In Michael Wilbon’s home office, framed clips from a 30-year career as sports writer and columnist for The Washington Post vie for space with Chicago Cubs Hall-of-Famer Ron Santo’s jersey. Copies of two books edited for good friend Charles Barkley share shelf space with football helmets, baseball caps and a photo of Wilbon with Muhammad Ali. In one corner, a small mountain of press passes to events ranging from the Super Bowl to the Olympics dates back to the beginning of Wilbon’s career.
This hallowed, lower-level office in Wilbon’s Bethesda home is part of what he calls his “man cave.” It’s his own creation, and also includes a full bar, a pool room with a collection of vintage movie posters (he’s a major film buff) and cushy leather easy chairs gathered round a flat-screen TV. “I didn’t want a basement feel to it,” he says. “But I wanted it to be an extended man cave.”
In fact, the lower level is the only part of the house that Wilbon had a hand in decorating; the rest is the brainchild of his wife, Sheryl Wilbon, whose taste and style are evident throughout. With the help of designer Steven Corbeille, she has taken a builder-grade house and transformed it into a welcoming home that melds a modern sensibility with traditional architecture—enhanced by bold abstract art and colorful artisanal glass. “I’m drawn to a more modern look,” Sheryl says, “but this area tends to be more traditional, so we tried to do a mix. It’s not ultra modern and it still fits in the traditional environment.”
The Wilbons purchased their Bethesda lot from developer D.R. Horton in 1999, choosing from a selection of floor plans. Within a year, Sheryl bought her Larry Laslo-designed living room and foyer furniture at Theodores in Upper Georgetown. Soon after, she contacted Corbeille for the challenging task of dressing the living room windows, which soar two stories. “We played off the shape and style of the furniture,” Corbeille recalls. “The treatments have really stood the test of time.” His elegant draperies finished the room and a partnership was born.
The living room adjoins the dining room, where Sheryl settled on a custom table of maple inlaid with walnut and purple heart and a pyramid sideboard, both by DeSantis Designs in Virginia. In the family room, existing furniture was reupholstered through Theodores and paired with a coffee table from Edward Ferrell + Lewis Mittman. Corbeille designed linen Bergamo drapes that complement the palette of cool grays on the main floor.
Since moving into their house, the Wilbons have had their share of excitement. In early 2008, Michael Wilbon suffered a heart attack and was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. A couple of months later, the birth of a son, Matthew, put a positive spin on the year. And in August, Wilbon threw out the first pitch in his hometown of Chicago’s Wrigley Field, then sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch.
In 2010, he wrapped up his long tenure with The Post and turned full-time to commentating for ESPN. Between ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” (famous for the often-loud, good-natured banter between Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser), ABC’s “NBA Countdown,” which he also co-hosts, and frequent travel for sporting events, he is out of town at least half the year.
For both Wilbon and his wife, creating a household that works around his schedule and habits was important. A few years ago when they decided to renovate their master suite, they hired Cunningham | Quill Architects to overhaul it to suit their needs. “It was a builder-grade space,” Ralph Cunningham recalls. “Michael spends lots of time in very nice hotels and he wanted that quality of space at home.” The architect and his team looked at hotels for inspiration, lighting on cherry and limestone, a common material palette in fine hotel baths. They carried the cherry wood into the bedroom with an ingenious floor-to-ceiling wall unit that conceals the TV and also has a door built into it that looks like paneling when closed. “It’s finished and flush, like a cabinet,” Cunningham explains. “Then you step through it to the secret suite.”
Behind that door, the reconfigured bath and his-and-her closets now fit the couple’s lifestyle. A giant tub they never used was replaced with a spacious, honed-limestone shower, and there’s a vanity topped with glossy limestone for Sheryl. The door effectively shuts out light and sound so that Wilbon can get dressed at odd hours and pack for trips without waking his wife.
The finished third floor houses a guest room as well as a comfortable workout room that Wilbon uses to stay in shape when he’s at home. It also displays his collection of framed sports jerseys, which line the walls. The jerseys speak to Wilbon’s allegiance to his hometown, and to his love of all sports. “I’m seasonal,” he says. “By the time one sports season ends, I’m ready for the next.”
Photographer Bob Narod is based in Herndon, Virginia.
RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE, MASTER SUITE: RALPH CUNNINGHAM, FAIA, principal, and SYLVAN MILES, project assistant, Cunningham | Quill Architects, Washington, DC. INTERIOR DESIGN: STEVEN D. CORBEILLE, Yardstick Interiors, Comus, Maryland. RENOVATION CONTRACTOR: Potomac Valley Builders, Bethesda, Maryland.