''Sports are easier to watch on a large screen," Jay Russo said. ''You can follow the ball." As for surround sound, ''You feel like you're at the game," said Russo, 33 and a newly minted husband and father. It's logical, perhaps, but not everyone, including Russo's wife, Nicole, 31, wants to listen to an agitated sports fan yell at the television. Besides, large-screen TVs disrupt decorating schemes.
So does taxidermy. And video games, musical equipment, trophies, fishing and camping gear -- none of these items are valued in typical home decor. But, like women with closets devoted to handbags and shoes, many men don't want to part with their stuff. Instead, they're setting up rooms of their own, where the wide-screen TV rules and stuffed fish on the wall are among those watching.
It can be the basement, the attic, an office, or a shed, but regardless of the room and its theme, in their own rooms, guys can do as they please.
''Maybe it's the last bastion of masculinity," said Paula Aymer, professor of sociology at Tufts University. ''There's the workplace, going out with the guys, and then their private space at home."
Aymer says ''the feminist agenda" has changed the domestic landscape over the past 30 years. With men and women both working outside the home, house work and child care are no longer just for women. When men are at home, they are apt to spend some time with the whole family or looking after the kids. Both partners occasionally feel the need to retreat, Aymer said, but ''there's value for a man wanting to declare his space as private, while the woman's space is open to others in the family."
When the Russos began house-hunting, a finished basement was on Jay Russo's wish list, he said. The wood paneling and plaid couches in the basement of the home they purchased in West Roxbury in July clinched the purchase for Russo, who works for the Boston Redevelopment Authority. ''I could envision it being my room," he said. Russo, who camps and fly fishes, says the room ''is like the lodge I don't have." His wife has no say in what gets mounted on the walls. ''I gave her the whole house," said Russo. ''All I'm asking for is one little room."
In Wellesley, Fred Howard wishes for ''a proper study, a garage, and a basement," he said. The 43-year-old Gillette executive is ''70 percent of the way there," in the home his family has lived in for under a year. Howard and his wife, Kim, recently renovated their basement to include four specialized areas: one for aerobics equipment and weights, a media area, a mud room, and a wine cellar. Although Howard cultivates a few of his interests in the basement, the whole space is shared by the family. Upstairs, a study is entirely his.
''I don't have a lock on the door or anything," said Howard, but his wife agreed that the office is not shared. The room, which Kim Howard decorated, contains ''a desk, a TV, an armoire, and a leather chair," she said. Fred Howard said he'd love to have ''a chess board that's always set up, never used, a globe, and a 30-pound dictionary" in his room, along with permission to smoke cigars, which, he said, ''we're still negotiating."
To design their basement renovation, the Howards hired Sam Greenfield, a Sudbury-based interior designer and decorative painter. Greenfield, who has run her company, When Pigs Paint, for four years, says she's seen more basements than usual get renovated and decorated this past year. They're usually designed, she said, as casual spaces that men (and their kids) use heavily. Many of her clients, she said, are ''people in their 30s who still want to have their friends over for the Patriots, but want a place where kids can play, too."
Greenfield noticed that ''people are having a lot more fun with basement [decor]." She has two upcoming projects to paint underground murals of Fenway's Green Monster.
In many cases, men are decorating their own rooms, or choosing wallpaper and floor plans with their wives. A recent wave of reality television shows and cable networks devoted to interior design have included men in decorating negotiations. ''There are areas at home that remain masculine," said Aymer, the Tufts sociologist, ''like barbeques and lawn care. But things have opened up for couples to negotiate what the man's space is going to be like."
Bram Young, 48, of Wellesley, a builder who specializes in residential renovations, is a former art director who rebuilt his own house and claimed ''the great room" as his own. ''Really I have three spots," he said, ''an outbuilding, a garage, and this." Young, who collects antique toys and signs, said he ''made it look like an English apothecary," with built-in shelving to display his collection of toy trucks. Young designed the room and chose the colors, he said. His wife, Elizabeth, has charge of the rest of the home's decor, he said, and didn't mind that Young took the great room. ''She didn't want me to be stuck down in the basement," he said.
In many homes, it is accepted that women have the rest of the house to decorate, including the closets. But do they also have their own private space? In West Roxbury, Nicole Russo has claimed a three-season porch. ''It has lots of flowers, and it's very girly," she said. ''That was our trade-off."
In the homes Sam Greenfield has seen for her work, she's noticed that often ''women have taken over the office." Kim Howard agrees, but in her opinion, ''If the office is being shared, I think it's safe to say that men aren't happy about it."
Establishing men's rooms often requires a certain amount of negotiation. Jay Russo tells of one carpenter friend with an elaborate basement getaway. Any time he wants to make improvements in his space, said Russo, the friend must make improvements elsewhere in the house.
For Alan Joseph, 67, of Newton, the trade-off is less hands-on. When he and his girlfriend moved into a Newton condo, Joseph claimed a large extra bedroom for his den. He keeps his music equipment -- guitars and amplifers, mike stands, and recording gear -- in the room, along with a TV and DVD player. For this, said Joseph, ''I have to go to one foreign movie where they wear period costumes per year, and I have to make the bed every day."
Such arrangements can be mutually beneficial. As Nicole Russo said, ''It's a nice way for a wife to say, 'Oh, that would look great down in the basement.' "