Move over, Chip and Joanna Gaines, because home renovation just got a lot more country.
During the COVID-19 pandemic stay at home protocols, Brantley Gilbert was able to pursue an almost decade-old dream of his: renovating his garage into a man cave.
"Nine years ago, I didn't have the means to build something quite this size," Gilbert tells PEOPLE exclusively. "But when I got married and had kids I knew this was my home. It's been a long process and it's evolved a lot. I'm a little bit OCD, and I like to be very organized, so I really just wanted a place of my own where I knew where everything was and I'm out of my wife's hair."
Dubbed the "Dawg House" after Gilbert's favorite team, the Georgia Bulldogs, Gilbert and his friends wanted to create a versatile space where they could write and record music, throw parties, and unwind after a long day at work.
"I thought the Dawg House was a cool name, but also some of the guys will say, 'Well, if you do screw up and get kicked out of the house for a minute…'" he jokes. "In the South, we call that getting put in the dog house, so now there is an actual Dawg House where they can come stay."
Gilbert, who shares son Barrett, 3, and daughter Braylen, 15 months, with his wife, Amber, says that the space inside of his house is where he lets his wife dictate the decor.
"It's all rustic and reclaimed wood, modern farmhouse or whatever," the country star says. "And I like some of that stuff, but she has the house down there that she's turned into Southern Living magazine, and up here, it's biker, hot rod racing. It's a man cave slash showroom slash anything you can think of."
The "What Happens in a Small Town" singer says that his wife calls his interior decorating taste "terrible," but for Gilbert, all of the decorations and furnishings in the Dawg House have a special place in his heart.
"Everybody that comes in here says it's 100 percent me, but I didn't do it alone," Gilbert says. "When the COVID thing hit, it made me realize how much of a family my guys and I really are. That brotherhood is a huge part of who we are and our life. I know for certain on my end, I was missing those guys, just that camaraderie and working toward a common goal together."
So he enlisted the help of his friends and crew members to help build and decorate the Dawg House.
"I drew this place out on little grid paper, and before I knew it, all the guys came down and they brought it to life with their spin on things," Gilbert says. "Looking up at everything, I remember who did the trim around the bathroom door, who helped hang up the entertainment system, and any time one of the guys comes over, if they see something that's not right, they go over to the tool cabinet and they fix it. It's an ongoing project, but I'm more proud of it than anything because it's something we built together."
Of course, the "Hard Days" singer couldn't let his friends do everything. He says that he built walls, and insulated the building with his dad.
"If I wouldn't have put in some blue-collar work out here, these boys wouldn't let me live it down. They weren't going to let me stand around and point," he says. "That's not really how it works off the road or on the road. These boys hold me accountable."
While the space features bunk beds, a writing room, a back patio and an overlook to a dance floor, the Dawg House still maintains its functionality as a garage. Gilbert installed RaceDeck black and white checkered floors to give the room a pop of his personality, and the space houses his motorcycles, dirt bikes, cars, and even his tour bus.
But one of Gilbert's favorite places in the room is the bar. Even though the country star celebrated nine years of sobriety this year, he somehow "always ends up as the bartender."
"I like to say I'm allergic to alcohol. I break out in handcuffs," he says with a laugh. "But I do have a bar in there and that's because I like for everybody else to drink."
The bar, which houses a bourbon collection, features tokens that Gilbert has gotten over the years from fans at meet and greets. Essentially, the top of the bar doubles as a shadow box full of military patches or coins and additional pieces of memorabilia from his fans.
"I had all of this cool stuff and I didn't know what to do with it," the "Bottoms Up" singer says. "It's not mine. I didn't earn it. So it was just a gift I didn't deserve, but I wanted it to be on display. It's one of the coolest things about the Dawg House I think."
While Gilbert has not been able to play live shows due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and he does miss the fan interactions, he says he has been enjoying this time with his family, and even built his kids a little playspace of their own right next to his renovated garage.
"We built a little treehouse for them," the singer says. "It's got a boy’s side and a girl's side, and it's right beside the Dawg House. So that's their Dawg House."
Overall, it's projects like these that have been helping Gilbert manage his boredom throughout the pandemic.
"I do think there were some good things in the beginning," he says. "I think a lot of people, me included, needed to slow down and be stuck for a minute. But I will admit that I'm still not one of those guys who has handled it well and taken it in stride. Since I was 15 or 16, I've been gone 3-4 days a week playing music, and when you take that out of the mix and all of a sudden, you're home and not leaving… it just threw a stick in my spokes."
He continues, "But projects like these help a lot, and my kids are such special young'uns. I didn't get to do a whole lot of stuff with them for years, like trick or treating. So I'm getting a crash course now and I'm loving it."
This month, Gilbert announces two new ways for fans to connect. The country star is launching Brantley Gilbert's Selects quarterly subscription boxes, featuring custom and limited-edition handpicked items, available for preorder now. And see the Dawg House for yourself on Wednesday, Dec. 30 at 9 p.m. ET, as Gilbert performs both a full band and an acoustic set live from his home. Tickets for the end-of-year livestream are available now.
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