Home Owner Dresses for Success in a Custom Dream Closet

Creating a place to show off a wardrobe and accessories makes a classic townhouse an ever-changing oasis.

As a woman who appreciates fashion, Karen Miller has a lot more clothes and accessories than overnight guests. So it made perfect sense to transform a seldom-used guest room in her Trolley Square townhouse into an expansive dressing room and super-sized closet that is a daily joy.

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“Putting together a room is like putting together an outfit,” she says. “The goal is to achieve the right blend of color, texture, comfort and eye appeal.”

She struck that balance throughout her three-story home, combining traditional pieces with unique art and accessories to produce a stylish and functional living space. To help her create a fun and funky dressing room, Miller turned to her friend and neighbor Mike Dodson, also known as MD, the Design Doctor.

Though the room is small, it is a multi-purpose space. In addition to providing storage for her favorite wardrobe pieces, it’s also a whimsical place to enjoy cocktails with a few stylish friends.

Miller found a striking, mid-century starburst wall ornament at Great Stuff, a resale shop in North Wilmington operated by the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition, where she is a volunteer. Two petite white slipper chairs and a tufted aqua settee were snapped up at Déjà Vu, a vintage resale boutique in the neighborhood. “It is one of my absolute favorite places to shop,” she says.

The settee is the sole pop of color in the room. Everything else—including clothes and accessories—is black and white. A zebra-stripe rug anchors the seating area. Her grandfather’s oak desk, painted black and dressed up with square chrome handles, takes on a 21st century vibe. A contemporary Lucite chair makes the perfect mate.

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A tiny corner alcove is cordoned off with a curtain, a dressing room within the dressing room. (A “skinny” mirror ensures that everyone looks svelte and slim.) Black IKEA shelving mounted horizontally above the closet is a display place for handbags. Instead of being tucked away in closets, dresses are part of the design, shown on open racks.

Cocktail frocks mounted on a dress form change with the season. Costume jewelry is rotated regularly on ceramic hands and other forms that conjure an image of an upscale department store. “The room is never the same,” she says. “I did a New Year’s Eve vignette with a top hat.”

Photographs by John Lewis

The homeowner combined traditional pieces with unique art and accessories to produce a stylish and functional living space.

The dressing room provides storage for Miller’s favorite wardrobe pieces, and it’s a whimsical place to enjoy cocktails with friends. 

Life in the city

After years of living in Hockessin, Miller moved to Wilmington, where she rented a house. In 2006, when it came time to buy a home, she decided to stay in the city. “I enjoy walking to stores, walking to restaurants, feeling a part of a neighborhood,” she says.

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She felt an immediate connection with the townhouse. An accomplished hostess, she appreciated the formal dining room and the recently updated kitchen that adjoins it. “Having the kitchen at the ready was a definite plus,” Miller says.

The kitchen is open to the living room, offering an inviting flow for entertaining. An elongated center island provides prep space, storage and seating, making it a magnet for hanging out. A second sink does double duty as a work station or a bar sink.

Over the years, she refined the space, upgrading the appliances and making other improvements, often with input from those near and dear. Her significant other, Russell Tuckerman, is a certified kitchen designer and founder of Tuscan Sun Kitchens in Mount Laurel, N.J.

Tuckerman created a highly functional pantry with floor-to-ceiling storage by borrowing unused space from the back of the foyer coat closet. A transom and opaque glass doors mirror the design of French doors leading to the dining room.

In the kitchen, an elongated center island provides prep space, storage and seating, making it a magnet for hanging out.

Creating a cocoon

For a while, Miller lived with bright walls painted in primary colors by the previous owner. She breathed a sigh of aesthetic relief after she repainted the main entertaining area in soft, cohesive beige.

“I never did feel comfortable with all those vivid colors,” she says. “I wanted something that was more soothing because home is the place where we decompress.”

To transform the master suite into a Zen oasis, she turned to BW Design Group of Wilmington. Soft gray walls in the bedroom are finished in 12-inch squares with a combed texture, a pattern that is repeated on the doors to create a seamless cocoon.

In the sumptuous bath, the ceiling, mirror, vanity and counter are arched, an artistic counterpoint to rectangular tiles. A soaking tub is inset into stone decking.

The doors to closets on either side of the passage from the bedroom to the bath were removed so Miller can connect visually with her wardrobe. “I wanted my closet to look like Nordstrom,” she says. “I enjoy seeing everything.”

The master bedroom offers a tranquil getaway.

Fashion forward

Miller showed an early interest in creating comfortable yet exciting interiors. Her uncle was an architect. As a girl, she drew architectural floor plans, then cut out furniture from the Sears catalog and arranged it in the spaces.

She studied textiles and design before switching to business and a corporate career, but her appreciation for fabrics and texture remains a thread in her sensibility. “Even though trends in interiors move slower than fashion, there’s a lot of overlap,” she says. “We see a lot of the same influences in clothing and furnishings—plaids, chevrons, colors.”

She shops for her home the same way she shops for her wardrobe, casting a wide net that encompasses high-end boutiques, big box stores, department stores, the Internet and resale shops. Miller has found treasure in unexpected places, as in the yard sale where she discovered a watercolor painting by noted Delaware artist Mary Page Evans. It now hangs in her living room.

Steeped in tradition, the Queen Anne furniture handed down by her parents was not her cup of tea. Dodson suggested approaching the space from a global perspective. “Mike helped me to make Queen Anne into an homage to British Colonial,” Miller says.

The chairs are covered with Ikat print fabrics, a graphic reverse-dyeing technique that is traditional in Asia and Africa.
A towering giraffe figurine is a whimsical accent. A massive, opulently carved armoire, also from her parents, is reinterpreted as a sophisticated bar.

As much as she enjoys urban energy, Miller appreciates the tranquility of greenery. Her townhouse was built on the site of a former park, which is reflected in the lush lawn behind the home that is unfurled like an emerald carpet. The deck is furnished with comfy, casual seating that serves as an open-air family room. Paper lanterns hang from surrounding the trees.

“When I’m back here I don’t even know I’m in the city,” she says. “It’s a place of absolute peace.”

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