Pete Hartwell's infatuation with sports memerobilia started with Wade Boggs.

He started collecting baseball cards in the 1980s featuring the Boston Red Sox's third baseman. Now, the 41-year-old says he has more than 750,000 cards just of Boggs.

Hartwell's fandom grew to include the entire Red Sox team, as well as the New England Patriots. Stadium seats, autographed plates, pictures with Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady. Stored in an upstairs room of his two-floor Egg Harbor Township home, thousands of Hartwell's greatest sports memories were stuffed in boxes, collecting dust.

That all changed when the man cave came into play.

Hartwell and his girlfriend, 41-year-old Tina Thompson, spent the past two months repainting, redecorating and rebranding the formal family room they hardly ever used near the back of their home.

It's where the family plays video games now. If he's not in a seat at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Hartwell's watching the Patriots on his big-screen television in a black leather theater seat. He hasn't missed a single game in more than 10 years.

"We hosted Thanksgiving here, which was the first time most of the room was set up," Thompson said. "I couldn't get anyone to come in to eat."

It's a shrine to Hartwell's teams of choice, and has entertained more people than ever since the house was built 15 years ago, he said.

The popularity of man caves - defined by as "a room or space (as in a basement) designed according to the taste of the man of the house to be used as his personal area for hobbies and leisure activities" - has grown outside of just the garage or shed. Many of those who have or design such spaces are saying man caves are a refuge for the males in the home, a space that can extend to their friends and families.

Mike Yost started that man caves website in April of 2008, capitalizing on the growing trend of male-targeted spaces. He said it's evolved into a central location for men with man caves to share ideas, sell merchandise and talk all things caves. A year before Yost started his site, the DIY television network began airing its "Man Caves" home improvement show.

"The actual man cave lifestyle is becoming more popular as time goes on," said Yost, 52, in Sierra Vista, Arizona. He has his own man cave, he said, in a detached garage. The TV, hot-dog warmer and 9-foot handmade bar is more than enough to entertain Yost and his friends when they watch a game or a race, he said.

Like Hartwell, Yost said many man caves become bastions of collected memorabilia. Even though these items often don't make it into the main house, he said

Candice Adler, founder of interior decorating Candice Adler Design in Linwood, has a rule of thumb to see whether or not an item is good for the house, or suitable for a man cave: Ask the wife.

"Normally the home reflects the woman's vibe. But the man cave, that's the one place where it tends to be more masculine in terms of color and vibe," she said. Her own husband has a man cave, she added, and about 15 percent of the homes she's worked with in the South Jersey and Philadelphia area have a man cave in the design.

A man cave wasn't even on Robert "Seth" Mickens' mind when he moved into his Hammonton home with his would-be wife Jessa earlier this year.

Mickens, 26, said Jessa encouraged him to create his man cave space - now adorned with "Terminator" movie posters, Philadelphia Flyers gear and blown-up comic book covers - when they saw the built-in bar in the corner of a first-floor room. Since the couple only moved in close to September, and married in November, Mickens said he's still setting the room up.

"When there's a game, it's all in there," he said. "That's where I am every Sunday."

Contact Sara Tracey:

609-272-7256; @ACPress_Tracey on Twitter

Creating space

Candice Adler, founder of Candice Adler Designs in Linwood, said function is the main drive behind setting up your own man cave.

Will it be a family space? A place for the guys to gather and get a little rowdy? Knowing that, Adler said it's easier to determine what kind of furniture to pick, what sports memerobilia to display and the budget you'd likely be working with.

"To me, I want a client to tell me what are you going to use this room the most for?" she said. "If (the room) is not doing what you want it to do, it's not worth the investment."

Pete Hartwell, of Egg Harbor Township, knew what he wanted in his space, but wanted the wall colors coordinated to match the colors of his teams, the New England Patriots and the Boston Red Sox. He and his girlfriend Tina Thompson went to Home Depot, where staff helped them match the colors exactly.

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