How to Design the Ultimate Gentleman’s Quarters
I’m a grown ass man.
Three and a half years living out of a duffle bag and backpack traveling the world, and this is what I figure out.
(I figured out other things too) but as with most things, it’s the simplest things that are the most difficult to realize.
What is a Grown Ass Man?
Realization is one thing, what you do with it is a whole other sport. Now the real work begins. What does it mean to be a grown ass man?
So, in my mind’s eye, I started to work through what I thought to be the definition of a “grown ass man.”
- He makes money. Excuses are not relevant to the grown ass man, he has been through enough ups and downs to know that no matter what fantasy land he might want to live in, that there is one current reality and, in that reality, he makes enough money to take care of himself and his family the way they deserve.
- He opens doors for ladies. In a sense, he is a gentleman. He might not like all these societal norms that have been thrust upon him, but what society deems is right, he accepts, and he executes them without complaint.
- He can make a home. While our ancestors literally made a home, modern advancements allow us to use this term a little more figuratively. This includes but is not limited to, acquiring a domicile one can be proud of, paying for all facets of it in a timely manner, and of course, designing it in a way that would be appealing to a potential life partner.
And now, we have come to the key point of this. Like most things, I wanted to impress a girl. Like most great inventions and innovations, there was a girl who played the role of muse. And whether it was her or some other girl I had yet to meet on the island of Manhattan, this exercise was about displaying my ability to design a home that a highly attractive, smart, loyal, fit, funny, and all-around amazing girl would find to be…awesome.
Let’s backtrack for a second and preface this story. I lived out of a duffle bag and backpack, electively homeless, with two storage units, for 3.5 years. That is not an understatement, that is a recollection of events that transpired. Living out of 4- and 5-star hotels, the one really strange hotel near the Gatwick Airport in London that resembled something from a Kubrick movie, the occasional AirBnB, friend’s places and mostly anywhere that seemed inviting during the course of my travels in whatever city I happened to be passing through at the time.
I referred to it as “the new entrepreneur thing.” Build and sell a few companies, go crazy, put your stuff in a storage unit, travel the world, attempt to find yourself, meditate, do yoga, get back to working on projects that you are passionate about with people you like working with. It was a good gig, only took me 15 years to get it, but a good gig once I had it.
But not without its stresses. Figuring out what city to be in next, booking flights within a week, trying to find a place to sleep, contemplating a budget, what it should be, if there should be one, and where the money to pay for this adventure was going to magically come from once the pot of gold turned into…just a pot.
Japan, Europe, Southeast Asia, Cartagena, skiing all over out West. Why would any aspiring Bourdain disciple walk away from “the life?”
A better question might be, why go on the run in the first place? Maybe it’s because I experienced the trials and tribulations of building and selling a high-gloss startup in the digital age. Maybe it’s because my dad died along the way. Maybe it’s because I broke another girl’s heart who didn’t deserve it. Maybe it was because I really was Peter (Pan) like a girl once wrote about me, and I didn’t want to grow up. Whatever it was, I was self-aware enough to realize I had some issues, and I needed to work through it. And if I didn’t do something drastic, I was going to jump right back down the rabbit hole, start another business, wake up 10 years later married with kids, having never really lived.
And I just couldn’t let that sh*t happen.
So, I went. December 4th, 2014 (Jay-Z’s birthday). I moved out of my one bedroom in the West Village into a storage unit with no plans other than flying to Orlando for my cousin’s wedding at Disney World, a ski trip to Jackson Hole and a jaunt through Southeast Asia. This would last 5-6 months max, and then I’d be back in the game.
Flash forward 3.5 years. Months and days filled with adventures I still do not fully believe. Encounters, learnings, discoveries, epiphanies and a whole other set of big words that I cannot fully find to verbalize this experience. To say it was the best thing I’d ever done would be an insult to the journey.
The journey is the reward.
And I fully believe that. I went all in. I was a “digital nomad” to the fullest extent. I became a minimalist, I traveled light with my dop kit, essentials from J. Crew and Uniqlo and my Lexdray backpack filled with my digital office – laptop, chargers, gum, sunglasses, passport, etc.
I was “living the dream,” or at least the dream of a lot of millennials and cubicle dwellers. This was my new dream, and it was awesome. I didn’t love every minute of it, because if I did I wouldn’t have been challenging myself enough, but I loved every minute of it except those moments with the intense challenges, and then I fell in love with the challenges. So, in fact, I did love every minute of it, and I’m smiling as my mind rapidly races through the array of experiences I had.
