The modern masculine vibe is master's choice

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 February, 2012, 12:00am

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On the interior design scene, brothers are doing it for themselves. Designers whose bent was at one time skewed towards the female vote are increasingly parading their maleness in interiors and home-product design.

The obvious reason is that money talks, and men, having long ago moved past permitting any female figure to dictate their clothing choices, want control over their living spaces, too.

What do these newly proclaimed masters of their domestic universe want? Style, for starters. And quality above price. It's a decidedly macho aesthetic, but not in a boorish way. For while the modern man-cave is likely to be adorned with skins and leathers (as an interior finish), beer fridges have given way to wine cellars, and sloppy to chic. You're more likely to find a classic Eames lounge chair here than a La-Z-Boy recliner.

Take the Luxe furniture collection by Maxxa (www.maxxa.com), first unveiled at last year's China International Furniture Fair in Guangzhou. The series reflects a strong image of luxurious, masculine sophistication, evident in flowing curves without sharp edges, leather seating 'in muscular and rigid form', defined and bold leather stitching and stainless steel trim.

Luxe's creator, Hong Kong architect, interior and furniture designer Steve Leung, says his inspiration for the collection of living, dining and bedroom furniture came from the classic 'boys' toys' of the elite: luxurious cars like the Rolls-Royce, and yachts like Riva. Leung says he didn't intentionally design it for any specific sex, but as Luxe channels memories of a yachting holiday once enjoyed on the southern coast of Italy, the collection tends to engender male buyers. It just so happens that Luxe reflects 'modern luxurious living, catering especially to high-end customers in mainland China with good taste and who are looking for the best in interior design, sophistication and detailing', he says.

And men aren't just parking themselves in front of their oversized flat screen with surround sound - they're kings of the kitchen as well. Even prestigeous car brand Porsche - which, by the way, is now helping man make fire with its Tekto range of bio-alcohol fireplaces for Safretti (from Kitchens + Interiors, Ruttonjee Centre, 11 Duddell Street, Central, tel: 2810 0979) - is getting in on that act.

The Porsche-designed kitchen P7340 was described at its launch as 'the finest of all' kitchens by German luxury kitchen brand Poggenpohl (LG/F, Sunning Plaza, 10 Hysan Ave, Causeway Bay, tel: 2890 9111). It's billed as the first kitchen in the world to be made from carbon fibre, an ultra-lightweight, yet strong and temperature-resistant compound used in the motor-racing, performance-yacht and aerospace sectors.

This kitchen was designed 'especially for men', according to Roland Heiler, managing director of the Porsche Design Studio. It lives up to the trend that shows 'an increasing number of men displaying an interest in kitchen and cuisine'.

Elmar Duffner, then-managing director of Poggenpohl, added at the kitchen's introduction in 2008: 'In recent years, kitchens have turned into event and representation areas frequently equipped with audio systems.' An updated design of the original is coming soon to the Poggenpohl showroom in Causeway Bay.

Winston Lam, founder of Kitchens + Interiors in Central, is tapping this trend with products like tiles made from water buffalo leather, suitable for walls, ceilings and even floors, by Alphenberg of Holland. He describes the look as '1950s Mad Men fantasy'. Leather tiles on the walls of a study create a truly masculine sanctuary, Lam says.

'Use the tiles on the ceiling of a bedroom complete with low lighting to create a decadent and seductive vibe, or for the floor of a living room to add an urban and chic edge.'

Cowhide rugs continue to grow in popularity at Hidestyle in Central (10A, Time Centre, 53 Hollywood Rd, tel: 2790 3801; www.hidestyle.com). If common cattle seem a bit lame for the hunter within, the store also has hides from African springboks and zebras (both culled under government licence).

When, and why, did home interiors start taking on such a masculine vibe? John McLennan, managing director of Indigo Living (www.indigo-living.com) says that it's not so new. He points to Jean Prouve, the French architect and designer born in 1901 who has 'a large portfolio of very masculine furniture all designed in the 20th century. Many architects interested in the use of industrial-type materials tend to design furniture that is more rugged and brutal in its look, and these naturally appeal to men', he says.

What has changed is that men are becoming more involved in furniture purchases than in the past. 'There was always furniture for guys but it tended to be for the den, home office or library in larger homes. Boys' rooms tended to be designed in a masculine fashion but this was short lived as it all changed when you moved in with a woman. Out went the male furniture and in came the softer, more feminine look and feel.'

McLennan says the trend towards industrial, raw materials is still strong and can be seen in many of the high street stores. 'Restoration Hardware in the US has moved almost exclusively towards a rustic masculine look. Other suppliers are taking institutions such as famous universities or colleges and creating furniture lines around them, and this tends to be masculine and collegiate.'

Indigo Living's Esquire Home collection is unashamedly masculine with its furniture and accessories in distressed leathers, polished nickel and black glass. It typically portrays two styles that McLennan describes as either 'country manor-come-hunting lodge look that is very British - full of tweed and brown leather', or a New York loft urban look. The darker-coloured latter is 'the most masculine of the looks, with chrome and dark blue with a splash of red', he says. Bar units, desks, bookshelves and armchairs feature strongly.

A show flat at J Residence, Wan Chai, was designed to target 'the modern man', and its designer Steve Leung says the message is immediately apparent: 'His purposeful lifestyle demands a sense of permanence and a mood that is focused on his goals and success.'

Leung, founder of Steve Leung Designers, called the project Wine. On entry, 'the definition of success' starts with a travertine stone floor supporting dark brown pony hair and grey gothic wall treatments. In the living area, there are 'masculine comforts such as a generous armchair and crocodile-skin TV cabinet that doubles as a wine cellar'. To add a sense of grandeur, a black crystal chandelier holds court overhead.

McLennan says that some women are buying bits and pieces of the more masculine collections 'to help give some depth and character to what they currently have'. So perhaps our male and female sides do complement each other after all?