Where do you go when you want to take a break from it all?
Meet three guys from Winterset who like to escape to their unique versions of man caves, spaces devoted to the things they love and the things they love to do. These customized hangouts range from a finished basement filled wall to wall with years’ worth of personal mementos to a garage where people meet up for everything from breakfast to a game of darts.
A home for his keepsakes
For a long time, moving from place to place was a way of life for Andy and Mandy Couture.
The couple, who have been married 17 years, met in the Army. Mandy is from northern Iowa; Andy is from New Hampshire. Over the years, they’ve lived in Colorado, Texas and Germany. Then in January 2009, they decided to settle down in Winterset.
Now they felt like they had a home, the couple says. Andy wanted a home, too, for all of the memorabilia and mementos he’d collected, which were sitting in containers. He took to their basement, trying to make sense of the eclectic collection—from German beer steins, sports jerseys and Army-themed items to a pair of hockey skates, dart board and tapestry of Pope John Paul II from Rome.
“I tried to do it myself and I was banging my head against the wall,” Andy says. “So she (Mandy) came down here and said, ‘Let’s work on it together.’ Her interior design eye definitely put it together.”
With Mandy leading the way, they got the bulk of it done over a weekend last summer. Rather than separating areas by themes, Mandy’s strategy was to intermix the pieces, arranging them so that each time people came to visit, they’d see something new, she says.
Andy is a big sports fan, and the space reflects that. The walls are painted in blue, red and silver, a nod to his favorite professional football team, the New England Patriots. A Tom Brady jersey and three Super Bowl championship footballs from years the Patriots won are on display. Items from his favorite college teams, the University of Notre Dame and Iowa State University are also part of the collection.
Andy grew up playing hockey, so a pair of skates hangs on one wall, along with jerseys from the Colorado Avalanche and Montreal Canadiens hockey teams.
Couture recently retired after serving in the Army for 20 years. Pictures, awards and keepsakes from his time in the service are spread throughout the room.
Colorful German beer steins sit on shelves. One of the steins is home to the ashes of their dog, Jed, who was also Andy’s drinking buddy.
“He loved German beer — and chocolate,” Mandy says.
Many people make basements a dumping ground for their stuff. Mandy wanted something special. So they bought a leather sectional and pub table. A fridge gives them easy access to cold beverages. A flat-screen TV hangs in one corner, and the room has been outfitted with a stereo system.
This is where they watch football and a lot of sports, Andy says. Friends of the couple, along with friends of their two daughters, like to hang out here, too.
Andy calls it his sanctuary.
“I love it,” he says. “It’s better than I expected. It kind of brings back little memories of what I like.”
Poker games get an upgrade
In the past, the kitchen table was the site for Bob Duff’s poker games.
That changed a few years back when he decided to finish his basement and upgrade their playing spot. Now when he hosts games for the two poker clubs he belongs to, they head to the basement and settle in at a portable poker table.
This setup is nicer not just for the guys, Duff says, but for his wife, Linda, too.
“She can do what she wants to do and not be bothered by us and all the noise,” he says.
It took about a year to complete his man cave, with the help of his son and friends, Duff says. The basement was sectioned off into several different spaces, including an extra bedroom and bathroom, and a sewing room for Linda. Poker games take place in an open area near the foot of the stairs, where Bob also has his “toys” out for display.
He has about 28 model tractors, mostly John Deere, along with some International Harvester and others. They sit on shelves along a wall where a sign reading “John Deere Road” hangs, as well as in a corner glass display case.
The collection has roots in Duff’s childhood. He grew up on a farm and also spent time farming with his dad after college.
“I try to find stuff he used to have or we used to have together,” he says.
Along with model tractors, Duff has a passion for the University of Iowa Hawkeyes. The Hawkeye motif dominates another area of the basement, from a rug and posters to a glass etching and wall hangings.
Some of the decor is thanks to his wife, who sewed a window valance and the pillows on the couch, both which feature the Hawkeye logo.
Linda is also responsible for the mini Christmas tree decked out in black and gold in one corner of the room, which includes ornaments she made. Next to it is a photo of her husband’s 1964 Chevy Impala and the Hawkeye-themed license plate that was on it, which sit together in a frame.
A quilt made by Linda’s former mother-in-law, who she had remained close with, hangs above the couch.
The basement also includes a flat-screen TV, refrigerator, wet bar and microwave, Bob says. He used to be down here more often, but his busy schedule means he hasn’t been able to enjoy it as much. In addition to owning Covered Bridge Realty in Winterset, he’s a school bus driver and serves on the Madison County Board of Supervisors.
“It’s just a place to go and relax,” he says. “The two things I watch the most are sports and Westerns. I love the old Western movies.”
The gathering place
When Bill McDonald built his detached garage 25 years or so ago, its purpose wasn’t to house cars.
“It was always the hope to be a hangout and shop,” he says.
It’s served as the regular meet-up spot for McDonald and a small group of family and friends. This 24-foot by 30-foot area hosts it all, from meals to dart games to pre-hunting gatherings. There are bigger crowds, too, including when the Central Iowa Auto club, which McDonald is involved in, has monthly meetings here.
“It’s always been a hub where everybody kind of comes and goes,” he says.
Aside from a place to socialize, the garage is also a work space. It’s home to McDonald’s many projects and hobbies, from making summer sausage to creating wooden crafts.
It’s a no-frills kind of place, with a bare, concrete floor and several chairs scattered about for seating. A drill press sits in one corner of the room, and next to it is a table with several wire chicken planters, which McDonald and his brother-in-law have been building. Two sawhorses have been set up in a different corner, where they work on the planters. There’s also a desk, mostly to store his paperwork.
There’s little decor, but several deer antlers hang on the walls, some from animals shot by his friends, others found hunting.
“It’s not meant to be pretty, by no means,” he says of the space. “I guess, neither am I,” he jokes.
There are some comforts, including a small TV. (“Mainly to check the weather for work,” says McDonald, who, along with his brother, Jeff McDonald, own Quality Construction.) A wood stove gets lots of use during the winter. And there are always drinks in the refrigerator.
“I spend more waking hours here than in the house,” McDonald says. “My wife sometimes wants to know if I need to bring a pillow and a blanket.”
He starts his day here, having breakfast with a few folks before going off to work. He and his brother, along with others, return at lunchtime, toting food from Casey’s, Hardee’s or whatever one of the their wives has cooked that day. Dinner is spent in the house, McDonald says.
As the weather gets colder, there’s a shift in people’s activities when they stop in.
“In the wintertime, the garage gets used more for people playing darts, cards,” he says.
During deer hunting season, a group meets here before heading out to hunt.
“I like the company more than anything else,” McDonald says of the garage. “I like that people feel that they’re welcomed here.”