HOME PROFILE An exotic lair
Story by Karen E. Culp - Photographs by Bob Linder
From the zebra-print carpet to the carved elephant head mounted outside, Michael B. Willhoit’s home is both wild and wonderful.
A bit exotic, but also abundantly homey, the home in Millwood is filled with special pieces Michael has collected. The home has a touch of the East — a coffee table in the great room is made from the door of a mosque in India. It has a bit of the unusual — a huge ceiling fan in the master bedroom is made of old bicycle and fishing rod parts. It has a lot of the unique — including a cherry wood desk created just for Michael and named the Willhoit writing desk by the manufacturer.
And visitors can’t miss the animal themes that pop up in nearly every room.
“(It’s) a surreal surrender place where you get away from it all,” says Michael, who has built a reputation as a dealer of high-end and classic cars — mostly Mercedes, Porsche and Lamborghini. “(The home is) even better than my expectations, and my expectations are high.” In the evenings, Michael’s home is a place of solitude. He like things that move slowly, including fans on a low setting, and dim lights after a hard day’s work selling fast cars.
Michael B. Willhoit
“You gotta slow down sometime,” he says.
Michael calls his home WUUUUUUU-FOSSSSSSA (that’s his preferred spelling) and says it’s a reference to King Mufasa, a character in the Disney animated movie “The Lion King.”
“I like to say this would be Mufasa’s exotic home, his lair or den,” Michael says.
Builder Michael Dobbs built the house about 10 years ago. The original owners wanted an English-cottage feel, Dobbs says. He now considers the home one of his favorite works.
“When you walked in, there was just a kind of a story book feeling to the home,” Dobbs says. “It’s just a time less house. It looks just as great today as it did when it was built.”
This is the second Dobbs home in which Michael has lived.
“For my taste, a Dobbs house is what I like,” he says. “All Dobbs houses have their own trick stuff. Things you aren’t expecting. I see something different every day.”
KITCHEN WITH A RUSTIC FEEL
Michael bought the home less than a year ago and began redecorating it to his taste.
He says he wanted a kitchen with a provincial European look, and that’s what the home has.
The room’s green ceiling is unique: “They painted the kitchen ceiling green and threw hay on it (to give it a rustic effect). Have you ever seen anything like that?”
The color and the treatment of the ceiling gives the kitchen an overall cool feeling. Like many other features in the home, the ceiling was intended to evoke an English country cottage, Dobbs says.
“It kind of gave it an old, mossy feeling,” Dobbs says. “You find that look a lot in England, mainly because it’s truly old and mossy, but we were trying to emulate that feature.”
Large wood beams run the length of the ceiling,and this type of wood work appears all over the house.The wood beams are at trademark of Dobbs’, Michael says.
A prominent kitchen island with seating at one end is one of Michael’s favorite parts of the room. The kitchen also has a cozy breakfast nook and a sitting area.
The kitchen flows into a hearth room that has a small sitting area facing a fireplace.
THE EUROPEAN-STYLE KITCHEN AND HEART ROOM are home to a large island, fireplace and seating area. The kitchen ceiling was painted green and hay was thrown on it to give it a rustic feel.
TREASURES IN THE GREAT ROOM
Moving from the kitchen into the great room, visitors have a view of the master bedroom and its always-slow-moving fan, as well as Michael’s office with its zebra-print carpeting.
The great room is filled with one-of-a-kind furnishings. Michael has a large armoire from India, the coffee table made from a mosque door, and another treasure — an antique chair handcrafted in China.
“Everything is stuff I’ve been collecting for 25, 30 years,” he says. Friends often find things for him because they’ve gotten to know his taste.
“I’ve got stuff from Africa, Egypt, all over,” he says.
Another eye-catching feature in the great room is a free-standing Egyptian sarcophagus. The faux tomb is actually a cabinet for CDs or DVDs.
And, of course, the great room is full of animal references — a pair of zebra-striped chairs, a statue of a lion and lioness and other touches carry out the home’s overall theme.
The two-sided fireplace in the office connects it to the great room.
METAL AX IN THE OFFICE
A two-sided, see-through fireplace is between the great room and Michael’s office — the room with the zebra carpet. Made by Ralph Lauren, the carpet was a challenge to locate. Michael had to special-order it. “I wanted leopard print, but they’d discontinued that, so I found the zebra.”
In front of his custom-designed desk is a large metal shield and ax. The shield reads “Death Dealer,” and both it and the ax are props from a national motorcycle competition in Florida. Michael tricked out a Harley-Davidson, entered it in the contest and walked away with the best in show title, beating out 750,000 other competitors.
He based the Harley’s design on a painting, “Death Dealer,” by artist Frank Frazetta. The Death Dealer character is depicted in this painting as an armor-clad warrior with a horned helmet. His facial features are obscured by shadow. He sits on a horse, holding a bloody ax and shield. The character has also been the subject of graphic novels and comic books.
“I’m a huge Frazetta fan,” Michael says.
MASTER BEDROOM WITH A VIEW
The master bedroom is home to the ceiling fan made of bike and fishing rod parts. It hang slow — just above guests’ heads, per Michael’s preference.
Like all the rooms, the bedroom offers a view of the area around the home. No matter which windows you look out of, Michael says, you see something nice, not a slab of concrete. “Even though you’re in a large subdivision, it feels like you’re out in the country.”
The master bathroom, which is off the bedroom, contains a “shower you could play volleyball in,” Michael says.
SPECIAL TOUCHES OUTSIDE
The first thing anyone would notice about Michael’s home is the large carving of an elephant head mounted on an outside wall.
“When the pizza guy asks how to find my house, I always tell him to look for the big elephant,” Michael says. “It sets the tone for what is to come inside the house with all my animal themes.”
The exterior doors are all antique and the home’s exterior has a “very rustic” look. He has used the exterior as a backdrop for photos of his exotic cars. He posts the pictures online and frequently gets questions or comments about the home in the photos.
Beautifully landscaped, the exterior of the home also has a small courtyard with a fountain.
A screened porch adds to the home’s charm; it allows a nice view of the Millwood development’s lake or the wooded areas around the home.
ANIMALS — the theme of the entire house — even pop up in the bathroom in the form of a fox painting over the tub.
BASEMENT HAS ROOMS, WET BAR
The home also has a basement with a den and two guest rooms. One bedroom is decorated in a floral motif, while the other has a “cowboys and Indians” theme.
The master bedroom (right) features a large, low-hanging fan made of fishing rod and bicycle parts.
The den is home to a hidden flat-screen television and an antique wet bar. The bar,like many other structures in the home, has a ram’s head carved into it. That, too, is a motif favored by Dobbs, Michael says.
All in all, the home is a precise reflection of Michael’s taste, and he has placed everything where he wants it. Michael long ago transformed his first passion — selling high-end cars — into a full-time profession.
After that, he was in the market for a new interest, and found it with decorating.
“I needed a hobby, so this became my hobby, and I just love it,” he says. “What can I say? Life’s good.”