Hulber is used to the gaping of glassy-eyed visitors. "I like showing the space," he says, "and I enjoy seeing others enjoy it." He and his wife, Jody, often host charity fundraisers at "Motorplatz," as they call the carriage house and the space around it. Less formally, Hulber likes inviting his car-loving buddies to stop by. "It's a place to gather, talk and work on cars," Hulber says. "Sometimes a bunch of guys will come over in the morning and we'll go for drives -- you can really appreciate the cars when they're on the road."

Bill's Bike Shop

When Bill Strickland met his manspace, it was love at first sight. "Basically, it's the reason we bought the house," says Strickland, executive editor of Bicycling magazine. "I knew right away it would be a cool space to work on bikes."

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The small, heated, one-car garage includes a ventilation fan and a sink, perfect for washing grease off tools, fingers or bike parts. After adding a tool board and some shelving, Strickland had the pro-level bike shop he had always dreamed of -- without the headaches and hassles of operating an actual bike-repair business.

A dozen or so bikes in various states of repair and maintenance hang from the ceiling of Strickland's bike shop; in a dedicated manspace it's no problem to leave projects unfinished and come back to them later. An espresso machine stands ready to fuel up pokey cyclists. When it's time to ride, the garage door makes it easy to roll out.

"When I plan rides with friends, we usually meet here so I can work on their bikes first," Strickland says. He doesn't seem to mind. In fact, he hosts a weekly nighttime bike race around his Emmaus, Pa., homestead.

Rick Chillot writes for (The Allentown, Pa.) Morning Call.

HOW TO MAKE A MANSPACE

Guys -- want a place to call your own, but not sure how to wrest it from the rest of the family? Successful manspacers suggest these strategies:

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Make a trade-off -- Offering to move your junk out of plain sight is perhaps the most common space-claiming tactic, says Sam Martin, author of Manspace: A Primal Guide to Marking Your Territory. "Usually your significant other is more than happy to agree to that," he notes. You want a proper setting for your collection of 15th-century Swedish halberds. She wants a ban on medieval weaponry throughout the rest of the house. Problem solved.

Claim it will save your marriage -- Won't the two of you get along better if she's free to work on her needlepoint without the distraction of you forging horseshoes on your home-blacksmith anvil? "I think it's important that you share some interests but also each have interests of your own," says Loren Hulber, who admires his wife's organic greenhouse (when he walks past on the way to his collection of restored vintage sports cars).

Choose the room nobody wants -- "When we moved to this house," says Neil Hever of his Allentown, Pa., manspace, "the room had electrical wires hanging from the ceiling." That, plus its small size and A-shaped frame rendered the space unappealing for any conventional use. But with some drywall, rewiring and added shelves, it became a perfect showcase for Hever's military collection. Not confident of your fix-up skills? Check out the free seminars offered by many hardware stores and home improvement centers.

Make yourself useful -- "I don't worry that he spends too much time there," says Beth Strickland of husband Bill's home bike shop. "If anything, he should spend more time there, working on my bike." If your proposed domain will feature any kind of work space, talk up the potential benefits. Maybe a home office will enable you to write that best-selling novel. And if the desktop doubles as a bar for you and your buddies, what better way to get the creative juices flowing?

Be patient -- Some homes just don't have room for a manspace. But keep the option on the table, Martin says. "A lot of guys have to share space in a laundry room or garage. But they'll make an agreement with their wives that when it comes time to move, the new house will have a place for their stuff."

[RICK CHILLOT]


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