A hunting adventure, even the months-long safaris that some are able to take, can only last a finite amount of time. All things end eventually, and when they do, the hunter returns home.
All come back with memories that will last a lifetime, but some are fortunate enough to bring heads, hides, and other trophies with them. Most hunters keep some symbol of their hunt with them inside their homes, but many turn a room—or rooms—into the ultimate presentation tool. But creating your own trophy area is far from simple.
Tom Julian explained the process in a free seminar at this year’s Dallas Safari Club convention. Tom is the owner and founder of Julian & Sons, located in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. The firm specializes in cabinetry and woodworking, but as a former general contractor, Julian now builds entire rooms to reflect their owners’ personalities.
“What we really do is help people tell their stories,” Julian said. “We create a place where they can display the things they love: art, taxidermy, firearms, artifacts, or books. The spaces immediately feel intimate, like they are an extension of the homeowner. That’s because we work so closely with our clients and their team of professionals to make sure every detail is just right.”
So, what exactly goes into designing a trophy room?
To begin with, the homeowner must decide what the room’s true purpose is. Will it simply be a place to store animal heads? A museum-like area? A multi-functional family room?
Once that overarching theme is determined, a design team needs to be assembled. The architect is the foundation of the group, giving the designer, contractor, lighting consultant, and taxidermist(s) a plan to follow. All professionals involved report to the trophy room consultant.
Consider what architectural features you would like to add/incorporate in the room. What is the size and scope of the animal/art collection? And, most importantly, what is the budget?
Julian reminds his clients that Rule Number One is always “Bigger is better; not, more is better.” A room can quickly become crowded by close-hanging whitetails, so be sure to build for the size of room you will one day want, not just the minimum dimensions to fit your current collection.
To do this, avoid what Julian calls the “jack-in-the-box effect.” When a home’s average ceiling height is ten feet, adding a room onto the existing house with 20-feet-high ceilings looks strangely out of place—and is often unnecessary for trophy presentation. Julian recommends a height of 12 to 14 feet.
Avoid natural light in almost all cases. Ultraviolet light will damage mounts, the windows will rob you of valuable real estate, and the incoming light will hinder the effects of accent lights. While you can add window film to block much of the UV rays, the best option is to exclude windows altogether—the one exception being those that allow for a beautiful view.
Include double doors; not just in your trophy room, but your house in general. Julian told of several hunters who were unable to fit their trophies into their trophy rooms because they couldn’t fit them in the doorway. Others did build rooms with double doors . . . but their outer doors were standard size.
Double doors also serve another purpose. The door that leads into a trophy room is the first and last impression made on a friend or relative. Using that real estate wisely could mean the difference between them walking away impressed or let down by your collection.
Inside the room, be sure to use ¾-inch plywood substrate to allow for multiple attachments points for wall-hangers. Use a neutral color scheme and avoid wood. (Wood has a character all its own and often competes with the animals for attention.)
The floor can be covered in a variety of materials, from wood to carpet to even concrete. Julian recommended carpet for its noise-enhancing characteristics, but any style can work. Don’t forget area rugs and skins for added effect.
Consider where your electrical outlets and wires will run. Also, decide beforehand whether you’ll include a bathroom or wet bar in the trophy area, as this will necessitate plumbing.
Keep the room temperature in the 65-72 degree range. Dead animal skin needs moisture, too, so set your humidity to a steady 40-50 percent and leave it alone season after season. If possible, add a water element to your trophies—a small waterfall, pond, or other living prop. These will add additional moisture into the air.
Plan your supply/return air grates wisely. Many a trophy room has been severely marred by an ill-placed grate. Making small adjustments to their size and location can save you wall space and avoid an eye sore for visitors.
Lighting is the single most important technical aspect in the room. Julian stressed that it was functional, not aesthetic.
Three lighting elements come into play in a trophy room: 1) Perimeter lighting should, like the name implies, surround the entire room for overall wall wash. It diffuses shadows and helps 2) accent lighting accentuate the wall mounts, while 3) general lighting helps light the center of the room.
Incorporate things that you love. Add a fireplace, a library, and/or entertainment center. If your firearms will be in the trophy room, consider including a hidden gun room or gun safe behind a cabinet. Be sure to add artwork, awards, and other memorabilia that you want to showcase.
Finally, the animals themselves. Whenever possible, include your taxidermist, or taxidermists, in the design process. Have an idea of where you want each animal to be located, then create dioramas or what have you. The only limitation is the amount of space available, as proper spacing between mounts is key.
In the end, have fun. A trophy room is the culmination of a lifetime of sport, and as such should evoke the same level of joy as the hunt.
Julian & Sons’s work was featured on the cover of Sporting Classics’ 2016 Sporting Lifestyle issue. Order a copy today to see their work in the home of the late Dick and Mary Cabela.