How a Tampa man turned his house into a Disney shrine

Author: Associated Press
FILE – In this Jan. 15, 2020, file photo, Mickey and Minnie Mouse perform during a parade as they pass by the Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Credit: AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

Bruce Michaud lives in a quiet, deed-restricted community. Muscovy ducks plod through manicured lawns, past homes with neutral paint and American flags swinging in the breeze. The exterior of his gray house blends in with the rest.

You would never suspect the Disney explosion inside.

Michaud opened the door, extending an arm covered in a Tower of Terror tattoo. His other limbs were encased in more Disney ink: a Space Mountain car on the front of his left leg, along with Angelina Jolie’s mug as Maleficent on his calf.

Behind him, four mannequins decked out in Haunted Mansion uniforms stood sentry in the front hall. The chorus of “It’s a Small World” played over loudspeakers.

Nearly every room is lovingly decorated with its own Disney theme. This is what happens when you hang onto a childhood dream long enough to bankroll it.

“It took me like 10 years,” said Michaud, 59, with a laugh.

Michaud grew up on fantasy, spending hours watching the “Wonderful World of Disney” in his Stamford, Connecticut, home. When he was a kid, his family drove down to Florida for the grand opening of Disney World.

“I was into the design work, into the detail work, the little bricks they put in front of the Haunted Mansion,” he said. “I thought at that time, ‘If I ever get my own house, I’m going to design it like Disney,'” he said.

After Michaud’s father was transferred to North Tampa, their family started taking regular trips to the parks. Later, Michaud got jobs working for the Mouse: In a Disney call center, as a security guard and driving the buses. He even did some designing and Imagineering. And at the end of each work day, he watched the night show at Magic Kingdom.

“Working at Disney was the greatest thing,” he said.

He was making enough to buy a house in North Tampa, but his first wife didn’t share his vision of living Disney.

“The whole house was white and I couldn’t paint a wall,” he said.

They divorced a decade ago. He got on a stepladder and started DIYing the day she moved out.

Michaud doesn’t have a house or car payment. He has lived in this 1,600-square-foot home for more than 30 years. Back then, he paid about $80,000 to build it (It’s worth roughly half a million now.) There are three bedrooms, plus an office and two bathrooms. Most are stuffed with memorabilia, replicas and costumes.

His second wife, Barbara, rolled her eyes but let him run wild. She’s a consultant and travels a lot, which gives him a lot of time alone to hatch his plans.

“It’s kind of like the odd couple,” he said. “She’s not exactly running around with Mickey Mouse ears on.”

Michaud cooks in a retro kitchen inspired by the Carousel of Progress in Tomorrowland. Blue light strips and mid-century pendants illuminate old theme park menus and a signed photo of Walt himself. Teal appliances, from a jukebox to a gumball machine, add to the kitsch factor.

Next is the living room, a hybrid of “The Mummy” and “Indiana Jones” with a dash of other movies thrown in. A “Jurassic Park” dinosaur head bursts from the wall while a tall Egyptian god statue lurks on the other side of his television. In the center of the room, Michaud proudly displays his coffin-shaped coffee table. The lid flips open to reveal a purple storage cavity filled with coupes and wine bottles. He was inspired by the Haunted Mansion ride.

You can exit through a glass sliding door to the “Jungle Cruise”-themed backyard, engulfed in palms and a tall trellis of jasmine. Or turn down the “Bates Motel”-inspired hallway, complete with bloody gashes in the wall. Michaud was very excited to show off the one room where he showed restraint.

“I got something normal for you!” Michaud said. “A normal bathroom!”

On the other side of the house, the master bedroom and bath are a different story, inspired by his favorite swashbuckling film. Johnny Depp’s kohl-smeared Jack Sparrow stare is blown up and plastered directly facing his bed. Michaud created a 3D effect with wood planks surrounding the actor.

“When I die and someone gets it, they’re going to have to sand all this off,” he said. “I destroyed this house.”

The master bath is a classy take on the franchise. Dangling pendants look like rum bottles. The mirror is circular, framed to look like a porthole.

Some of the design work he did himself, inspired by theme park ride queues and executed with wallpaper and spackle. He hired Eva Nesbitt at WoodWorks Kitchen & Bath Designs in Odessa for the master bath and his kitchen.

“The first thing he asked us was, ‘Are you an annual pass holder?'” Nesbitt said.

Michaud was laid off when the pandemic shuttered theme parks. The extra time — and the stimulus checks — inspired him to finish his home. Plus people needed cash fast, and many enthusiasts were desperate to offload their treasures.

“As soon as the plague happened, I bought out every collector in the country,” he said. “You couldn’t go to Disney, so I figured I’d just do it here. My vacation for the last two years has been in my house.”

His office, a sharp right turn from his Haunted Mansion-themed entryway, holds some of his favorite items. Platinum record plaques for the “Cars,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “The Little Mermaid” soundtracks. Framed pictures autographed by Tim Allen and Johnny Depp. A chair from the Haunted Mansion ride, which he sits on while he works at the desk. He’s especially proud of the green Disneyland turnstile, which dates back to when Walt Disney would have been alive.

“That would be something he went through, or at least would have checked the numbers,” he said.

Among the free weights and washing machine in his garage, Michaud stores excess collectibles that he plans to sell. Though the economy is still in a strange spot, he’s started to see big profits on the items he bought starting in 2020. His wife finally started to come around to his obsession when she saw him sell $6,000 worth of stuff for $37,000. It’s good money, but he still drives the trams at Busch Gardens on the weekend for extra cash.

Michaud has no plans to give tours to the public. He doesn’t want to sell the house anytime soon, even though he said he received offers from Universal, Disney and Busch Gardens. For now, he’s more than content to stay at home, in the fantasy he’s created.

After all, he still has to finish the “Alice in Wonderland” spare room.

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