Man Pads for the modern age
Interior designer Dana Kallo is freeing bachelor pads from their kitsch past
If you had to pinpoint the moment the Bachelor Pad was born, it would have to be September 1956. That's when "Playboy's Penthouse Apartment" hit the shelves. The apartment, "a hell of a place to live and to love and to be merry", was a massive hit and Hugh Hefner later described the article as "the most popular single feature ever to appear in these pages".
The magazine went on to engage with interior design and architecture in a hugely influential way but, being Playboy, had its own particular angle on masculinity. Famously, "The Playboy's Town House", published in 1962, was originally created for Hefner himself. In 2016, an exhibition of "Playboy Architecture, 1953-1979", at the Elmhurst Art Museum in Chicago, described the magazine's contribution as "a universe of radical interiority and total environments that sustain the art of seduction".
It took architecture's enfant terrible Sam Stephenson to bring the man pad to Ireland 60 years ago in 1958 and two years after Hefner when he unveiled his party pad at 31 Leeson Close. His own home, designed when he was just 25, came with sunken "party pit" seating and a gold tiled bar. Today, restored, it is an upmarket guesthouse.
Some of Playboy's legacy to masculine design is positive, establishing a relationship between masculinity and adventurous modernist interiors. But the relationship also left masculine design struggling under a weight of gendered language. The "Lad Pad" denotes immaturity; the boorish "Man Cave" is, frankly, sexist. So neither of these terms, nor the Mad Men, James Bond-type idea of a single man's home, encompasses the different and complex needs of men who want to live in a home that meets their needs and reflects their tastes.
One designer, however, seems to have cracked the challenge. Over the past few years, interior architect Dana Kallo has designed three apartments for male clients. And, while all contain elements of the mid-century modernism associated with masculine interiors, none falls into the Bachelor Pad cliché. All are man pads for the modern age. "All three clients were very straightforward," Kallo explains. "They told us what they wanted at the beginning and were clear about why they wanted to work with us."
In her experience, male and female clients have slightly different priorities: "Women will usually spend more on curtains and soft furnishings, so I have to account for that in the budget, and men are more likely to spend on practicalities like a good quality floor or a bigger desk." While men will generally spend more on technology than women, not all of Kallo's clients want impressive entertainment systems. "The level of technology depends on the client. Some of them are passionate about gaming and some of them just want comfortable homes. They would often be happy to invest in better systems, but that might be lighting or a heating system."
Originally from Romania, Kallo moved to Dublin in 2014. "Before then I had an interior design and architecture partnership in Bucharest. Then, my husband got a really good job offer in Dublin and we decided to see what it was like to live and work in another country."
In 2015, she established Black Fox Interiors. "I did the same thing that I had done in Romania. The industry is the same and the differences between the buildings are not that big."
Her first project in Dublin was an apartment for a male client. "He is a businessman who travels a lot. His home is in Galway and he uses this apartment when he is passing through Dublin. He wanted to make it more comfortable and closer to his taste."
The large two-bedroom property is in a twelve-storey building in Donnybrook, built in the 1960s. "We started with the colour scheme. Because he mainly uses the apartment in the evening, the client didn't want bright colours so we went for a darker palette."
The apartment has a large living room with a kitchen at one end. Kallo removed a fake fireplace and put a flat screen television in its place. She also designed an integrated study area at one end of the room. "I was very happy to find such a skilled carpenter in Dublin!"
As always, there were constraints. The management insisted on carpeting for insulation, the budget did not allow for a new kitchen, and the kitchen island had to be designed to accommodate the gas pipes.
Laminated walnut panelling in the kitchen, bedroom, and the study area give the rooms a mid-century feel. This is carried through into the furniture which, although largely modern, responds to the architecture of the home and the subtle notion of modernist masculinity.
The Donnybrook design differs significantly from one Kallo completed for a male client in Bucharest.
"The client was a young engineer and it was his first apartment. It was in a new building and he wanted it to be modern, urban and simple. He also loved the exposed brick that he had seen in New York apartments, so we tried to implement that without making the space too industrial or too cold."
Apart from the red brick, the basic colours in the apartment are blue, yellow, and white, running throughout the space from the simple white Ikea kitchen to a bespoke cabinet that extends across the living room wall, encompassing the TV and providing open and closed storage.
More recently, Kallo designed an interior in Dublin for an Italian client who intended the apartment for Airbnb rental.
In this particular apartment, many of the issues were practical: a partition wall separating the living room from the lift had to be carefully sound-insulated, and radiators relocated to make way for integrated seating with storage below. "Working closely with the Italian owner, we developed a design that reflects his preferences and style, offering an elegant, masculine yet comfortable interior," says Kallo.
"The doors in this apartment are very special. They are made of reinforced sprayed glass, like an insulated glass sandwich, with metallic architraves. We had to order them from Italy and they took a while to arrive but I think that they work well." In this, as with her other projects, Kallo enjoyed the interaction with the client. "He was very passionate about everything!" she says, pointing out that, while some male clients like to issue instruction and step back from the project, others enjoy the sense of involvement.