Curious Springfieldians might have waited nearly two years to see what would happen to the creek-side home on Lone Pine Avenue, but the new owners, Michael and Lisa Willhoit, have waited longer than that. For them, this dream was 10 years in the making, and when they finally moved in this July, they brought a rhino, an African warrior, one giant snapping turtle and a whole lot of African ambience with them.
“It’s crazy, isn’t it?” Michael says as he walks barefoot through the finished home. Even though the house is just 3,300 square feet with two bedrooms and two baths, it seems larger than life. In the sun room, a taxidermic lion and chimpanzee share the spectacular view of the carefully landscaped property, which is just shy of 5 acres. A spring-fed creek cuts a wide expanse down the middle of the lot and runs under the house. Chandeliers made of horns and tusks are hung throughout the rooms to match the African-inspired décor. Even the walls are coated with African wax to give the appearance that you are standing inside a safari hut.
No detail is left out, so when Michael says he wanted the home to feel like a $10,000-a-night Ralph Lauren lodge, you have to admit—he’s succeeded. Michael’s love of the home began years ago. When the property was between owners, Michael and Lisa would sneak onto the back deck with a cooler of beer and pretend the home was theirs. When the chance came for the couple to become the true owners, Michael didn’t hesitate.
Naming the property The African Queen was a no-brainer for Michael, who loves all things African. He visited the continent in 1972 and returned with a new fascination. Now, he and Lisa have turned their home into a love letter to Africa, and Michael couldn’t be happier—at least that was what he thought. Then he discovered the flooring that would turn his beloved African Queen into a true work of art.
“Walking on this floor is the best foot massage you’ll get,” he says. Designed and installed by Archetypal Wood Gallery—based in New York—this wood floor is nothing like you would expect. Running the length of the kitchen, it is made up of more than 550,000 tiny wooden squares made of ebony, oak and walnut. There are three sizes, and each size comes in three heights. This is what gives the floor a physical wave you can feel as you walk across it—barefoot of course. “It took eight months to install this floor,” says Avedis Duvenjian, Archetypal’s previous co-owner and founder. Duvenjian brought aboard Vartan Arutyunian, a hyper-realistic artist who incorporates three-dimensional designs into the mosaic flooring.
“We saw the floor and paid $1,500 for a sample,” Michael says. “I said I hope we don’t like this. The cost has to be out of this world!” But Michael loved it, and soon Duvenjian, Arutyunian and their team were installing the floor. Then one night Arutyunian woke up from a dream and started sketching a giant crocodile. That croc, made up of 20,000 wooden tiles and spanning a whopping 17 feet, now looks up from the kitchen floor.
“This floor is going to win Floor of the Century,” Michael says, and with Archetypal’s collection of awards including Best Wood Floor of the Year in 2015 by the National Wood Floor Association, it doesn’t seem farfetched.
Once the floor was finished with bee’s wax, which allows the floor to expand and contract during the seasons, and all the furnishing were moved in (including a custom-made lion head toilet and a hammered copper tub for Lisa), The African Queen was complete, and Michael’s decade-long dream was finally reached. Now the only question is, what’s next?