M ay is Mother’s Day month, and since talented Memphis interior designer Shelley Miller and her daughter, Meade Carlisle, share fabulous taste and a passion for interior design, we decided this would be an ideal time to showcase both of their beautiful homes.
Shelley Miller lives with her husband Rick on a leafy cove that feels like the country even though it is smack in the middle of East Memphis. Son Ryan and his wife Hadley and son Trip and his wife Jenny and daughter Gracie live in houses on either side of the senior Millers. And daughter Meade and her husband Thomas have set up housekeeping just a few short blocks away. Imagine that for a mother’s good fortune.
Shelley’s late parents, Dorothy and Phil Brodnax, associated with Brodnax Jewelers in Memphis and in Nashville, were the first family members to live on the street. It so happens that the Millers own their parents’ former house as well, so you could say that Shelley and Rick have truly “cornered the cove.”
photography by Amie Vanderford
The Miller Home
T he Millers moved into their home in 1989 after spending a full two years transforming the original charming but small 1930s English-style cottage into the magnificent stucco and stone place it is today. Miller served as her own architect and worked with a crew of builders from Louisiana and talented craftsmen, the late Clay Northrup and Junior Turner, to recreate the home, a task that included adding a second story. Wonderful gothic arches were part of the plan, as were the addition of six antique windows from an old New Orleans mansion. The elegant home that resulted has great space, light, and flow — the better to raise a family through the years and to entertain the Millers’ many friends. Shelley Miller by nature is a collector of beautiful objects, and tells me that she and her mother made many memorable trips to Europe and around the States picking up antique pieces. The stunning home that resulted, with its rich, English-country style décor full of handsome Staffordshire figurines, majolica and cabbage leaf ceramics, needlepoint pillows, botanical prints and chintz slipcovers was featured in Veranda magazine in 1993. However, that was then and this is now. Miller says her style has transitioned over the years, and while she still loves shades of green and yellow, these colors have been cooled down by the use of more white in the trim and fabrics. She has used many of her old furnishings, but has given them a newer, fresher look by moving them around and re-covering pieces as necessary.
The yellow-and-white striped wallpaper is still there in the garden room, as are the green draperies, but the look is clean and uncluttered. She has stored some of her collections, and of course has passed along many things to Meade for use in her house. The use of more modern art mixed with antiques gives the house a contemporary look, which to Miller means “for today.”
Speaking as a designer, Miller says it’s hard to take time to redo your own house, since the real excitement comes from helping to guide clients in the expression of their own styles. At the same time, Miller says she couldn’t keep suggesting that her clients refresh their looks, if she herself was not willing to follow her own advice! The rugs and fabrics are lighter — even the china she has used to decorate is mostly white ironstone. I was particularly taken with the white armorial plates on the walls emblazoned with gold lions. Amazing and just so perfect.
The Carlisle Home
S helley Miller says that her daughter has always been stylish, and seeing Meade’s superb taste in decorating her Ole Miss college room and her D.C. apartments gave Miller inspiration to rethink and rework her own interior décor. Meade is always trying to push her mother to do more in making her home ever more modern, but Miller’s response is that this is a process: “All in good time.”
Meade and Thomas Carlisle are young-marrieds who moved to Memphis from the Washington, D.C., area almost exactly a year ago. They looked at a number of homes but settled on their current two-story brick house because, among other things, it has three bedrooms, two and a half baths, an open plan downstairs, high ceilings, and beautiful, tall windows providing great natural light. It also was helpful that their new home was close to family.
I was charmed and amazed by what the young couple has accomplished in a relatively short time. Meade assured me that she could not have done it without all the expert help from her mother and from mother-in-law Patti Carlisle.
The new home required no structural changes, but the existing harvest gold walls and ceilings were replaced with a neutral color palette, using various shades of grey and cream, in keeping with Meade’s cool, clean, and sophisticated esthetic. The modern art on the walls provides bold pops of color. In the den/breakfast room/kitchen area, the hardwood floors are stained in two colors, creating a subtle striped effect.
The furnishings are a mix of mid-century modern pieces and antiques inherited from both her parents and her grandparents. For example, five of the dining room chairs came from the Brodnax store’s “diamond room,” into which young couples were ushered to pick out their engagement and wedding rings. The chairs are now reupholstered in a sophisticated leopard print and are truly mid-century modern pieces updated for today’s stylish living.
The Brodnax story gets even better, because, knowing the young couple needed a sixth chair to complete their set, Patti Carlisle fortunately found an identical one on eBay from a dealer in the far reaches of Wisconsin, and was able to have it shipped to Memphis. She firmly believes that this was not just blind luck, but a clear example of “a God’s wink,” described by writer and speaker Squire Rushnell as God’s gifts that are all around us if only we can recognize them. Additionally, the supremely talented and delightful Carlisle made — mostly by hand — the rich, luxurious drapes displayed throughout the house.
Of course several new pieces were bought from local stores, including a glorious and unique chandelier in the breakfast area from Graham’s Lighting and other furniture from Worlds Away. The map of Mississippi on the wall was a special gift from Thomas Carlisle, a Holly Springs native, who wanted to reinforce his new wife’s knowledge of the geography of his fair state.
Needless to say, Shelley Miller is so very happy to have her daughter living nearby, and believes the couple is part of an exciting and positive trend whereby “millennial” children are moving back to Memphis and bringing positive energy, creativity, and spirit home to their city. I agree and can relate completely. As it so happens our daughter, Ralston O’Neill, just last month moved to Memphis from New York City. She too is passionate about interior design having once worked for Dwell magazine in San Francisco and New York. I can guarantee she’s hoping Shelley and Meade will share with her some of their decorating know-how. Hint, hint . . .
Happy Mother’s Day, all!