Downsizing in Style -Winter 2016
by: Leslie Linsley
photography by: Terry Pommett
Anyone who lives on Nantucket, or visits in the summer, has at one time or another been to the RJ Miller salon. Bob Miller’s clients go back three generations and are a loyal bunch. It is a touchstone and a reassurance that some things haven’t changed from one year to the next. Bob knows how to make everyone feel welcome, as though he were just waiting for their return. He knows their lives and facts about their children and how many grandchildren they have. His personality is that of a good neighbor you’re always happy to see. He cares about how you look when you walk out of the salon, and you get the feeling he genuinely cares about you. People, mostly women, count on him for catching up on all the news on the island and who’s coming and going, births and passings, what new restaurants have opened since their last visit. It’s usually the first place a summer resident heads when the season begins, and the last place they visit before leaving the island. There are many visits in-between. But don’t ever expect to get a good scoop of gossip. Like every good hairdresser (or bartender) he’s a good listener and conversationalist and always has a good word to say about everyone.
Bob and Carol Miller came to Nantucket in 1974 after reading an article about the island in National Geographic.
“We moved to Nantucket because we had a very busy life and business in New Jersey and we were looking for a calmer, more laid-back lifestyle,” Carol said. “We met other people who seemed to be looking for the same thing.”
In 1980 the Millers bought a big historic house on Hussey Street where they raised their three daughters. Emily is now head of the Nantucket Lighthouse School, Shannon is living in Sausalito, Calif. and is a learning specialist at Marin Country Day School and Deirdre is living on the Main Line of Philadelphia.
After 36 years in town, the Millers sold their house this year and moved into a smaller house in Tom Nevers, off Milestone Road.
“I loved living in town, but now the girls have their own homes and their own children and it was time for us to downsize,” Carol said.
The new house was originally purchased to house the employees of their business, RJ Miller Salon + Spa, which at the time had two locations, one in town and another on Amelia Drive. Several years ago, the Millers closed the salon in town, bought the building on Amelia and expanded that location into a full-service beauty salon with a group of exceptionally loyal employees.
Ten years ago the Millers sold the business. Carol moved on to a career in real estate and is an agent at J Pepper Frazier Real Estate.
Not yet ready for retirement, Bob remained on as head stylist at RJ Miller.
“This is where I feel most at home,” he said. “I grew up in the business and I enjoy styling hair. I know my customers and now I have the best of all worlds: the freedom to do what I like, without the responsibility of running the business.”
Last year the Millers renovated the Tom Nevers house for themselves. Less than half the size of their original home, it is the perfect house for this chapter in their lives, Carol said.
“With two bedrooms and a bath upstairs and a bedroom and a bath down, there’s still room for my off-island children to visit,” she said.
They lived through the agony of renovation, but said it was worth it, as the new space suits their current needs.
“It has a more contemporary feeling. It’s so much easier because there is a great deal of maintenance in an historic house. Now everything is new and updated,” Carol said.
While Bob loves living out in the country, Carol said she’s still getting used to the commute to town.
“Sometimes we miss being able to walk everywhere, but we like the peace and quiet we now have when we get home from work,” she said.
The biggest problem the Millers had once they decided to downsize was getting rid of things.
“It took almost a full year,” Carol said. “First we weeded out the ‘no longer needed items’ and donated them to the hospital thrift shop. Then we had several yard sales and gave our daughters whatever they wanted for their homes. Getting down to the last of our possessions was the hardest, and figuring out what I wanted to keep and what we wanted to buy new was another hurdle. In the end we kept very little.”
Many people find, after living with possessions for several decades, they look forward to divesting and replacing them with new furnishings that represent a new and often liberating lifestyle. They sometimes find, too late, that it wasn’t a good idea to use what they had when moving on. It’s harder to get rid of things after you’ve moved in than before the move.
“Less possessions means less care,” Carol said. “Now I can do the laundry and wash the dishes at the same time. There’s less upkeep and maintenance.”
The new house is easy for living on one floor. With a small entryway, an open living room with a fireplace, dining area and modern kitchen, plus outdoor living, this house works for them.
“Renovating can be expensive,” Carol said, “but I’m never moving again so we wanted to get it right.”
Carol and Bob reconfigured the space for their needs. The house originally had two bedrooms and a tiny kitchen on the first floor. In order to enlarge the kitchen, they divided the second first-floor bedroom in half and made the new, smaller space into an office. In this way, a small bedroom became a good-sized office.
By removing the kitchen wall facing the living room, they were able to replace it with a kitchen island and stools for a casual meal. The removal of the wall also created a modern, open floor plan with three different uses. Now the first floor is basically one open room that flows from living to dining to kitchen. French doors open from the dining area to a spacious outdoor deck that doubles their living space. It was important to make this living/dining area comfortable, good-looking and maintenance-free.
“Our main priority,” Carol said, “was to have a kitchen and dining-room table, both inside and out, that would accommodate our entire family: children and grandchildren.”
A long table fills one end of the deck and the brown wicker wraparound sofa at the other end provides comfortable seating.
“Now our lifestyle is much more relaxed and we are more likely to eat at home than go out for a meal,” Carol said.
Each piece of furniture in the house was carefully chosen to make the most of the space. There are no knick-knacks on tables and paintings are still waiting to be hung.
“I’m taking my time,” Carol said.
The kitchen is all white with marble countertops, painted wood cabinets and a white subway tile back-splash. Carol and Bob used green plants to introduce a clean, modern color scheme to go with the minimal approach to downsizing.
“I chose top-of-the-line appliances and fixtures for the kitchen and bathrooms, but saved where it wasn’t necessary, in order to get the look without spending a lot,” she said, pointing out the deck furniture from Pier 1 Imports and an oversized outdoor umbrella from a discount retailer. All outdoor fabrics are weather-resistant.
Carol and Bob have always been good at whatever they do and have lived their lives with a flair that comes from being part of the changing trends on the island. Whether being in a creative business, interacting with the community, raising a family, or decorating their homes, the Millers have always been admired for their sense of style.
During their peak working years, when Carol was running the RJ Miller salons, the Millers bought a small house in Florida where they took vacation time whenever possible.
“My brother and sister live on the same street and we all get together with all our kids and grandkids for the holidays,” Carol said.
Now without the burden of their large family home, the couple has more free time to enjoy family life in two places.
“Life is good.” Carol said. “I’m here to stay. The best part is we are now able to travel more and spend more time with our siblings, children and grandchildren.” ///
Leslie Linsley is a nationally-known author of design and decorating books. She writes regularly for The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s weekly newspaper, and Nantucket Today.