Oi Polloi

Building Bilge: The Invention of the Bachelor Pad

Published: Mon Jun 13 2022

Renting an unaffordable hovel in an up ‘n’ coming neighbourhood is hardly a new concept, but have you ever wondered how this method of dwelling became so vogue? Probably not, but in our insatiable and unending quest to present our audience with vaguely amusing trivia, we decided to find out exactly how and why it did…

Now, there’s a shedload of cultural guff that has shaped our metropolitan living quarters, that’s for sure, but certain individuals here at the OP HQ (alright, maybe just one) are under the impression that Playboy don, Hugh Hefner and his rally for the ‘Male Right to Domestic Space’ had a lot to do with it.

Since its first publication in 1953, the lads-mag hammered the message that true freedom could only be attained by following these very simple steps: 1) file for divorce, 2) leave the marital abode, and 3) adopt a monogamy-free lifestyle of meaningless flings and guilt-free consumption. Of course, this raised the blood pressures of a fair few ‘White Picket Fence’ traditionalists, as many blokes began to pursue bachelorhood anew.

Here’s a little sketch of Hugh pointing his trademark pipe at a model of what became the first Playboy club hotel in Los Angeles. The interior scheme denoted how he thought the single man’s home should operate.

Unfettered by contemporary dogma, Hugh’s masculine ideal was purchasing all manner of space-age tech to fill the void of his newly estranged family. Conveniently, the design editors of his favourite magazine subscription had formulated a manual of state-of-the-art home appliances, essential for the mass retreat to The Great Indoors. As Oi Polloi’s resident building enthusiast (or time-travelling estate agent, if you prefer), please allow me to take you on a tour of the Playboy-accredited Bachelor Pad…

These spacious digs provided more stomping ground than the average Joe would know what to do with. Clearly, Hugh had assumed his readers still maintained bountiful bank balances after finalising the divorce, but after all, it was meant to be aspirational, and the publishers endeavoured to create more unchaste James Bond avatars, one wholesome war husband at a time.

The archetypal penthouse saw cooking, dining and living zones meld into one, and thanks to the introduction of home sound systems, the bachelor could now entertain a gaggle of guests whilst preparing a downright feast. For the first time ever, technical kit previously reserved for professional gig venues acted as the glamorous assistants in the theatrics of open-plan living.

Anyone that’s ever stepped foot inside a B&Q showroom should know that the less-is-more style rules with a minimal fist these days, as most punters seem to think messy kitchens are, put simply, too ghastly to look at. But concealing cooking apparatus is by no means a contemporary notion. This first started when Playboy deemed food prep as a bit ‘too feminine’ for the new man’s multimedia paradise, even suggesting that those Japanese Shoji screens could help to make these areas as inconspicuous as possible. Must have made sense back then.

With the mail-order and teleshopping industries booming, it was easy for the bachelor to kit out his new apartment with all manner of Hefner-endorsed gadgetry too, which included the Toastmaster, the Nesco Rotisserie Oven, and something called an Infra-Red Magicook. These slabs of machinery were ergonomic enough to be tucked under the countertop but when deployed, bore resemblance to the burnished alloys of… really slick seventies sportscars?.

So, what exactly could you cook up with this array of gastronomic gear? Luckily enough, Thomas Mario’s 1972 publication ‘The Playboy Gourmet’ had concocted an assortment of foolproof recipes that were guaranteed to wow visitors and dial down the meal making minutes.

Now, it may have come as a shock to a fair few of us but working from home had been Hugh Hefner’s bread ‘n’ butter since the very start of his career. This guy was so well-renowned for running an empire from a cyclical slumber station, that a set of burgundy satin pyjamas became his primary choice of business attire. To be fair to him, he had a pretty decent setup going on. This thing came with some nifty fold away desk apparatus, built-in refrigeration, and skylight-opening switch panels; it could also revolve 360 degrees whenever you fancied a change of scenery.

What started off as a slab of seventies-fuelled gimmickry became integral to the blueprint of the bachelor pad. Unsurprisingly, the Playboy tycoon actively encouraged the mixture of business and leisure, once remarking ‘A gentleman’s bed should not be a place to assume a supine position after a wearying day at the office, it should be a sumptuous haven’. Fair enough.

What’s a block of flats without neighbours, eh? The magazine’s creation of ‘The Girl Next Door’ painted the illusion that, at the very instant of your moving in, some blonde bombshell from across the hall would bob around with a freshly baked apple pie and some helpful guidance on the local amenities.

After some (a lot of) chewing on the tenuous links between modern domesticity and a sixty year old housing concept, I’ve just about managed to come to one resounding conclusion. Out of all the architectural mavericks that have had a crack at reinventing the wheel, maybe all it took was one mucky mag and an old boy in a dressing gown to shake up po-faced property palettes once and for all.