His name is synonymous with some of the most famous superheroes of all time — onetime animator of Spider-man, Batman, and his own creation, Spawn. But you’d never know artist and action figurine mogul Todd McFarlane by his home at the base of South Mountain.
There’s not an action figure or Spawn movie poster in sight. It’s devoid of the Napoleon Dynamite, Kiss, Elvis or hundreds of other figurine lines he’s created — unless they’re relegated to a secret room we weren’t privy to.
What is visible is a palette of soft colors, flowered curtains and Victorian furniture. The home is elegant, classy and nothing at all like the lairs from which his characters often emerge.
“I like comfortable, usable rooms,” says the 45-year-old entrepreneur, owner of McFarlane Toys of Tempe. Besides his rep as a toy creator (though his “toys” are aimed at comic-book-loving adults), McFarlane is also an animator, music video director and sports memorabilia collector (including Mark McGwire’s 70th home run baseball reportedly worth more than $3 million).
Despite his company’s annual revenue of nearly $60 million, the Emmy Awards he won in the late ‘90s for his HBO series “Spawn” and the fact that he casually mentions he’ll be releasing a comic book later this year in which Spawn and Batman meet (several comic book fans’ hearts just stopped), he’s still a devoted husband and father of three (he and his wife, Wanda, have a son, 6, and two daughters ages 11 and 15). And that means that his house is more function than fantasy.
“Oh, I don’t even know,” replies McFarlane when asked exactly how many furry, feathered or scaly creatures inhabit his home. There’s at least one dog, one cat, a frog, some lizards and a bird. It’s a full house, though surprisingly quiet on a recent Friday morning. It matches McFarlane’s soft-spoken disposition. He’s almost overwhelmingly humble about his seemingly chaotic, though successful, life. That MTV’s “Cribs” will be shooting his house later this month to air in September for the peek-inside-stars’- homes show doesn’t faze him.
“I don’t mind, I’m easy. I watch the show with my kids sometimes.”
Today, though, he’s showing off his favorite space to us. Well, two of his favorite spaces — a media room will grab most of the attention, but McFarlane also admits he spends hours in a closet where he keeps some of his sports memorabilia and, also, where he hides out at night with his laptop, writing.
But first, a room that fits more than one at time — the theater. Or cinema room. Or media room. Or sleepover central, according to his 15-year-old daughter who had already booked the place for nine of her friends that night. Thank goodness the foot-thick walls are soundproof.
Entering the theater means lightly touching the hinge of a nearby door that pops open a “hidden” door off McFarlane’s living room. The reason for the secret door isn’t explained, but it’s an intriguing touch all the same.
Seeing as this is the room McFarlane says he was given free rein over when he and Wanda redecorated three years ago, it’s no wonder the dark interior resembles a superhero’s secret cave.
When asked if it matches his personality, McFarlane laughs. “Dark and brooding? Yes.”
But the furniture — a big plush couch, two modern circular chairs and a huge ottoman nearly as big as the sofa — gives the room a warm and cozy feel. The soft, upholstered wall panels are accented with custommade pilasters running vertically, giving a regal feel. There is no screen, only a wallsized shelving unit housing a vase of dried flowers, family photos and wide candlesticks.
“I like the different depths and shapes of things in here,” says McFarlane, running his hand over the wood beams he designed.
There’s soft lighting from wall sconces and recessed pot lighting in the ceiling. There’s a noticeable lack of electronics, which McFarlane says distracts him from watching movies.
“We hid them,” he says. “The little blinking lights are annoying when you watch movies.”
With the touch of a button, the room becomes too dark to see your hand in front of your face before an illuminated 100-inch screen drops from the ceiling.
“My No. 1 priority was it needed to be dark,” he says. “I’m very myopic when I watch movies. I have to study them. I can’t stand the crunch of popcorn.”
Besides being the family hangout for movie watching, McFarlane says it’s also the room where he and guests escape to listen to music and relax with a glass of wine. It’s a lounging room, he says, demonstrating how to properly flop down across the wide sofa.
Oddly, this fantasy-themed artist stays away from movies in that genre. His favorite film, he says, is “The Godfather,” though he also describes “Inside Man” as ”spectacular.”
“I like drama. I’m not a big fan of action. I make my living on fantasy, but by the end of the day I’ve had my fill,” he says. “I’m more enamored with people writing good dialogue.”
Q&A with Todd McFarlane
My Favorite Spot asks well-known Valley residents to show off their favorite places in their homes and share some of their decorating secrets. Whose house would you like to peek inside? E-mail At Home reporter Amanda Myers at email@example.com or by calling (480) 898-6531.
Q: Describe your decorating style in 10 words or less.
A: I’d say sort of classic, East Coast, old Victorian feel. Completely anti-Southwest.
Q: What makes this room your favorite spot?
A: It’s a place where you can close the door and be completely shut off from the world — there’s no light. And you can just listen to music. Probably the same reason why people put headphones on, too — it’s completely internal. You’re not going to get interrupted by any external noises.
Q: How does your career influence the look of this room?
A: I’d say only in the aspect of detail — if you take a look at it (the room) and get up close, since I picked out all the molding and cabinets, and the scrolling and the way we bent the crown molding around. There’s a lot of subtlety, but attention to detail, and if you look at my comic book work, I’ve made a reputation of a lot of line work and detail. I like lines done right. And I like being able to control a person’s eye.
Q: Pick one item in the room and briefly share the story behind it.
A: There’s a sculpture in there that my wife picked out for an anniversary gift, our 15th, I think (he and Wanda have been married for 21 years). The sculpture is of a lady and a child. It represents family. She picked it up from an artist over at that Frank Lloyd Wright area in Scottsdale. I knew I was going to put it in (the room), so I did the measurements so it’d fit. I changed some of the lighting — some is up, some is down and some is backlighting. I wanted to give some variety, but I knew that piece would need downlighting.
Q: Is there anything in this room you’d do differently?
A: The only thing I’d do in retrospect is, if I could have made the room a little wider, I’d bring the two golden chairs back a little bit and flank them on either side of the couch. But that’s just me as a 45-year-old adult. I don’t like being that close to the screen. But the kids love it.
Q: What’s the next home design project you’re dying to tackle?
A: The backyard. When we did the remodel, we took out all the landscaping and we didn’t finish the back. Or I’d design and build a house from scratch. We own six acres a few blocks away, and we actually designed a house for it. But I find a lot of architects here go into default mode. They come in with such simple stuff and go into this Southwest mind-set. I say if I ever quit my job, I’ll get into architecture. The house we designed, I know I could knock it out of the park in that one. Maybe someday.