Just a few steps past the kitchen door of the home of Tomás Sánchez and Maria Quiñones Sánchez, a male kingdom beckons.
While no scrawled signs proclaim it an all-male bastion, there is no mistaking that this is a grown-up clubhouse designed for a guy and his pals.
Tomas Sánchez's "man cave" in the Norris Square section of Philadelphia, a few blocks north of Northern Liberties, is what springs to mind when a guy imagines a retreat, a haven, a guy-place. But this one has taste, style, and an elegance that has nothing to do with grandeur.
"I knew exactly what I wanted the look and feel to be, and this is it," says Sánchez, 47, a soft-spoken Harvard-educated man who earned a law degree at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, but doesn't practice law.
As director of business relations at Temple University, Sánchez is a liaison for the minority community, women business owners, and the larger business world. He is a Renaissance man - husband, father, art collector and art patron, public-spirited community activist . . . and yes, sports fan. Sánchez shares his life with his spouse, Maria Quiñones Sánchez, 41, a member of City Council; their son Tomasito, 11; and Edgar Quiles, 21, Quinoñes Sánchez's son from an earlier marriage.
Once believed to have been a neighborhood slaughterhouse, the building that houses Sánchez's retreat later became an ordinary four-car garage that sat on the same deep property as their vintage 1908 home. The structure was transformed four years ago with only traces of its earlier life melding with its new one: original garage doors and an exposed brick wall.
Under Sánchez's creative direction, the garage took on a new life. Industrial details like exposed ductwork for the heating and air-conditioning vents impart a rugged feel, and a wood ceiling and splashes of bright primary yellows and reds on walls add warmth.
There are unusual touches: Salvaged airport runway lights illuminate the space, and large lockers painted in dark blue auto paint instead of their original olive drab are decorative and practical. Auto paint also turns up in orange and yellow carts that serve as tables. Modernity juxtaposes with age: There are flashes of stainless steel in bar stools and chairs, and an elderly church pew occupies one corner. Sánchez is a happily addicted collector of pieces both unique and orphaned.
Throw in a pool table; card tables; a bar; refrigerator; a warm, patterned area rug; a handsome red leather sofa that rests at one end of the 20-by-32-foot expanse, and framed graphic arts posters from Puerto Rico, and this cave proves quirky, interesting, masculine, and sophisticated.
It's also family and pet friendly. Young Tomasito is completely at home in the guy "annex," and Pierre, the family's remarkable 21-year-old poodle, often also tags along as "one of the guys."
Tomasito often pulls his Xbox 360 into the room, his father says. That videogame system complements the 60-inch Sony, which pumps TV and music into the cave. All of it soon will be enhanced by a new surround-sound system that Sánchez is installing.
Because Sánchez is close to his family - he is one of 12 siblings, eight of them male - the cave is often heavy on the guy population. But it goes coed for family parties and major sporting events. The Super Bowl already is a tradition.
"Unless it's a family party, I basically bring out the food and leave," Quiñones Sánchez, who doesn't mind a bit, says with a smile. The first Latina elected to City Council, she knows her husband shares and celebrates her feminism.
"This space is not an expression of anything macho - it's just a fun gathering place that my husband enjoys enormously, and shares with our family and friends," she says. "He took something humble and totally transformed it into a terrific gathering place."
Transformation isn't a new concept for Sánchez. He and Quiñones Sánchez, who originally lived in Logan, searched for several years before they learned of this home. "I just saw a boring old house. But Tomas has a knack for transforming space from what it is to what it could be," Quiñones Sánchez says. "He saw the home's potential, and he was so right."
"Many of the features were already here," notes Sánchez, who recognized the home's good bones and sturdy construction. An oak mantel with mirror back and tile trim, an elegant stairway, and a recently renovated kitchen/eating area that weds the old with the new create a home with character to spare.
Sánchez's penchant for collecting, and his wide and deep knowledge of Latin art, have created drama that sometimes leaves visitors gaping.
Case in point: The striking pair of Pablo Labañino airbrushed assemblages that dominate a living room wall. The bold artist, who has designed magazines, books, posters, and record covers for several studios, has work in museums all over the world.
The assemblages include wildly diverse visual references to bicycle wheels, American Express, American politics, Philadelphia neighborhoods and beers, and to both decay and rebirth. They are impossible to ignore.
Sánchez also prizes the works of Cuban-born artist Orlando Rafael Quevedo. So intrigued by this unusual artist that he became his supportive patron, Sánchez has watched Quevedo rise to prominence for his lush nudes and sought-after paintings that incorporate representations of the works of masters like Rubens, Velazquez, and Rembrandt.
In addition, the Sánchez-Quiñones Sánchez home showcases Luis Germán Cajiga, the Puerto Rican artist who became famous for painting the streets of old San Juan, along with colorful landscapes, portraits, and religious themes.
The living room's red velvet sofas, one in an Empire style, the other more contemporary, are resting places to drink in the art, antique furniture, Mexican masks, and African carved wood pieces, all blending harmoniously.
Setting off the art are walls of golden-bronze in the living room and scarlet red in the adjoining sunroom, a cozy space with more artwork and collectibles. The two spaces are connected by pocket doors with glass inserts.
Sánchez admits he's fortunate to have a traditional indoor space he loves, filled with Latin art that has meaning for his family, and having his man cave as a bonus.
"It sometimes feels like a recreation center out there - people can be playing pool, watching a game, eating, talking, and just enjoying themselves, all at the same time," he says. "It's definitely a lot more fun now than it was as a garage!"