Most of us have lots of “had-to-haves” in our house — that turquoise china teapot that called out from a table at a flea market, the poster purchased at a rock concert after having one too many drinks, those mirrors found in a vintage shop that were an absolute steal — and they’re all residing in a closet now because we can’t figure out how they’d share the same air.
But according to fashion and home products designer Nicole Miller, who has a colorful, eclectic summer house in Sag Harbor, it’s the disparate elements in a room that can give it style and interest.Making them look beautiful together, rather than cluttered, she says, doesn’t have to be difficult.
“Everything here is a conversation piece, and everything has a story,” Miller explains during a recent visit to her Long Island retreat. “Some are my story and some are my husband’s story.” Miller is married to Kim Taipale, financier and partner at the Manhattan-based Stilwell Holding private investment firm. Their “book” is largely a mix of pieces found during trips around the world, in vintage shops, and on eBay that are used to create an overall midcentury modern look.
The rooms in the house, built in 1993 and designed by the late Francis Fleetwood, are airy and modern, with white walls used as a canvas from which her decor can pop. Espresso wood floors ground the bold colors and patterns in the space and add elegance and sophistication.
The combination of black and white is also a key element in many of the rooms — another way to achieve sophistication and provide an anchor for the colors, shapes and textures.
“I guess a lot of homes here are white and beachy, but I like things that are colorful,” Miller says. Looking over at a towering multicolored paddleboard standing in a corner near a white fireplace adorned with colored glass vases, Miller adds, “I designed that” for Evelyn Lauder’s Breast Cancer Research Foundation 2014 Paddle for Pink event in North Haven.
Miller says contrasts work, too, when going for an eclectic look.
“I always work with a lot of contrasts — that’s how I design [clothes],” Miller says. “I like a mix of modern and old, mixing boys' things with girls' things, things that are soft with things that are hard.” She says it can be “boring” for everything to be the same and easily fit in.
Decorating in an eclectic style involves mixing different periods and design styles to create a unique and personalized space. The room should have a focal point, says Miller, such as the Donald Baechler skull painting in Miller’s living room that helps tie everything together. The repeat of bold colors such as the reds and oranges and the area rug make the look intentional and cohesive and white walls and ebony floors add elegance and sophistication.
The popping colors of the dining room chairs look like they were plucked from a crayon box and set the tone of fun for Miller’s guests, but the minimalist look, and the placement of conversation pieces from her travels in a corner, keep the narrow space from looking cluttered and allows the meal to take center stage. A diorama of a jazz spot hangs on the wall of Miller’s dining room as one of the popular conversation pieces in that space.
Miller’s overnight guests can feel like they’ve landed in a 1950s motel when they see her guest bedroom. It’s one of the spaces in the house that most strongly reflects Miller's interest in midcentury design.
The black and white used in the TV room helps anchor disparate elements while also giving the home an overall high-end feel. Rooms done entirely in black and white include the kitchen and a bathroom.