And then I stopped.
Like Forrest Gump, one day I just decided to stop running.
I was in London, walking by Buckingham Palace, and I just stopped. For a moment, for a reason unbeknownst to me, the universe seemed to stop for a second. And I said to myself, “I’m done running.”
I’m moving back to NYC. I’m doing the new unthinkable, I’m going to “settle down.” This was fun, beyond fun, I did it, I got my fill for now. I’m good. Let’s go back to work, I’m ready. Let’s get back to building the empire so we can do this again on a whole new level again in a few years.
Back to the hotel, one-way ticket to the City of Dreams. The big boys on the road only book one-way tickets, for one does not know where he will go next, so it would be arrogant to plan that far in advance. But this ticket had a more distinct purpose than the previous 50+ tickets.
Touchdown, check-in to The Maritime Hotel. Pull up StreetEasy and let the search begin.
15+ years living on the island of Manhattan and there are a few key things I learned.
- You don’t choose if you get to live in New York City. New York City chooses. And if you can survive its constant berating of challenges, it will accept you, along with the other 8 million maniacs/inhabitants. And every day you should hit your knees and thank the good Lord above for the amazing opportunity you have been granted and take full advantage of it.
- With apartments, you want five things, you get four things, you take it. Neighborhood, doorman, elevator, space, noise, you get to pick four.
- No matter how much money you make, you live like sh*t, in the most first world sort of way. You can be a billionaire, and you will still be living in a (relative) shoebox. And a guy with a fraction of the amount of money you have is living in the suburbs like a king. But he doesn’t live in New York City. There is a premium for good real estate.
So, how does one go about designing the ultimate gentleman’s quarters?
Location, location, location.
First, you got to know where you want to live. Like we learned in Alice in Wonderland, “if you don’t care where you’re going, it doesn’t matter which way you go.” So, pull up Google Maps and start the gerrymandering.
For me, this consisted of a 4-point boundary.
- South of 23rd.
- North of Canal.
- East of the Hudson River.
- West of the Bowery.
Pound the pavement.
Living in Manhattan, and thus looking for real estate in New York City, is not for the faint of heart. If you aren’t willing to put in the work, just pack your bags and move somewhere else now. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, don’t even bother.
If you are willing to embark on this adventure, I recommend doing it in a short time frame, a few days, and commit to it. Brokers are brokers, it’s a whore’s game. They are using you for money, and you are using them to find you that needle in the haystack. There are nicer brokers than others, but that is irrelevant, niceness counts for nothing in this game. It’s the nature of the beast, no emotions, so put as many of them to work as possible.
Type up your parameters, and then copy / paste your way through every unit you found on StreetEasy that you think might fit the bill, knowing that apartments in the pictures are very likely not as nice as they appear. That said, the needle you are looking for might be one that everyone else passed over, so leave no stone unturned.
It’s great to meet you. Below is a quick overview of what I am looking for. I would love to see places tomorrow and/or Sunday afternoon if we can.
- Areas: West Village, Soho, Nolita, Noho, Bowery, Greenwich Village, Union Square, Meat Packing District
- South of 20th Street to North of Canal
- East of the Westside Highway to 4th Ave / Bowery / Park
- Non-cookie cutter, like a place with character
- Spacious, clean, new, etc.
- Ideally unique, like two levels
- Budget: $X/month
- Fee: ideally no fee places, open to creative arrangements that will make sure you guy are taken care of and help me avoid a fee
- Here are a few places from your site that look interesting at first blush
Seal the deal.
When you find a place that checks 4 of your 5 boxes, ideally 4.5, do the deal. Do not overthink it, just go to the bank, get your multiple cashier’s checks made out to people who may or may not have done a lot of work, and sign the contract. You can read it if you want, but in NYC you can’t change a rental agreement, so just sign it.
Do not wait. I found two places in the West Village that I really liked, they checked 4 of the 5 boxes and I knew enough to do the deal. I waited a day. Both were taken by then. This town is competitive like no other, that is why you came here in the first place, don’t think that doesn’t translate to the residential real estate.
Thankfully those two places were taken, or else I wouldn’t have found the one I wanted. Stay the path young Jedi, your apartment will come to you if you search hard enough.
I signed a lease. Fast, five days looking, two missed opportunities and one awesome apartment that I would be moving into in a few weeks.
So, I did what any normal person would. I got on a plane and went right back to Europe.
