Sex appeal: Design preferences vary between men, women

For years I’ve said that my best clients are often bachelors or newly divorced middle-aged men. For those of you who don’t understand this thinking on my part, the reasons are really quite simple. Often men in these categories have more disposable income and are out to please one person and one person only — themselves.

Designing for this kind of male client is all about masculinity involving solid, no-nonsense colors, fabrics and finishes. It’s time to forget the froufrou, the pretty colors and soft touches that are usually so appealing to the opposite sex. And it’s time to bring on design that’s usually big, brawny and bold.

In today’s world of the metrosexual, the bachelor and the divorced man who spends time watching HGTV (and many of them do), it appears that men are making a full frontal assault at designing their homes to fit their lifestyles. Even in the homes of those who are married, men are taking a major role in at least designing a special room or rooms for themselves like a den for watching TV, their own closets and bathrooms, and, in a number of cases that I’ve seen, even the kitchen.

Designing for men is truly a more “down to earth” experience than designing for women. I’ve found that, most times, men seem to favor tried-and-true materials such as wood, stone, metal and leather, whereas women tend more to experimentation with paint, texture and certainly with color. Men will go more for a hard-edge look in the overall design scheme as opposed to the more soft and cozy look favored by the “fairer sex.” All of these proclivities must be taken into account when approaching a project strictly from the masculine viewpoint.

It’s been my experience that no bachelor’s pad or man’s den (defined as a place for watching sports) can be complete without the most important design element of all, the essential male asset: toys. You see, not only does the average guy want a more masculine look, but he also absolutely requires the latest gadgetry and, of course, top-of-the-line electronics.

Men also are enamored by the mechanics of things, especially when incorporated into the design itself. I’ve found that this often includes furniture that moves and/or slides. They’re intrigued by motors, hidden panels and the like. For example, I just recently designed a large entertainment cabinet to be used primarily by the man of the house to watch sports and play video games, and he absolutely insisted upon incorporating a hidden pull-out shelf under the big-screen TV in order to accommodate his laptop. It’s unusual, but true.

I recall designing a custom sofa for a client’s great room (once again, primarily the husband’s space) where surround sound was a very important element, as was the custom steel-wrapped entertainment unit that went along as part of the project. But what may have thrilled him the most, was integrating some of the speakers into the very base of the custom sectional sofa. To this day I can still close my eyes and vividly remember watching the movie “Earthquake” with him, feeling each and every jolt and shaking of the ground.

Bold geometric shapes and designs that feature strong, clean lines are what men truly seem to favor. They don’t like furniture that’s overly designed, but insist nonetheless that it be beautifully executed with great attention to detail and good construction. (And you thought women were the picky ones?) Also finishes that are unique, such as exotic veneers and aniline-dyed woods, are highly prized by men, perhaps because they are part and parcel of demonstrating to the world a certain taste level as well as a degree of financial success.

Men seem to trust and feel most comfortable with strong, sturdy furniture pieces, beds with built-in control panels and motorized TV cabinets that go up for viewing and down to be hidden from sight. This type of James Bond approach, I’ve observed, seems to bring them the greatest satisfaction of all. And now with the proliferation of the oh-so-slim plasmas and LCDs, up/down cabinets can be accommodated in even the smallest of master bedrooms, or the TVs can be hidden in a wall behind an art piece that, with the flick of a switch, can disappear to reveal a man’s “true best friend.”

It’s the professional designer’s job to guide a client, be it male or female, to the right decisions for his or her home. Both sexes will profit immeasurably by consulting with someone trained for this task, but it’s the male of the species who may need that little bit of extra attention and guidance to bring out the aesthete that often lies buried just beneath the surface.

Stephen Leon is a licensed interior designer and president of Soleil Design International; he has been designing and manufacturing custom furniture and cabinetry for more than 25 years. He is on the board of directors of the Central California/Nevada Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers. Questions can be sent to soleildesign@

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