Theresa Miller described the prints on the far wall of this photo as gloomy. The mood matched her feelings of grief. Using them as a springboard, she chose the color palatte for her downtown loft. (Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Monday, June 30, 2014 5:21 PM
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was the first person to write about the five stages of grief and loss in her book, "On Death and Dying." She wrote, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
It’s possible that the same is true for beautiful homes.
When Theresa Miller lost her husband, Marlo, after 37 years, she thought the tears would never cease. Almost a year and a-half later, the tears still fall. “But now the tears are about appreciation for what we had, rather than what I lost,” she said.
Part of the journey included creating a “sacred healing space” in a Lake Charles downtown loft.
The loft is a radical departure from the home Theresa and Marlo shared for 20 years. They lived on 15 acres in South Lake Charles in a three bedroom, three bath home with 2,400 square feet. There was a stocked pond and garden. But everywhere Theresa looked were reminders of her life with the man she started dating when she was a junior in high school and married as soon as she graduated. “We had a great life, a great marriage and we were deeply in love,” she said.
Theresa thought they would have years and years ahead of them. Marlo got a clean bill of health every 12 months from his physician. When he came home for his week off from his offshore job thinking he was having a bout with pleurisy, (which had happened before), Theresa thought they’d be able to pop into a walk-in clinic, get a prescription and be on their way. The doctor ordered an MRI, which showed that Marlo had cancer on his lungs and kidney. Theresa focused her energy on helping her husband fight the diagnosis. They were both vigilant. When he died it wasn’t from the cancer, but from an MRSA infection in his lungs and pneumonia, according to Theresa.
Fueled by adrenaline during the last six months of her husband’s life, Theresa was suddenly and completely drained now that he was gone. “There were days when I stayed on the couch in a dark house. I wouldn’t even answer the phone,” she confessed.
She expected the feelings of grief, but was determined not to be like an aunt who, struggled with grief for a lifetime. “I didn’t want that path,” she said.
Miller is a petite, fit brunette who is soft spoken and family oriented. Photographs of children and grandchildren are found throughout her loft. But she’s a private person. She agreed to the American Press interview not so much to show her loft to readers, but to remind people who are dealing with loss what she’s learning: “We’re not meant to wake up in pain every day,” she said.
She realized she needed a change. “I thought about buying a new place.” Both her son and daughter encouraged her to “take a vacation from her old life and figure out her future.” However, her son cautioned her not to make any major decisions right away. She listened and decided to look for a place to rent where she could journal, read, meditate and heal. “At first the idea felt foolish, then it began to make more and more sense,” she explained.
The first step -- finding the right space -- was important. Miller knew the loft in the old Gayle Building was right almost the second she walked in. She felt even better about her decision after her first night there. “The place was still under renovation, in shambles. I didn’t even have my furniture yet. I pulled down the Murphy bed, brought a book and a flashlight.”
The almost 1,600-square-foot loft has a bath, a large kitchen/sitting area and a massive second room. Highlights of the space include the abundance of natural light, a birds eye view of downtown Lake Charles, exposed brick, high ceilings, a classically trimmed archway and original wood floors. “I love the view and the natural light. The windows give the space so much character,” Theresa said. Theresa left the transoms uncovered and used a natural-colored, textured roller shade on the windows. These shades filter, rather than black out the light, while still offering privacy.
The decorating became a welcomed diversion. Rather than stuffing down her feelings of grief, she let those feelings determine her first purchase. “I walked into a shop and saw these gloomy, monochromatic oversized landscapes and they just spoke to me,” she said.
She used the creamy whites, silvery grays and charcoals in the artwork as the springboard for choosing her color palette with some help from Denise Miller. Another local decorator and store owner, Lance Thomas of From the Attic, helped Miller find the perfect dining table.
Theresa also uses the term “eclectic” when she describes the way she has decorated her loft. “This is my place to have something totally different than what I have at home,” she said.
She built “one vignette at a time” based on her lifestyle. For instance, she knew she wanted a reading area. There is also a TV area. She considered not having a TV because she didn’t want to be mindlessly distracted from her journaling and reading, but knew her grandchildren would appreciate having one when they visited. To this grouping she added a wear-resistant sofa. And there’s a white sectional that dominates the center of the room. It’s not for the grandchildren.
Subtle sparkles of metallic finishes, cozy fabric textures and a judicious use of teal and lavender accessories vibrate through the loft space. A fantastic seating area features cozy, tufted wingback chairs with nail head detail and subtle herringbone patterned upholstery. These are grouped around a hammered steel ottoman/extra seating/hidden storage/table.
(Furnishings that do more than one thing are key in loft and small space design.) Aluminum “Emeco” chairs line the bar. One of the coffee tables was created with a mold that makes it look like a table constructed of cut and stacked railroad cross ties painted silver then antiqued. No matter where you stand to view the layout, everything in the loft is perfectly balanced and proportioned. There are no bad sides, no bad angles.
Theresa’s dressing table is a glamorous addition, plus the mirrors help create the illusion of space. Another vintage-inspired dressing mirror didn’t quite cover a door and entrance, so Theresa added a decorative doorway topper. This mirror also hides additional storage. The captain’s bed is the perfect choice for the loft setting. Not only does it have lots of drawers, but the added height also creates an ideal final layer as the eye moves across the room from the kitchen.
Theresa didn’t make the mistake of having a space where everything was new. She added character with a chalk-paint refinished desk that was her grandmother’s. In the kitchen and sitting room area is a well-crafted credenza that her husband bought when Exxon bought Mobil Oil and Mobil’s office furniture was sold. She refinished it and found the perfect hardware at Browne and Stewart’s to make it glamorous and one-of-a kind.
The downtown location gives Theresa plenty of venues for her lifestyle. She walks along the lake. The grandchildren love The Children’s Museum. She likes the nearby coffee shop and she and her girlfriends attend Downtown at Sundown concerts that are within walking distance.
She’s journaling, reading, practicing meditation, yoga and talking to experts who can help. Sometimes she cries.
Theresa said, “Acceptance, (the final stage in the grief process) doesn’t come with making sense of anything. This feels good for now,” she said about her choice to change her surroundings to help her deal with her loss.
The woman who spent most of her life as part of a whole takes full responsibility for her own happiness. She knows the future holds no guarantee. She appreciates the memories of her past. And she’s learning what it means to live in the “now.”