But the clock was ticking, rent would start for the first time in years in just a few weeks. There was no time to waste. The planning must begin immediately, flawless execution was the only option. I had a girl to impress.
Make a plan.
It doesn’t need to be complicated, but committing things to paper (or a digital file) is invaluable. Keep it simple, but do it.
A quick list of what is needed. Bed, table, TV, linens, towels, couch, Sonos, etc. etc. Just make the list.
Decide on a budget.
It won’t be exact and you will go over it, so ballpark it. You already forgot lightbulbs, and paper towels, and hand soap, and that trip to Bed, Bath and Beyond is going to cost you at least a G, so just ballpark it and try to stay as close to it as you can.
Commence the research.
There isn’t anything girly about interior design, but there is a lot that isn’t cute about a guy who lives in a frat house-like setting when he is out of college. You’re a grown ass man now, remember? So, let’s put some thought into this motherf*cker and let’s let this place impress her as soon as she walks in so you don’t have to worry about fumbling over your words telling her how much you like her.
This is where things get interesting and fun.
The design is all the rage in the post Steve Jobs era. Instagram has exploded with amateur and professional designers alike, and the brands have followed. High-quality design, furniture, and accessories are more accessible than ever before. There is no excuse for your place not to be dope, other than a lack of time, effort and thought. But grown ass men don’t lack time, effort and thought, so we are good.
Our research commenced on Nam and Lauren’s living room floor, a fitting setting, a bittersweet one as well, as these two fine people played host to the G*ldberg’s on multiple occasions during the escape from NYC that transpired over the past few years. But, when your best friends met at a Hamptons House that you paid for, it’s like a get out of jail free card for not having to stay in a hotel for life, as long as your stay does not exceed 3 days at a time.
First, we brainstormed around a great starting point, the Wayfair’s of the world. These are one-stop shops for everything you need, everything is cool and modern and affordably priced. There is an insane variety for every different taste, and a suitable range of prices depending on your budget. Yet, I felt there still had to be more out there.
Then my most resourceful brother went to work. He has an expensive, and luxurious palette, but he also is the most efficient person I’ve ever seen on Craig’s List. Within minutes he had found multiple couches in excess of $15,000 retail that we could buy for $2,200 if we got a truck and went to Brooklyn on Saturday. But I quickly squashed this concept, because I simply don’t like used sh*t. Personal preference, you might be less OCD than me, and if so, there are deals to be had on Craigslist, so by all means, get it.
Then, a simple stroke of modern-day millennial thinking. There must be a “Warby Parker for furniture.” And verbatim, that is what I typed into Google.
And this is where my interior design life was forever changed. I read my first article on Apartment Therapy and my whole creative world expanded exponentially in an instant.
As someone who started and sold a digital media company in today’s content environment, I can honestly say that Apartment Therapy is one of the best sites on the internet. It is easy to read, has real utility, talks in an accessible tone and feels like a best friend is helping you. I could go on for hours about this, but needless to say, it is a go-to resource for putting together your dream bachelor pad.
From there the introductions to new brands began. Article. BluDot. Canvas. Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co. And the classics. West Elm. CB2. Etc.
Get some inspiration.
“Good artists copy, great artists steal.” – Steve Jobs’ favorite Pablo Picasso quote.
This is where sh*t gets real easy if you stick to the strategy.
- Start a Dropbox folder, call it “Apartment Inspiration.”
- Go through Instagram. Find cool interior designers.
- Screenshot images of places you want your house to look like.
- Double check your list of things you need. Add to it if you need to, now is the time. Maybe you saw something in the pictures that you forgot you needed or wanted.
- Make a quick list of your favorite sites that fit your vision. For me, this was Article, West Elm and Wayfair.
- Now, fill in the blanks. Go through each site and find things you like.
- Copy and paste the link in sub-bullet points under the relevant category – “couches you like” under “Couches”, “tables you like” under “Tables”, etc.
- Stare at your list, look at the links 50x, add, delete, edit, refine.
- Run your list by a few people you trust that have a good eye.
After a few years of living in luxe hotels, I got spoiled. I didn’t want to get a place again until I was ready to put something together that I enjoyed being in for long periods of time. This meant a big comfy couch, huge TV for weekend sports binges, a table to actually eat at with people, enough space for said people to be comfortable, and a big ass fluffy white bed like daddy lives at a Ritz.
This is one of the biggest issues with New York City and why people work so much. Their living quarters often suck, and their office is nicer than their apartment. So, they don’t want to be at home, so they spend more time at the office, gym or Soho House.
