When we bought our former home back in Dubuque, Iowa, I was fascinated by its size. The 1891 mansion, with stained glass windows and intricate woodwork and wraparound porch and prestigious cupola, weighed in at just over 7,500 square feet.

Yet the old carriage house behind the historic home was also impressive. And huge. And underutilized.

The downstairs of the 2,000-square-foot two-story structure contained a workshop, a tool room and then storage.

Lots and lots of storage.

Once I’d completed much-needed improvements to our main house, I began scheming—I mean, envisioning—what might be done with our large back building.

Create a laundryroom for the tenants in the five upstairs apartments in our house?


Create a fitness room for the tenants in the five upstairs apartments in our house?


Clear out excess building materials from the remainder of the structure to create additional storage space?


But what to do with the loft of the carriage house, which had been used by the previous owner to simply store wood?

Access to the dusty, dark loft was via an old trapdoor. A single small barn window was located on either end of the upstairs room. It was a dark, dirty blank palette.

Over the next year, I began to transform this dark little A-framed loft into a unique full-size one-bedroom apartment. A full kitchen. A full bathroom. A living room. A bedroom. A deck on the south end.

The only problem was that zoning rules (I was chairman of the city’s zoning commission) mandated that a non-attached accessory structure could not be used for residential purposes. So doggonit, I suddenly realized I’d just built the ultimate Mancave. Perfect for hosting parties. Brewing my own beer. Providing a guest apartment for visitors.

When we sold that majestic old home last summer and moved back across the street to a house I’d been renting out (knowing we’d soon be spending 99.99% of all our time in Virginia), my feeling of loss for my magestic Mancave was even greater than my feelings for our majestic mansion.

And then, when we moved into a 362-square-foot winter home we’d created down here in Virginia—where I like to joke that our biggest room is “room for improvement”—what about a Mancave??

Fortunately, my father had realized my need for a replacement for my Iowa “manly” space, and had bought me an additional 8x12-foot structure to be used as my “extra space” down here in The Old Dominion State.

Dozens and dozens of our Virginia cottages would’ve fit in our old Iowa home.

Several of our Virginia cottages could’ve fit in my Iowa Mancave.

And three and a half of my Virginia Mancaves would fit into our tiny Virginia cottage.

“I’ve always felt that every man needs his own carriage house,” said a friend I’d attended college with back in Dubuque.

My Virginia Mancave was still a work in progress, not to be totally completed until after my brain surgery in January. It isn’t even worthy of being known as a Mancave, after the monstrosity I had owned back in Iowa.

But my Virginia he-shed does in fact have carriage doors, so I’ll proudly refer to it as my new carriage house.

A carriage house so small that only a single carriage would fit.

Fortunately, at this point in my life, that’s the perfect size for me.

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