Luxury Homeowners Build Rooms to Show Off Trophies

Hunters, former professional athletes and other extreme hobbyists can go to great lengths to display reminders of hobbies and accomplishments.

Read it on WSJ Real Estate. By: Candance Taylor
March 30, 2017

The head of an African elephant is mounted above the bar. Taxidermied lions, expertly arranged in natural poses, are gathered around the sofa, while an ostrich and rhinoceros survey the scene from above.

Paul Ray Geiger Jr. spent about $600,000 to build this 2,500-square-foot building dedicated to his family’s hunting trophies on their roughly 14-acre property in Richmond, Texas. A 52-year-old designer of offshore oil rigs and a lifelong hunting enthusiast, Mr. Geiger said he aimed for a “clean, minimalist” look for the space, with exposed wood beams and white walls to better highlight the trophies. There are over 100 recessed lights in the ceiling to illuminate the animals.

“We go in there and remember the trips we had, the good memories,” said Mr. Geiger, whose two daughters also enjoy the sport. Now empty-nesters, he and his wife recently found a buyer for the property, which had been listed at $2.4 million for the house and $1.15 million for the trophy barn.

Some animal trophy rooms go further, becoming museum-esque display spaces that seek to replicate animals’ natural habitat with faux grass, trees and rocks, according to Tom Julian of Arkansas-based Julian and Sons, who consults with homeowners on game displays. Mr. Julian said some of the projects he has worked on have cost up to $20 million, with elements such as ceilings that light up to resemble the night sky, sound systems that mimic jungle noises and mechanized, moving animals. Specially designed recessed lighting avoids casting shadows.

And it’s not just hunters. Athletes, entertainers and passionate hobbyists are creating dedicated spaces in their homes to display the fruits of their labor. As technology has improved and the definition of what constitutes a “trophy” has broadened, architects and interior designers say trophy rooms of all kinds—which can take on a shrine-like quality—are becoming more elaborate.

“I’m seeing the desire of people to be surrounded by their accomplishments,” said Miami architect and interior designer Kobi Karp, who recently designed a trophy room for retired basketball player Juwan Howard. Nowadays these mementos range from shoes to playbooks to motorcycles and cars, and homeowners display them with the help of videos, animation and interactive elements.

Mr. Karp said his clients almost never put a spending limit on their trophy rooms. “It’s not like the theater, where they say it has to be $50,000—it’s too personal, too unique,” he said, adding: “For them, it’s the crown jewel” of the home.

When football player Hines Ward built his Atlanta home in 2008, he designed a room on the home’s lower level for what he calls “my own little personal museum.” The roughly 200-square-foot space includes a built-in replica of his Pittsburgh Steelers locker. The walls are lined with framed football jerseys, and shelving displays his two Super Bowl rings, trophies and game balls. A television plays a highlight reel of his football career.

The room “tells a story,” said the now-retired wide-receiver. Moreover, spending time in the room “brings a lot of great memories,” he said. “It brings a smile to my face.” Trophies belonging to Mr. Ward’s wife and son have found their way onto the shelves, as well as his 2011 “Dancing with the Stars” trophy. “I think that gets more attention than anything,” he laughed.

The house is now on the market for $5.99 million; Mr. Ward and his family are building another home in Atlanta, which he said will have “another trophy room that’s almost identical.”

In the trophy room he built on his 40-acre Wisconsin property, Jay Parmeter displays six motorcycles he and his family no longer ride. About 50 feet from his six-bedroom home, the combination trophy room and pool house contains custom display cases for the motorcycles, including the Suzuki Mr. Parmeter was riding when he won a national championship in 1982. Behind the bike is a large-scale photograph of a helmeted Mr. Parmeter; below is another built-in display case holding a bevy of his trophies.

In addition to the bikes, about 300 trophies and plaques are on display; when the building was completed in 2014 it took a group of people roughly six hours to move all the trophies in, Mr. Parmeter said.

The room “helps us remember all the fun we had,” Mr. Parmeter, a 56-year-old homebuilder, said. The building cost about $225,000, Mr. Parmeter said, including about $30,000 for the display cases.

Music producer Richard Perry, who has worked with artists like Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross and Ringo Starr, displays his roughly 20 gold and platinum records on the lower level of the Beverly Hills home he shared with ex-girlfriend Jane Fonda, in what he calls “the music room.” There are framed photographs, such as a picture of Mr. Perry sitting at the piano with Paul McCartney, and a jukebox.

Next door is the “media room” where the biggest awards sit on bookshelves: the two Academy Awards won by Ms. Fonda and Mr. Perry’s Trustees Award from the Recording Academy.

Mr. Perry, 74, said he and Ms. Fonda are selling the home because they recently split up, though he said the breakup is amicable. The roughly 7,100-square-foot home is listed for $11.495 million with Jade Mills and Valerie Fitzgerald of Coldwell Banker.

Trophy rooms can sometimes make it harder to sell a home. Arizona real-estate agent Jason Mitchell recently sold the Paradise Valley home of retired professional basketball player Eddie Johnson. The roughly 12,000-square-foot house first went on the market in 2007 for $4.7 million; Mr. Mitchell took over the listing in 2015, pricing it at $2.65 million.

Mr. Mitchell found that Mr. Johnson’s trophies and memorabilia—which included a signed basketball from Magic Johnson, and a baseball signed by Roger Clemens—distracted potential buyers.

“Everything became about Eddie,” he said. “You want [buyers] to focus on the great features of the home without getting into the sellers themselves.” After several years on and off the market, it sold a few months ago for $2 million to a developer who plans to renovate the house, Mr. Mitchell said.

Mr. Johnson, who is downsizing to a smaller home nearby, said he was advised by some to remove his memorabilia, but he decided not to because he felt they would help give buyers an idea of what to do with the room. As for the sale price, Mr. Johnson said he’s not too disappointed because he paid about $1 million for the house.

One way to lessen the impact of trophy rooms on resale value is to ensure that the space can be used for other purposes, said real-estate agent Ben Moss of Compass. “Buyers want to be able to envision themselves in the house,” Mr. Moss said. “If they walk into rooms they don’t know what to do with, they start questioning.”

Hunting trophies can be particularly problematic. Some purchasers “get turned off right away” by taxidermy, warned Mr. Mitchell. He recommends that serious sellers put their animal trophies in storage once the home is on the market, although he said that may be less of an issue in regions where hunting is popular. (Mr. Geiger said he considered taking down the hunting trophies before listing his property, but decided not to because “a lot of buyers in Texas are hunters.”)

Such warnings haven’t dissuaded Bill Topper, an executive at a manufacturing company. His Pinehurst, Texas, home, which includes displays of animals he has shot around the world including a moose and grizzly bear, has been on the market for about three years. After several price reductions, the house is now listed at $1.499 million.

“Not every house is for everybody,” Mr. Topper said. “It’s a piece of art and it takes the right person.”