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The curse of the ‘boy room’: No matter how old men get, why do they still live like teenagers?

Age really is just a number when it comes to single men’s bedrooms. Helen Coffey looks into the ‘lost boy’ messy aesthetic that dictates so many bachelors’ interior design choices

Wednesday 24 April 2024 06:00 BST
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Men of any age can have a bedroom resembling that of a teenager rather than a grown adult
Men of any age can have a bedroom resembling that of a teenager rather than a grown adult (Getty)

Yeah, sorry – I don’t actually have a bed. Is that OK?”

These aren’t quite the last words you want to hear when you’re planning to spend the night at a man’s house for the first time – but they’re certainly up there. By the time they’ve spoken, you feel too invested to answer honestly – um, NO! – and walk straight out the door. Instead, you smile and nod politely, mentally planning your exit strategy, while they explain that the sofa is surprisingly comfortable, that it’s just a temporary solution, that actually it makes more sense not to have a bed at the moment because blah, blah, blah…

I was used to this sort of nonsense when dating in my twenties; the sparse, student aesthetic seemed tough to shake off, permeating through the flats and houseshares of nearly every young professional male I encountered for the next decade. But as I entered my thirties and began going out with older men, I expected these adolescent interior design choices to give way to something slightly more... sophisticated. I wasn’t anticipating cushions and candles, but perhaps an eye for a nice piece of mid-century furniture, rather than the ubiquitous Ikea BILLY bookcase; a couple of tastefully framed prints on the wall, rather than a ripped club night poster left over from the Noughties; or simply a laundry system that didn’t involve piles of dirty and clean clothes indiscriminately strewn across the floor. I was, for the most part, sadly mistaken.

I’m not the only one to have noticed this phenomenon. Comedian Rachel Coster has made a name for herself on social media exposing the reality of the so-called “boy room” – bedrooms of grown men that look like they belong to teenagers. Far from the aspirational apartment tours that other content creators upload to make viewers swoon, Coster’s MTV Cribs-style TikTok videos expose the horrifying reality of grown adults’ living arrangements in New York.

“I’ve been going on dates since I was, like, 18,” 28-year-old Coster told The New York Times. “By going to people’s houses, not knowing them that well, their room is such an immediate way to get kind of a really clear picture of what I’m working with.”

Coster’s examples are on the extreme end of what I like to call the “lost boy” spectrum. Listed aloud, they sound like deranged titles of Friends episodes. There’s the one with a suitcase for a bedside table. The one with his own name graffiti-ed on the wall. The one with his old “rat tail” proudly displayed in a frame.

In the inaugural instalment of “Boy Room”, which has had more than a million views, we meet Blake, 28, from Bushwick. As Coster puts it: “There are 28-year-olds who have full houses and dogs and children. And Blake is only creating ‘sick beats’ and nasty piles of T-shirts.”

In another episode, we’re introduced to Luke, whose bedroom style is reassuringly familiar to me – the man has no bed, sleeping instead on a futon that he doesn’t bother to unroll. (Though Luke is at least 24, rather than going on 40.)

But while the examples on the show may be heightened, they are truly representative of many of the bachelor pads I’ve seen over the years (the issue magically seeming to disappear once a man moves in with a woman). There are often two main types of “boy room” that persist long after you’d assume an adult had learnt about the pleasantries of curtains and duvet covers. The first is the true teenage experience – an elite level of messiness that looks like a tornado just struck or the room in question has been upended by a particularly diligent strain of burglar. Mounds of belongings explode from every orifice; five-day-old mugs of tea or plates of pizza crusts gather dust and a rich coating of mould. I once dated a man who dried up his cutlery and crockery using his T-shirt – the same one he was wearing – rather than bothering to use a tea towel.

I do have a twisted kind of sympathy for, and affinity with, the ‘boy room’

Then there’s the flipside of the same coin: the school of interiors according to Patrick Bateman. These men have the opposite of mess, instead opting for an anonymous cube of a room with nothing on the walls, nothing on any surfaces, no books or knick-knacks or anything that gives away a shred of personality. They perpetually look like they just moved in, even after five years. There will always be one unpacked box in the corner of the room – which you dare not look inside, lest it contain a human head – and possibly one dead plant as a pertinent reminder that mortality is fleeting.

As someone who isn’t naturally domesticated herself, I try not to be too judgemental. In my youth, I was infamous for having a “floordrobe” rather than a wardrobe. I still sometimes refer to myself, somewhat affectionately, as a “trash racoon” in the busy weeks when I let the washing up accumulate, or whenever I take a brief glance in the apocalyptic dumping ground that is the spare bedroom. Thus, I do have a twisted kind of sympathy for, and affinity with, the “boy room”.

But here’s the thing: it’s possible to make an effort. It’s possible to have a tidy up, invest in pillowcases and, yes, possibly look into buying a bed if you’re planning on having an adult woman over to your home. Otherwise, don’t be surprised if we take one look, smile and nod politely, and swiftly make our excuses to hot-foot it out of Neverland, never to return…

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