Monday 11 December 2017

From 'cave' man to soft furnishings

Home truths

Labour of love: Diarmuid Gavin above his garden. Photo: Fran Veale
Labour of love: Diarmuid Gavin above his garden. Photo: Fran Veale
Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

In the bestselling 1992 book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, the relationship counsellor John Gray famously describes what he sees as key differences in how men and women think and behave, especially in relation to challenges and stress.

Women, he tells us, don't want their problems solved by men. They just want to be listened to attentively as they talk about them. So they don't want solutions proffered - something which men are programmed to do. Women meet up with other women and talk about their issues socially and at length and with empathy (and without solutions), according to John Gray. And then they are happy!

Regarding men, Gray takes a palaeolithic view, asserting that we deal with our problems by retreating alone to our "caves". In we go. Away from everything; potter and tinker a bit and then we emerge with the solutions to life's problems.

And it makes perfect sense. My Grandad had his garage and his greenhouse into which he stole away and into which my grandmother never ventured. My Dad had his cactus collection in a spot around the back of the house and he hung around there or in a fishing club hut. An uncle had his workshop at the end of the garden. All were keen gardeners. The shed, garage, workshop and garden were deemed to be the domestic sole domain of the traditional Irish man. He arranged his "cave" and patch as he saw fit - the former usually with old chairs, dodgy old radio sets, chipped mugs and so on. The latter he tended with flowers or shrubs or rows of vegetables (as paleo provider).

Then one day - some time in the 1990s - along came the tousled terror to upset this eternal balance of Irish domestic bliss. Garden designer Diarmuid Gavin's television stints as the Jamie Oliver for "rooms outside" cast an almighty spanner into the equilibrium.

Suddenly men stopped agog in their gardens to see the patio doors wide open and their women standing outside, hands on hips and looking around thoughtfully. Then the women spoke - something like: "That back wall would actually look a lot better in a Radicchio Cerise." And it was all over. The shed doors were prised open and before the men could protest, their women were inside, peering around, acclimatising, a hanging basket slung from each hand, terracotta chimenea propped on the threshold. Wondering aloud whether this land of petrol smells and upturned flower pots had "summer room/studio potential".

That's old news now. Gray's man caves are all gone. But, startlingly, a major new study now claims that men are poised to launch their own turf invasion - into the female dominated land of indoor interior design. Traditional Irish men long regarded wallpaper choices as "women's stuff", but a report issued earlier this week unexpectedly claims that 74pc of men have a new-found interest in interior design. A stout 42pc wish they could have more input into decorating. And 75pc of males don't believe their home reflects their personality and style. Most worryingly is that 25pc of modern men feel "powerless" when it comes to making design decisions in the home even though 82pc believe they make good design choices.

The report by Curtains.com, the online curtain retailer, says this newly kindled interest is being fuelled by male use of social platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest to gather ideas and inspiration. Two out of five younger males are going to Instagram to find inspiration for styles, colours and looks before decorating, compared to just one in 20 middle aged men who do this.

So the really big question is: are Irish women ready for this? A world in which their men actually want to choose the stuff?

The bad news for women is that man tastes have remained in the cave - think bachelor pad décor of wood, steel, black surfaces and robust looks rather than softer textures and colours which women prefer.

Mark Russell, interior blogger at Forward Features, confirms this: "We've noticed an increase in classic design which is why we think men have become more interested in interiors. But while we're finding more men are now choosing the soft furnishings for their home, it's also common that they have a looser understanding of their interior style than women - often ordering a wider variety or fabric samples and asking more questions, whereas women usually contact us with a defined vision in mind.

It means that these 'new' men are also choosing interiors with their caveman mindset, picking colours and furnishings as they'd go about a DIY job or project at home - assembling all the data first and making a campaign out of it. This approach directly clashes with women's preference to choose colours and textures by instinct and intuition.

Can you imagine the rows and social turmoil ahead? How can we survive it? (Well I'm not looking for answers. I just wanted you to listen really.)

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