His and Hers: Analyzing "Masculine" and "Feminine" Decor

Pin it button big

Can a room be masculine or feminine? We've occasionally been known to describe spaces this way, which doesn't sit well with some readers. Of course, calling something 'masculine' or 'feminine' doesn't mean that particular room or decor style is only for men or women — it means that the space being described has qualities we associate more with one gender than another. But WHY do certain aspects of decor make us think 'masculine' or 'feminine'? And is describing things thus a helpful way of getting a handle on a certain look — or a perpetuation of damaging stereotypes? Let's take a look.

First, we'll look at a few examples of rooms that might be described as either masculine or feminine. We're going to break these spaces down into their component parts — an attempt to identify what it is that's so manly or womanly about each one. Later, a chart (because everyone loves charts, right?) comparing different aspects of the masculine and feminine rooms — and investigating why we associate these things with the gender that we do.

'FEMININE' ROOMS (cuz ladies first):

1.There's a lot going on in this living room from Style at Home. Of course the pink walls help, but a lot of what makes this room read girly is in the little details: floral printed pillows, tiny curios, an abstract painting in lovely light colors, a vase with flowers on it.
2. This bedroom from Lonny doesn't have the pink walls — in fact, it hardly has any color at all — but it still reads feminine thanks to the floral wallpaper, delicate bedside tray, and scalloped linens.
3. The furniture, I think, is pretty neutral, but the pink walls and floral prints make this say 'feminine' to me. Country Style Australia, via Creamy Life.
4. Light colors, gold, florals, delicate furniture (the chair in the foreground). Living room from Lonny.
5. Soft, comfy things (like a tufted headboard), gold, delicate prints, light colors. Bedroom from Lonny.
6. Soft colors, piled fabrics, floral print. From Bemz.
7. The modern furniture in this room (I spy IKEA) has a bit of starkness to it, but the floral wallpaper and light color scheme mean the room still reads quite feminine. From Lonny.
8. Delicate prints, light colors, florals, gold. From Design Manifest.

'MASCULINE' ROOMS:

1. Leather sofa, dark colors, rough-hewn logs, dead animals. Masculine, gloomy, stylishly foreboding. Vart Nya Hem via Blissful Blog
2. Nothing says 'bachelor pad' like those black leather Corbusier chairs. Throw in a weathered chest and a hide rug and you've got the look down pat. From Style at Home.
3. Dark, muted color palette. Big wood beams. Lots of texture. A bedroom at the Soho House NY.
4. Plaid is manly. A Toronto loft converted from an auto repair shop, from The Marion House Blog.
5. This bedroom (from House and Leisure), with its gold frames and crystal lamp, has a lusher look than the other spaces pictured here, but the leather headboard and dark hues still make it read masculine.

So now that we've looked at all these rooms and are starting to see trends... it is CHART TIME. Note that the associations I've drummed up aren't necessarily good things — this is just an attempt to explain why we think of certain things as masculine or feminine, not to justify it.

Pin it button big
Pin it button big

* TV Tropes has identified something it calls Pale Females, Dark Males, a phenomenon in animation where male characters (aliens, monsters, mythical creatures) are always drawn a shade darker than female characters. You know, to help you distinguish. Why do the ladies get the lighter color? TV Tropes thinks possibly it dates back to farming times, when men typically spent more time working outdoors. So maybe this is the answer to the dark/light mystery.

Of course, I'm no scholar. I don't have a degree in gender studies — my only qualification is that I spend lots of time looking at pictures of interiors. But it's been interesting examining what might be behind the instinct to call a room masculine or feminine. And now it is up to you, dear readers, to answer the big question: is using gendered descriptors for rooms pretty harmless? Or annoying and offensive? What do you think?

(Images: as linked above)