HARTFORD, Conn. — Don't let that hulking, bald, former Marine-turned-cop-turned-wrestler-turned-celebrity bouncer fool you.
Steve Wilkos, the hard-core host of his own syndicated talk show, "The Steve Wilkos Show," has a heart of sentimental mush, and his Fairfield County, Conn., home proves it.
For Wilkos and his wife, executive producer Rachelle Consiglio Wilkos, their new three-story, 11-room Colonial-style home is focused on their kids.
"They are what it is all about," says Wilkos, who got his TV start as the onstage security guy and guest host on "The Jerry Springer Show."
Walls in nearly every one of the rooms feature portraits and photo collages of their young son and daughter. In the second-floor playroom, an organized array of toys and books surround a child-size tepee. A closet has shelves of games for the family's weekly game night and a rod packed with sequin-studded princess costumes in tulle for make-believe. In the yard is a combination swing set, treehouse and slide, with a climbing wall.
"This is a kid-friendly house, but I have to have order not clutter," says Rachelle, who is the executive producer for both her husband's and Springer's shows. "I wanted the house to have a place for everything but be a place where children can play anywhere."
The unpretentious couple are upfront and casual when it comes to explaining their decorating "style."
"We got those at Lillian August because we needed something for up there," Wilkos says, pointing to a high ceiling foyer shelf display of mounted, vintage fence posts. "They were trying to sell us Chinese urns or something, but that wasn't what we wanted." (Because of his fear of heights, he needed to ask for some help when it came to placing the display.)
A black iron chandelier, soft gray walls and lots of windows set the scene as one walks from the expansive front porch into the couple's home.
The couple say their decor is a mix of big-box-store bargains, pieces they have accumulated over the years and some special antiques. A third-floor guest suite includes an occasional chair from Target, artwork from a bargain bin and a sleek ensemble of old and new furniture.
"Our families are from out of town, so I wanted to make sure there was space so they could visit often," says Rachelle. "Family is important."
The main floor includes a state-of-the-art kitchen with lots of windows, a farmhouse sink, hardwood floors, a dining area, an island and white cabinets. A collection of stoneware provides punches of color.
"We really didn't do anything here but move in with what we had and buy some new bar stools for around the island," she says.
Forts built with cushions
In the family room, which has a grand stone fireplace and a silk Oriental rug, the family often uses cushions to build forts.
The dining room is furnished with Stickley pieces, while the formal living room is still a work in progress. Another first floor room with three oversized windows looking out to the street has become, for the time being, the official "Christmas Tree Room."
"It will probably be some kind of den or something," Rachelle says. "It was our first Christmas here, and we put the tree in front of the windows and it was beautiful. We loved just coming in to sit or play with the kids."
While Steve Wilkos claims to have abdicated the house hunt to his wife, he was the one who did the initial reconnaissance when his show and several others moved last year from Chicago to the Stamford Media Center.
"I did the search and narrowed it down to six houses," he says. "And then Rachelle got involved."
"I knew I would know it when I saw it," she says. "It had to be a neighborhood with kids."
Easter egg hunts
She says she sent her husband to poll the neighbors to make sure it was a place where Easter egg hunts and Halloween parties were part of the culture. "And we wanted to know there were good schools."
The two first met when both were working on "The Jerry Springer Show."
"Steve would always make sure he was the security guy assigned on field shoots with me," Rachelle laughs. "He told me once he loved the way I drank my coffee."
The couple's master bedroom, done in soothing tones of light gray, beige and barely blue, has Florida shutters on the windows, a contemporary four-poster bed and maple bureaus. Their son's room is decorated in a sports theme and their daughter's is a quintessential girl's room in pink that is filled with stuffed animals.
Wilkos made sure there was a place just for him, an office filled with his collections and personal memorabilia: the badge he wore as a Chicago police officer, family pictures, a baseball card collage of Hall-of-Famers, an oil painting of Wrigley Field, and a celluloid of Homer Simpson. The celluloid, a gift from his wife, was from the episode of "The Simpsons" that included a Wilkos cameo. "A highlight of my career," he jokes.
Wilkos admits he is still adjusting to life in a "rural" area after being a city guy in Chicago.
"I'm not much of a handyman," he says, "so changing a light bulb is about the only home repair I'm able to do right now."
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.