The idea that in 2016 furniture can still be gendered (a “masculine” couch, a “feminine” chair) seems antiquated, an unpleasant flashback to the days when boys were obliged to like blue and girls, pink. Yet the concept of a bachelor pad—an entire apartment that is somehow imbued with manliness—remains.
Multiple decorators from Homepolish, an interior decoration service that pairs interior designers with clients, say they regularly encounter apartments that are unmistakably (and deliberately) the domicile of single men: A bachelor pad is “a lot of heavy matching furniture,” said Guinevere Johnson, a decorator based in Chicago. “It’s a mix of black leather and chrome metals, just sort of heavy and cold,” said Will Saks, a decorator in New York. It’s “an apartment without style, a minimal amount of furniture, where things are cheap and mish-mashed,” said Haley Weidenbaum, a decorator in Los Angeles.
In other words, “bachelor pad” is a nice way of saying “house that is very comfortable and very ugly.” It’s also, according to these decorators, a place that can be spruced up (and de-gendered) with ease. Here are their rules of thumb.
1. Lights Aren’t Just for Visibility
“I see so many guys’ apartments with only overhead lighting,” said Johnson, the Chicago decorator. “That’s not great. You want to have layered lighting.” Consider the two options: A single overhead light has the dull glare of a school cafeteria, with atmosphere to match. Sub that out for a few table lamps and floor lamps (and if you’re feeling wild, a wall sconce) and all you’ve suddenly got ambience. When you bring someone home—if you ever do that—his or her face will be softly and flatteringly lit. Johnson recommends an Arco floor lamp from Design Within Reach ($2,995) or, as a more budget-conscious option, the "Arc" floor lamp from RH Modern ($975).
2. Pillows Aren’t Just for Sleeping
So you own a massive leather couch. Congratulations, but you are the only person that's impressed with that fact. Try spicing it up with some color, courtesy of throw pillows. “You can soften it by bringing in color with small elements,” suggested Saks, the New York decorator. “To me, what makes a place feel personal is where you go vintage with your accessories.” He recommends shopping for kilim pillow covers on Etsy, which rarely run more than $50.
3. Art Doesn’t Always Come in Poster Form
“Art makes a huge difference” when it comes to making an apartment feel like a home, said Saks. “It can be textural, it can be colorful, it can be both.” Saks said he’s a fan of the salon-style hang, which is another way of saying he likes to cover a wall with frames and objects. “It can be curated and fun,” he said, “with different mediums and—dare I say—taxidermy?” The alternate approach is “one giant work,” said Johnson. “People go too small with their art; they need to go really big.” Prices range wildly, but you don't need to spend thousands for an original artwork. Check out a prints and multiples sale in a city near you,
4. Couches Aren’t Supposed to Take Up the Whole Room
Apparently, single men are under the impression that a sectional sofa should be crammed into an apartment at all costs. (Pro tip: That’s wrong.) “When a guy is buying furniture, his instinct is usually “I need a sectional, or the most comfortable couch imaginable,” said Weidenbaum, the LA designer. “So then I try to get him to think about the whole room: It can’t just be a sofa, coffee table, and TV.” Why not, exactly? “Imagine that you have people over, and you want to walk past the couch into the other room," said Johnson. "It’s about circulation.”
5. There Is a Thing Called “Occasional Seating,” and It’s Worth Checking Out
Chairs are for sitting in, but not all chairs need to be sat in all the time. Chairs that are nice to look at but are not essential are called, said Weidenbaum, “occasional seating.” “Guys are hesitant,” she said. “They’re like: 'Well I don’t need a chair in the corner; no one will ever sit in it.'” That’s not the point. “It’s a statement for the room, and it gives the place a complete, finished look,” she said. Weidenbaum recommends the Safari Chair from Design Within Reach ($1,195- $2,520). For a cheaper option, get CB2's version, the "Expat Lounge Chair" ($649.)
6. Your Stymied Ambitions Can Be Turned Into Wall Decoration
You’ll never be a pro skateboarder. You haven’t seen a ski slope in eight years, let alone wowed the crowds at Sochi with your halfpipe skillz. You are not, and you will never be, good at darts. Bummer, right? There’s a silver lining: You can use the accessories from your failed childhood ambitions as artwork. “Another thing you can do to make a huge improvement is take the awesome elements you have lying around your house— an old skateboard, some skis, even pool cues,” said Johnson, “and mount them on the wall.”