I refused to let that be the case, plus I had come to realize that I prefer to work at home. I hate working in an office. Because I can’t get any work done, too many people, too many distractions, not enough time to actually work.
So, what does the ultimate gentleman’s quarters look like to me?
Let’s take a look.
The Living Room.
It all started with the couch, a foundational piece for any dwelling. I looked at hundreds and when I saw this one on Article I knew it was the one.
Fancy, modern, pointing in all directions light fixture from West Elm. Don’t underestimate the power of changing the light fixtures. It costs a couple more bucks and you will probably need someone to put it in for you, but it is a key differentiator in the “I put thought into this” vs. “I just live here” mentalities. And girls notice these things.
Coffee table, also from West Elm. I loved this with the raised glass and the ability to stack books under it.
Which leads to my favorite thing I have – my book collection. One of the main reasons I wanted to get a place was I missed my books. I love them. I wholeheartedly believe that if you go home with someone and they don’t have books, you shouldn’t f*ck them.
My book collection is color coded thank you to the inspiration and genius of my friend I Spy DIY. As an OCD person, I would typically go alphabetical, but color coding looks so cool.
The book collection sits on a shelving unit from Restoration Hardware, one of the few pieces I decided was worth keeping from the last place. On top shelf sits the TV. You’re a big boy now, get yourself a big TV. They are huge now and cheaper than ever. This is a 55” Samsung, and when LeBron drives the lane you might think he is driving into your living room. It’s awesome.
You’ll notice a discreet black bar on the upper left shelf, it’s the Sonos. It’s an expensive speaker, but damn its worth it.
New York gets cold in the Fall and Winter, and you are going to want to make this a safe place for cuddling. The Aztec blanket from Pendleton is a no-brainer, as well as the Navajo throw from Faherty. It’s your place, but you are building it for her, so make sure there are ample warming devices. The dashiki poncho from your trip to see the elephants in Chiang Mai sitting on the chair in the corner shows her 1) you have traveled the world and 2) you like animals. +2 for the gentleman.
The Henry Diltz picture of Hendrix chilling sets the tone for the room and your trophy from the Chicago Marathon shows that you are an elite athlete when you are not busy eating cake balls from Milk Bar.
The Dining Room.
A big mirror is cool, it opens up the room and it’s a subtle statement piece.
The triptych in this case started as just 2 pieces from Clay Patrick McBride that he was kind enough to send to me during the SC days. The pictures feature Jay and Kanye in a photoshoot that recreates the Kennedy White House years, while the third piece is something I bought in Soho in college for $20. It just happens to be JFK’s eulogy for Robert Frost that talks about the artist’s role in society. Flawless.
The Bar Cart
The bar cart shows that even if you don’t drink (like me) that you are prepared and care about others who do like to drink. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Girls notice these things.
Here is a place you can flex some creative muscle. The top shelf features a wide array of trinkets.
A few books state that even when it comes to vices, you took an intellectual approach. The guides to a proper drink alongside the poker set from Paul Stuart is a very sharp look.
Skull from Mexico, Geisha from Kyoto, hand carved wood camels from Marrakech, golden elephant and Buddha from Thailand, the turtle compass from Vietnam and the coasters from Havana highlight your travels and your ability to collect meaningful pieces without letting price dictate meaningfulness.
Sake set from Japan is a requirement for all Japanophiles.
A full selection of fine booze and wine are essentials for hosting. And yes, you’re a gentleman and you will be hosting dinner parties now. Throw in a few of your favorite chess sets you collected in different countries and you got some good stories to tell while you pour the drinks.
The Grid Wall.
I wanted this to come out cool, but it came out much better than I ever could have hoped for. In large part to one of my design gurus, Chrissy, the founder of Framed and Matted, who took my Dropbox folder of photos I took, and the measurements I sent her, and delivered this genius installation. White on white? Sharp AF. Integrate the light switch? Never would have thought of that.
I call this collection, “Windows to the World.” Why? Because there are literally 2 windows, and then 9 seemingly little windows that take you anywhere you want to go in an instant from Jackson Hole, to Hvar, San Sebastian, the runway at JFK, the mountain at Mammoth, the road to the Colosseum, a stroll through Mallorca, and the beaches of Punta Mita and Tayrona National Park (from L to R).
Take one of the best pieces in the whole place, the Travers Cocktail Ottoman from Universal Furniture originally a leather coffee table ottoman that you loved so much even though you already had a coffee table and make it a bench. Sometimes, I find myself sitting on this, laying on it, using it to lay things out or as a table like it’s original purpose. It is a versatile piece and that is mandatory when space is at a premium.
