A Hideout of His Own

0 Comments | May 18, 2006 |  Newsworthy

By Finn-Olaf Jones
New York Times, nytimes.com

Published: May 18, 2006

ALL those flowers and designs,” said Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington. It’s no wonder men aren’t comfortable at home, with the overdesigned, “feminized spaces that are being imposed on them” by the women in their lives, she said. “They’re going to want to push back.”

It may be an unpopular opinion, but Ms. Sommers, who is well known for her critiques of feminism, may have a point.

According to James B. Twitchell, professor of English and advertising at the University of Florida in Gainesville, men are increasingly creating small private domains in and around their houses — in sheds, basements, attics and closets — as a way of retreating from everyday life. Professor Twitchell, author of “Where Men Hide,” published this month by Columbia University Press, does not agree that women are to blame for this phenomenon, or that it’s a matter of blame at all. He sees it as a positive development, and has built a shed of his own. He uses it as an office and calls it his hidey-hole. It sits on a site near his summer house in Vermont once dedicated to an above-ground septic tank.

He has plenty of company. Although the Home Depot would not release sales figures, Kathryn Gallagher, a company spokeswoman, said there was a growing trend of men putting prefab sheds to various recreational uses in a quest for “a little place to get away.” Haroula Battista, marketing manager for Summerwood Products, a shed manufacturer in Toronto that mainly sells to American customers, described “a tremendous upsurge in demand,” in particular for the company’s larger sheds. “They’re turning them into everything from workout rooms to their personal bars,” she said.

Tuff Shed, a company in Denver, now makes 50,000 sheds a year, up from 20,000 in 2003, and sells them through its own stores in 21 states and stores like the Home Depot. Phil Worth, the company’s director of marketing, estimates that as much as 15 percent of Tuff Shed’s sales are now for “male-driven spaces like workshops, poker rooms and the like.”

“Guys are looking for their special spaces, and I’m telling my salesmen to find opportunities there,” said Randy Morrow, Tuff Shed’s Southwest region sales manager. Gail Andrews, one of his salesman, has taken his advice. “Used to be when a guy ordered a garage, it was for a car,” Mr. Andrews said. “Now they’re positioning them to be used as workshops and pool rooms. I’ve had musicians who use them as low-rent recording studios.”

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Photo: Ben Garvin for The New York Times; Fuller Cowles tracks weather from his cupola, 24 feet from his living room, straight up.

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