Miller collection show eclectic style

By By Rita LeBleu / American Press

Interior designer Maureen Miller and husband, C.A., moved to Austin, Texas, in 1998, no longer content to be mere “weekend

grandparents,” she said.

But as the grandkids got older, the

Millers began to think about returning to their roots. She grew up on

Louisiana Avenue.

C.A. was a sixth-generation Cameron Parish native about to start

his law practice there when Hurricane Audrey hit. Instead,

he hung his shingle in Lake Charles and he and Maureen met while

she was attending McNeese.

Maureen figured out early in her marriage, which will hit the 52-year mark this year, that she wanted a career in interior

design. Ruth Cayton, “a wonderful designer mentored me,” Maureen said.

Austin was good to the Millers,

according to Maureen. Some of her clients were Lake Charles

transplants. “I wanted to move

back home, but I didn’t want just any house, and I wanted to be

close to my sister.” In no time, she found out about a “place

for sale by owners like us, a couple who were making some changes

in their lives.”

The house was over 100 years old, a

2,000-square-foot center-hall cottage – at one time. But the design had

been altered,

the hall closed up to create storage. Original transoms had been

boarded up and painted over. What had been a south-facing

screened-in porch (closed-in later) was a ruin. The original

floors had been covered with vinyl held in place with a tar-like

adhesive.

“It was a real Louisiana house that needed to be brought back,” Maureen said. And it was right across the street from Bette

Talbot, Maureen’s sister.

The paperwork took three months. The renovations took eight, and during that time she relied heavily on carpenter Marco Baca and painter Stephen deLauney.

The Millers, lovers of travel and antiques – especially French antiques, would have to cull many of their beautiful things

collected through the years to make the move to a much smaller home.

Her goal for their new place was the

same as if she were taking on any other residential project, to create a

house with the

style, colors and décor that make the clients happy, a place to go

to “sink in, regroup or recharge at the end of the day.”

When asked if the same things made both her and C.A. happy, she said that they have similar tastes and work well together.

“He has an engineer’s mind,” Maureen said of her husband. She oversaw new construction and remodeling projects as well as

consulted on interiors in Austin. They begin their projects simply by just spending a lot of time talking about ideas.

“He defers to my design input and I defer to his budget,” she said, laughing.

She said such simpatico is not always the case among couples. She’s learned to listen to what’s not being said as well as

what is, and to watch for signs of enthusiasm to help her guide her clients to the elements that will satisfy them for the

long run. “A lot of times people see something (a design style) and attach themselves to it. There’s a lot of psychology

behind the design for something as personal as a home.”

The biggest challenge in remodeling the Millers’ newest home was re-opening the center hall. Maureen added bookshelves and

a library rail around and above the west-facing opening. An antique oversized armoire offers a beautifully fitting way to

make up for the lack of storage in a historic house.

Now there’s an unobstructed view from the front entrance to the rear entrance, flooded with light, where a water feature at

the back of the home provides the design axis. “These homes were designed this way to circulate air when people used attic

fans,”

Maureen said of the many windows, 12-foot ceilings and the center hall. She replaced the painted-over transoms with ribbed

glass, a motif that repeats in the door facings.

When asked about her wall color

choices, she explained. “I love color. I’m a colorist and that’s why

many of my clients come

to me. It’s not always easy to put a lot of colors together. This

house was hard,” she admitted. “I could have kept it monochromatic

and used the caramel beige in the dining area,” she explained.

Instead she opted for different treatments in each room. All

were rich hues, an appropriate backdrop for antiques and other

collectibles on display.

Maureen chose what most people might

call a dark green for the living room, knowing that the abundance of

natural light would

show off the color’s varied properties. But seeing the color

through her eyes, a “colorist’s” eyes, “dark green” became something

else altogether. It seemed to take on an energy of its own as she

pointed out its many variations throughout the room. “There’s

chrome in this green, a metal tone. It has a lot of life in it,”

she said.

She kept the interior window shutters that were

in the living room and dining rooms

when she bought the house, stripped them and had them repainted white.

Each window has

three shutters, covering the bottom, center and top of the window,

ideal for adjusting for the amount of light shining through

the windows at different times of the day -- and perfect for

privacy.

The interior trim, original to the house, was painted a bright white, another technique that played up the complexity of the

dark green.

Maureen used textures in an extravagantly sensual way in the living room and master bedroom, rough weaves against velvets

with a fur throw tossed in for the living room. In the master bedroom, brocade rubs against silk.

The décor throughout the house is

personal, items to which the Millers are “connected.” C.A.’s mother’s

hand-crocheted bedspread

used on his parents’ bed throughout their married life, hangs from

the West Indies canopy bed. Three of Maureen’s paintings

are displayed in the house. She was inspired to paint by her

uncle. One of his paintings titled “Tears” hangs in the hallway

with a Will Ousley scene, a grouping of Venice “sidewalk”

paintings and a Leroy Nieman America’s Cup print.

The Miller’s have done some sailing and Maureen said it was a real eye opener to find out how small spaces can be used to

stay organized on the boats they sailed, “just a different way of thinking about things.”

Multi-ethnic could describe the

Moorish, English, French, Italian, Asian and Mediterranean-looking

décor. But Maureen offers

the better design term. “My taste is eclectic,” she said of the

contents of the Foster Street home, which brings so many continents

together beneath one roof.

There is an old brassiere from Damascus

on the master bedroom’s hearth. Also from Damascus, hanging on the

living room wall

is a framed embroidered velvet jacket.“My mother bought it for me

when I was 12 and it was too large. I couldn’t wear it until

I was 18,” Maureen said.

On the dining room wall is a French antique panetierre from the turn of the century. C.A. explains that panetierre is the

word for “bread.” These cabinets were usually hung (although they can be used on top of other pieces) to store fresh-baked

bread.

Natural objects find space in this home too. Shells, rocks and crystals, collected through the years from Louisiana, Colorado,

California, Florida, England and the Mediterranean have their own space in the Miller home.

The first thing they ever bought together from a little shop in Sea Island, Ga., painted metal plates, are hanging in this

house

Maureen displays a Royal Albert Lady Carlyle English bone china tea set. “That belonged to my godmother, Aunt Joe,” she said.

On the porch is an antique iron bed from a convent in Arles in Southern France.

The Millers gutted the kitchen and

bought prefabricated walnut-finished cabinets locally. Every detail has

thought behind

it. “The transitional stainless cabinet pulls are easy to grip for

men and women. Function has to be there,” she says. A five-generation

recipe book, A Lifetime of Louisiana-Inspired Cooking, designed by

the Millers’ granddaughter contains family proven family

favorites.

The kitchen is painted a deep red because “it promotes conversation and appetite,” Maureen said. The kitchen center island,

reminiscent of a tavern table design, has a drop leaf for extra seating. Countertops are granite and tile artisan Olivier

Grosset did a special rustic-treated inset over the range that includes a piece that Maureen purchased from Italy.

Not all of the Millers things are art

collectibles, antiques or heirlooms. One is a simple framed quote from

Elizabeth Ney

and was a gift from the Miller’s daughter. Ney, born in 1883, was

so intent on joining the exclusively male world of sculptors

that she launched a hunger strike until her parents consented.

The quote reads, “The more our sensibility for the loveliness of things is nurtured and the more lovely our surroundings are

made, the more lovely and joyful our souls will grow.”

Maureen Miller feels the same way about interior design as Ney did about sculpting. The quote says a lot about why Maureen

does what she does, and can remind us all that the act of making our surroundings lovely – whatever that means to us --can

reap joy and transform “a house” into “a home.”