The desire to be near grandchildren beckoned Lake Charles residents Maureen and C.A. Miller to Austin, Texas for 15 years. Once their grandchildren were grown, the quiet beauty of Lake Charles and the serendipitous discovery of a 19th-century center hall cottage called the Millers back to their Louisiana roots.
“We love Lake Charles,” says C.A. “The land, the oak trees, the lakes, it’s magical. And it’s very family oriented. Everything is here but at your pace and on your terms.”
Maureen, an Army brat raised in the United States and abroad, met C.A., a native of Lake Charles, while in college there. C.A., a graduate of Tulane, was a practicing attorney. They married in 1961 and raised their family in Lake Charles. Over the years, Maureen, who worked as in interior designer, began receiving requests from clients who wanted to build new homes, so 30 years ago, husband and wife joined forces to start their own design-build company, Miller Manor Homes. With C.A. acting as the business and legal end and Maureen as the designer and contractor, they’ve built and renovated homes for themselves and others in both Louisiana and Texas.
“I didn’t set out to start a construction company but there it was,” says Maureen, who is certified in both interior design and building design.
The couple stumbled upon their current home in a similarly spontaneous way. They decided they’d like to return to Lake Charles, downsize to a smaller home and be near Maureen’s sister. While visiting her sister, they spotted a for sale sign on a French Colonial cottage directly across the street, arranged to see it and quickly made the decision to buy it.
The center hall had been closed in for storage, but Maureen recognized the classic bones of the house and knew that restoring the center hall would go a long way toward returning the house to its original beauty. Documentation proves that the house existed by 1905, but 12-foot ceilings and five-panel cypress doors indicate that it predates 1900.
“When we walked in the first time and saw that the center hall was gone, we knew that restoring that would be important to let light go through the house,” says Maureen. “I had a vision of what it could be right away.”
Having renovated historic homes for clients, the Millers cut no corners. They replaced electrical and plumbing, put in new sewer lines, added a new air conditioning system, rebuilt the center hall (with all rooms opening on to it as it would have been originally), redid the kitchen, incorporated several side porches to enlarge the two bedrooms and the study, turned the garage into a studio for Maureen, built a carport and redid the landscaping around the home.
The difference between this house and others they’d done was the traditional nature of the project. To stay true to the original design, they worked within the perimeter of the house and incorporated an edited mix of the many antiques they’d acquired over the years.
Maureen used antique textiles, added bookshelves that look original, used an international blend of influences including American, European and Asian, and chose historic colors that appealed not only to her love of color but were appropriate to the period of the house.
Maureen’s philosophy that interior design should reflect the personality of the homeowner, was also key.
“We wanted to keep the originality,” says Maureen. “But we also wanted it to feel fresh and inviting and comfortable. A house should reflect the people who live in it. The more beauty it reflects about their lives, the happier they are going to be there.”
Decorative wares collected from their travels, works by notable Southern artists such as Will Ousley, William Tolliver and Mike Guidry, and meaningful family heirlooms, including a delicate spread crocheted by C.A.’s mother in the 1920s, are among the items that tell the story of the Miller family.
“It’s nice to think back on it and the fact that this was always a family home,” says Maureen, who loves welcoming her own family and friends to the house, now registered with the Calcasieu Historic Preservation Society.
“It’s a great community,” she adds. “You couldn’t ask for a better place.”