Last year, Chris Alexander refurnished and renamed her son’s former bedroom.
“Sometimes I call it my Lady Lounge and sometimes I call it the Lipstick Lodge,” said Alexander, 57. “Regardless, it’s open by invitation only.”
A high school English teacher with a reverence for the written word, Alexander has transformed the room in her Vadnais Heights Colonial into her private space: part library, part den — and all hers.
Her two cats at her side, she curls up on a chaise covered with a faux fur-edged throw, surrounded by bookcases, vintage photos of “strong, happy women” and comfort objects that evoke fond memories. She retreats to the space for uninterrupted time with a book or to nap, binge-watch and daydream.
“With teaching, I talk all day. It’s a loud job, with fire drills, lockdowns, announcements,” she said. “I’m on sensory overload. To be able to come home and recharge is a big deal.”
Today, more women are claiming such spaces in their homes; think of it as the feminine equivalent of the man cave. While the man cave term is relatively recent, the concept of masculine space has been around for decades.
“Men have always had the basement or the garage for their sports and cars and drink,” said Christine Frisk, principal at InUnison Design, an interior design firm based at International Market Square in Minneapolis.
“Now women are more comfortable creating these spaces,” she said. “They’re financial contributors to the [household] so they can claim some of it for themselves. That’s a change from years gone by.”
Frisk has designed writing rooms, painting studios, dressing lounges and meditation spaces for her female clients. She stresses that the themed rooms are not home offices, but off-duty sanctuaries dedicated to personal pursuits.
“Women are always multi-tasking, and this is the place where an individual goes to rejuvenate and detach from the roles she has played all day. This is where she does this thing that gives her balance and pleasure,” said Frisk.
For Jennifer Toddie, the space is under the pitched roof of her home in St. Paul’s St. Anthony Park neighborhood. She turned an empty third-floor bedroom into her private yoga studio. She painted it in the calming colors of the desert, inspired by Sedona, Ariz., one of her favorite travel destinations.
“I delight in placing things where I want them to be and not having anyone move them or mess it up,” said Toddie, 53, a former teacher. “This is my respite that does a lot for my energy level.”
Two of her three children are sons, and Toddie also lives with a husband and two male dogs. She was determined to curate a distinctly feminine hideaway.
“There’s no clutter, no stinky socks, no noise. It feels so indulgent to have your own room, but my husband has his place over the garage, and it’s my luxury to have a place where I don’t have to pick up after everyone.”
Many women wait until midlife to stake their claim, when they have the dual advantage of more disposable income and more discretionary space once their children leave the nest.
“This consumer is recalibrating her priorities. She’s been used to taking care of everyone, but has arrived at an age where she is in the driver’s seat and can do what she wants without apologies,” said Rebecca Kolls, who advises Fortune 500 companies on residential spaces as a senior consumer strategist for CEB/Gartner.
“This is an evolution of the empowered woman,” she added. “It’s not about being selfish with her time and space, it’s about expressing her independence, her personality and her style, what feels right to her.”
Escape to the shed
For Mary Kuennen, the space is outside her century-old Craftsman bungalow in the Powderhorn neighborhood of Minneapolis. It’s a free-standing building, just 8-by-10 feet in size, a three-season “she shed” (another popular term and Pinterest favorite for female-focused backyard hideaways).
“It’s my place to be without interruption,” said Kuennen, 51, an ad agency executive. “When I step out the back door, I have a different frame of mind. I’m distanced from the chores of the house, I use technology less. It’s a mental and physical escape.”
A self-described TV baby, Kuennen cites the sitcoms of her youth as the source of her desire for her tiny building — the clubhouse that Marcia, Jan and Cindy built on “The Brady Bunch” and the interior of Jeannie’s lushly decorated bottle from “I Dream of Jeannie.”
Kuennen assisted her handy boyfriend in putting up the patchwork structure built with mostly trash-picked doors and windows and scrap wood discarded at a construction site.
“We put it together like a puzzle, with no plans. That’s what makes it mine,” she said.
Raised on an Iowa farm, Kuennen’s father was mystified when he heard about her plans to build a city shed. She sent him pictures of the finished product, outfitted with turquoise curtains, cushioned benches and her books.
“Then he got it. He understands that I want a cozy place to hang out and gel with my thoughts,” she said.
Downsizing is in the future for Chris Alexander and her husband; they figure they will put the four-bedroom suburban home where they raised their family on the market in the next five years.
But Alexander insists that when choosing a new place with less square footage, she will make sure that it includes a spot for her, her books and her collection of girlhood lunchboxes.
“It’s like Virginia Woolf said: A woman needs a room of her own,” she said. “I won’t give it up.”
Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis-based freelance broadcaster and writer.