How to create an executive gentleman's dream base, and without a black leather sofa in sight.
One of the most opulent bachelor pads in Sydney is currently under construction in Sydney's Surry Hills. Located in a cavernous free-standing warehouse space of about 500 square metres, it belongs to appliance king John Winning, the CEO of the Winning Group.
The project has taken almost seven years and $5 million, but Winning is getting a lot for his dollar. Some of the features will include a home cinema, indoor swimming pool, indoor garden complete with five-metre palm trees, antiques sourced from around the world and an assortment of bespoke furniture, including a brown leather sofa used on the set of The Great Gatsby.
The most unusual feature is the bedroom, or rather a freeform fibreglass sculpture, where Winning will tuck himself in at night. Designed by Peter Ireland of Allen Jack + Cottier, the sound-proofed cone of silence will set Winning back hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Bachelor pads have been around for as long as there have been single men desperate to impress a prospective date. They reached their zenith of bad taste in the 1980s, when the typical executive bachelor apartment would incorporate a big black leather sofa, grey walls, a chrome-and-glass coffee table, track lighting, potted palms, a Scarface poster, and a kick-arse stereo system by Pioneer with Ride on Time thumping through the faux-woodgrain speakers.
It took Kelsey Grammer's TV character Frasier Crane in 1993 to show blokes how to put together a decent living space; the muted colour scheme was punctuated with a lamp by Corbusier, an Eames chair, and a sofa that Frasier describes as “an exact replica of the one Coco Chanel had in her Paris atelier”. The apartment also featured a pricey Chihuly vase, several expensive abstract paintings (including a Rauschenberg) and a collection of African and pre-Columbian art. As a matter of fact, Frasier's pad (created by set designer Roy Christopher for $US500,000) still looks the goods 20 years later.
Not every bachelor pad is quite up to Dr Crane's impeccable standards. Stylist Sibella Court says there are a few bachelor pad no-nos you may want to avoid. “You don't want to look like you're still living in college, with your besser block shelving,” she says. “And your mother dropping off the washing is a real turn-off. I also hate anything with a remote control that starts the fire, closes the curtains and turns the soft music on.”
Court also says bachelors should go through all the items left behind by ex-lovers and discard them. “There's nothing worse than finding the remnants of a trail of ex-girlfriends – random earrings in the drawers, flower bath-bombs in the bathroom. Stuff that should have been chucked out long ago.”
And unless you're thinking of running a "massage" parlour, don't even think about putting a bowl of condoms on the coffee table.
One of Australia's best interior designers, Garth Barnett, says he is doing more and more work on executive bachelor accommodation. “It's more common now, because there are a lot of men out there earning a lot of money, and where they used to buy expensive cars, they are now putting it into their homes,” he says. “Most of the apartments I design are three-bedroom-plus and it's not unusual for a bachelor to spend anything from $600,000 to a million just on furnishings.”
Barnett says the sleek, modern style of bachelor apartment, filled with Italian furniture, stereo systems and contemporary art, is dated. “Today's high-earning bachelors are well travelled and sophisticated and most have a collection of artifacts, paintings and antiques that they want to put into their apartment,” he says. “The current trend is a very eclectic mix of different period and styles; it's very Ralph Lauren and very atmospheric.”
What does Barnett see as one of the biggest mistakes bachelors make when it comes to interior design? “Buying five leather sofas and trying to cram them all into one room,” he says.
So it seems that restraint is the key. Interior designer Stacey Kouros, of Kouros Design in Surry Hills, certainly thinks so.
“One of the big mistakes is to use your bachelor pad as an excuse to cram everything you've ever wanted into one space,” she says. “Bicycles on the wall, a brown leather recliner with built-in massager, a TV the size of IMAX; it's not a good look.”
Kouros says if you are brave enough to tackle decorating without professional advice, the first questions to ask yourself are: What look and feel do I want to convey? How do I want to feel when I get home from work? And am I a messy or tidy person?
“It's no use having a sleek and minimal penthouse like Harvey Specter (from TV series Suits) if you are untidy; it just wouldn't work,” she says.
When shopping, Kouros says a big mistake is to walk into a store and purchase a matching sofa, armchairs, coffee table and rug straight off the floor. “It's a highly impersonal look and your apartment will look like a showroom, rather than a home,” she says.
She says to shop around and be eclectic. Don't be scared to mix a sofa with a couple of armchairs from a different shop, or even from a different era. “If you want a classic Chesterfield sofa, at least mix it with a couple of modern armchairs that aren't so clunky,” she says. “And if you must have it in black leather, break it up with some colourful cushions or an interesting rug. Greg Natale's range for Designer Rugs is perfect for a bachelor pad; they're geometric and still quite masculine, but provide that layer of texture and decoration to soften the space.”
When it comes to sofas, she recommends the sleek and elegant Plaza sofa from King Furniture. It's modular, available in fabric or leather and comes with a 15-year frame warranty. Kouros suggests teaming the Plaza with a couple of groovy Bardot loungechairs, designed by Jaime Hayon for Bernhardt Design. “Upholster them in green or blue for a pop of colour.”
It's no secret that a large proportion of men are colour blind. Which might explain why the two most popular choices for a bachelor pad are safe and conservative white and charcoal grey. Kouros says there's nothing particularly wrong with these colours, but don't be afraid to be a little braver. “Having said that, I'm not suggesting you paint your apartment lime green, but grab some sample pots and paint some patches on the walls,” she says. “Ask a friend around for their opinion. The one thing I would definitely avoid is feature walls. They are really daggy and I can't believe people still ask me about them.”
Walls themselves should not be just for hanging your TV set and your vintage dragster. Kouros suggests taking some black and white photographs of your pet and putting those up for a personal touch. Avoid stickytaped movie posters, because you'll look like a university student. Invest in some quality art and have it professionally framed. Check out the affordable selection of indigenous art from The Gallery Shop in Bronte (they ship Australia-wide).
Lighting can make or break a bachelor pad. Many men make the mistake of using lots of bright white light, so the space ends up with all the atmosphere of an Office Works. Opt for warmer LEDs instead, and avoid a "constellation" of halogen downlights at all costs, as they are terribly unflattering. Use uplights and possibly a feature pendant fitting, such as the very funky Checkmate (inspired by chess pieces) designed by Danny Fang for HIVE.
And just because the 1980s are over, doesn't mean you have to stop bringing the plants indoors; just don't overdo it, or your home will look like the Amazon. Include some stylish planters as a point of interest. Kouros loves the Re-Trouve planters by Patricia Urquiolas for EMU. “These planters are based on the fabulous wire furniture of the 1950s and they help soften a masculine space,” she says. “It's OK to introduce some quirky touches into your pad, but stay away from kitsch.”
This means no German cuckoo clocks, or images of dogs playing snooker.
And, of course, the modern bachelor will want to be a whizz in the kitchen, so invest in some quality knives (we like the ones by Global), a set of copper pots and pans, and a really good fridge; nothing says serious foodie like a stainless steel Sub-Zero purring away in the corner.