The first thing you see when you walk into Rob Pope's two-bedroom Victorian flat in Hove is the bar. Instead of installing the traditional coat rack, or perhaps a mirror and somewhere to put the keys, Pope, the co-owner of Vigilantebespoke.com, a celebrity data protection service, thought his hallway could be better put to far better use, by housing a custom-built drinking hole.
The bar – cream, padded leather, walnut top, built-in lighting, a bell, for last orders, and an adjacent darts board – is quite a statement. But if you think that sounds flashy, you should see his grey, minimalist bathroom: best feature? It's a toss up between the television built into the towel rail, ceiling speakers for the flat's integrated sound system, and the remote control shower and bath. "It means I can flick a switch to warm them up before I get out of bed," says Pope, laughing in acknowledgement of how over the top it sounds. "But I'm 35, single and don't yet have kids," he continues, "which affords me a bit of extra money for all this." And why not? As he says, "it's a fun way to live."
Pope's flat, designed by Atticinteriors.biz, is the archetypal domestic bachelor dream – a fun palace full of gratuitous gadgets, manly decor and bloke-ish novelties, with no need for dull, typically female concessions such as extra storage, grown-up aesthetics or practicality.
The masculine flat-for-one, even in its no-frills version, has been around since the 1950s, when unmarried men began to gain enough social currency to live alone without being seen as freakish. Man-hosted martini soirées, accompanied by tunes on the Radiogram swiftly followed. And the stereotype, along with the significant role it has come to play in defining a man's sense of status, has endured: Hugh Grant's chrome and gadget filled flat in About a Boy was a clear metaphor for his determinedly unattached character and, more recently, we've all merrily concluded that Russell Brand's wild bachelor days are over – because what other possible reason could provoke the sale of his opulent, monochrome London man pad (black bathroom suite, satin sheets and a hot tub in the garden)?
But the lone-occupancy, testosterised apartment is, apparently, fast becoming a stereotype on the slide.
The recession has taken a far heavier toll on men than it has on women, with the number of unemployed men increasing by almost 50 per cent since the recession started, compared with just 33 per cent for women, according to figures from The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Significantly, it is young men – the prime bachelor pad demographic – who are being hardest hit, and having to downsize their strings-free domestic lives, or adjust their living arrangements.
"In the past," says Amelia Greene, partner for residential lettings at a central London branch of upmarket property consultants, Cluttons's, "the typical 'City boy' would not have thought twice about splashing out £750-£1,500 per week on a one or two-bedroom apartment to live in alone – but clients like that have just dropped off the face of the earth as these men lose their jobs or get relocated back to their companies' headquarters abroad. Last summer the market was flooded with rental properties – including "designer" one or two-bedroom flats with boys' toys like plasma TVs, flashy lighting systems, surround sound, PlayStations and Xboxs included. Those places, once taken by single men, are now being taken up by couples. Recently our business has been about recycling existing tenants – people with growing families upsizing and taking advantage of lower rents, rather than new blood coming to London – i.e. young professionals with good salaries and bonuses, which were previously a good share of our business."
"I know I'm really lucky, admits Rob Pope. "Most of my single friends are now sharing flats as they can't currently afford to live alone – and two are in the process of downsizing."
Another bachelor, a 34-year-old freelance graphic designer from London who doesn't want to be named , sheepishly admits that lack of work partly prompted a move into a girlfriend's flat, from the large, one-and-a-half bedroom bachelor pad he had been renting in Shoreditch. "My trainer collection – which used to fill a whole wall of shelving – has had to move to my mum's attic," he says. "She didn't have room for my 4,000 records, though. Getting rid of them was a really painful decision; in my old place, they had a whole room to themselves. For my girlfriend, bringing them was a deal-breaker – and I couldn't afford to live alone any more."
Stevie Buckley would no doubt sympathise. The 23-year-old former junior stockbroker from London has been unemployed since April, following mass redundancies at his company in the City. Until then, he'd been living alone in a £400-per-week, one-bedroom flat in a modern, serviced apartment block with views over the Thames. "To get that place was just astonishing," he says now, from his current home – a cramped studio flat with views over a busy street, where his 50in plasma screen TV, the only remnant from his former domestic set-up, dominates the bed/living room, and "makes everything else look really small". He says he misses the old place dearly.
"Working for the company I used to work for, where you're earning lots of money, it's always going to be competitive," he says. "So for me, particularly at that early stage of my career, the flat was an outward sign that I was doing quite well."
Losing that lifestyle has also affected Buckley's social life. "I used to have people over considerably more than I do now. Showing off my old residence was nice – especially the river views." And now? "I socialise a lot less, to be honest," he says. And as for home entertaining, there isn't really the space. "Life's much simpler at the moment," he says, "and while I really hope I do get to sort myself out, get a new job and move back to a place like that, for now, it's back to basics."