My brother taught me a few years ago that magnets are an easy and cheap souvenir that you can buy in airports. So, pick up a few along your journey, as well as other fun items you can find in Japan to make your fridge a little more interesting.
Scent is the strongest thing tied to memory, and if you think she is staying the night in a place that smells like your dorm room you are out of your mind. These candles from Joya look good and smell good, just like a gentleman and his domicile should.
The Gallery Wall.
I had a vision for a Gallery Wall, after working from Soho House for almost 4 years I was committed to having my own gallery wall. Except these things are hard, and I’m a novice interior decorator. No worries. Chrissy and the Framed and Matted team to the rescue!
- Send photos and measurements.
- Trust Chrissy.
- Hang pictures.
- Enjoy your very own, super cool looking, gallery wall.
Historically, I’m not a great sleeper. The meditating and night mode on the iPhone have helped, but I want all the help I can get. For the bedroom, I wanted to really do it right because I wanted to get a good night’s rest each and every night.
The inspiration was a Japanese style vibe. Simple, clean, fluffy.
The bed frame is CB2 which is the cornerstone of the environment. Side tables are from West Elm, and one thing I learned along the way is you don’t want to be too matchy, matchy. Maybe my favorite thing I bought are the copper table lamps with a marble base from Article.
The jute rug from CB2 reinforces the Kyoto mood, simple lighting fixture from Restoration Hardware produces more than enough light alongside all of the natural light. The elephants on the side table from Chiang Mai are another reminder that we don’t spend every night in this bed, because we are often on the road, but when we do, we like the elephants to keep us company.
Most importantly, you don’t sleep on any of the items mentioned above. After years of hotel living, the sleeping experience was not up for debate. This had to be the cleanest, whitest, fluffiest bed possible. That’s where we turn to the experts at Kassatex, where Miro and his family have been creating the highest quality linens and towels for years. Pair this with a mattress from DreamCloud and duvet from Buffy, and we are right where we want to be, dreaming in a cloud.
If you are like me, you shower 2-3 times a day, and you care about how your hair looks. This is too easy, so don’t screw it up. You deserve the best products available, so get yourself a set of the new Barber Surgeons Guild HC01 Edition products. They are the best, not just because I use them, but because Justin and I spent over a year creating products that we wanted to use ourselves. No more guessing what is in your shampoo and conditioner, or wondering if it works or not. We did the research, we did the testing, these are the products that, we, true gentlemen, deserve.
The Finishing Touches
The side table plays shelf for the table lamp, the elephant and the men’s valet from Paul Stuart. The tan leather valet is a simple item that is thoughtful and elegant. It isn’t a necessity, which makes it a necessity. It shows respect for where we put our things, and women notice details, so we need to pay attention to details. The wallet is not a wallet, it’s a money clip with credit card holder (money clip, Gucci). You aren’t in middle school anymore so ditch the bulky wallet and stick to the things you really need. Get yourself a watch, a real watch (Rolex Sky Dweller). Nothing gaudy, something timeless and classic. Let it tell them you mean business without having to say a word.
This place has a good amount of wall space, and as you have seen there is a fair amount hanging. I wanted to keep the bedroom simple and clean but there was plenty of white space to hang a statement piece. I like big art, I think it’s ballsy and shows the artist wants to get their point across. Especially if you’re the artist.
I’m a believer in self-art it is easier than ever to create your own art, especially with photographs which I did for the grid and gallery wall.
After a few years on the road, and an obsession with collecting small things from all my trips, I ended up with a box full of ticket stubs from my trips. I decided to get a vintage map, have it mounted on foam core and then pin each ticket in the region where it was.
The white matte, with a white shadowbox frame gave me a great piece for the bedroom, and also one that makes me smile every time I wake up and go to sleep.
This design project was a 90-day sprint where I got 90% of the place finished. The remaining 10%, primarily the photo and art projects took another couple of months to finish.
Hopefully, this is helpful, and more so, I hope you are inspired to take on your own project soon. It wasn’t easy, but it was a lot of fun and introduced me to a whole new hobby. Now it’s time to get back to work, got to buy more real estate so I can start on the next design project.
Ari S. Goldberg is a founder of Barber Surgeons Guild. He enjoys building businesses, eating cake balls from Milk Bar, traveling, running marathons in big cities and posting pictures on Instagram. You can follow him @arisgoldberg.