DAREN MILLER has a dirty little secret: He loves color.
Okay, so it’s not blackmail material, but to those familiar with his home furnishings store, it should sound almost scandalous. Located on Florida Avenue Northwest, on the cusp of Adams Morgan, the walls of the shop are painted a warm cream, the ceiling a deep chocolate, the concrete floor left a natural chalky hue. From front to back and floor to ceiling, the large industrial space is filled with furniture, fabrics and decorative accessories in shades of black, brown, white, mushroom, taupe and gray. The use of color is spare and minimal. The name of the store is And Beige.
“I love color,” says Miller. “But as a starting point, I love neutrals. They’re timeless and they last forever.”
Born and raised in Utah, Miller, now in his mid-40s, studied architectural history and interior design before moving to D.C, where he worked for the Nordstrom department-store chain for almost 19 years. Under the umbrella of visual merchandising, he did everything from dressing mannequins to creating window displays to arranging product vignettes, developing an eye for composition, scale and proportion along the way.
In late 2006 he opened And Beige to “embrace the beauty and simplicity of a neutral palette.” The high-end shop is sophisticated but not stuffy. “It’s casually elegant,” Miller said a few years ago, adding, “I use different patterns, textures and finishes layered together so that nothing ever gets too serious.”
In a short time Miller established his shop as a favorite among area designers. It was recognized twice by Elle Decor magazine, and former first lady Laura Bush dropped by to browse. And if the place looks empty when you visit, not to worry, Miller isn’t lonely: A lot of his business , he explains, is from designers by phone.
Veteran D.C. designer Frank Babb Randolph has said he was a regular. Randolph is well known for his penchant for creating pale spaces, so it’s hardly surprising that he would appreciate Miller’s chosen palette. But it’s more than the color–or lack thereof–that has kept Randolph going back. “They have the right pillow on the right sofa with just the right throw draped across. It’s a complete feeling. [Daren’s] helped the whole community look at neutrals in an entirely new way.”
That blend of textures, patterns and contrast, paired with the perfect arrangement, is also a hallmark of Miller’s Washington home. He resides at the Westchester, a historic apartment complex in the Cathedral area of Northwest. Built as rental units in the earl y 1930s, during the Depression, the building once held the title as the largest luxury apartment house in Washington and was home to congressmen, senators and judges. It converted to co-op ownership in the early 1950s.
Miller purchased his one-bedroom apartment about a dozen years ago, attracted to the history, architecture and character of the complex “There’s a certain formality to the lobby that makes you want to mind your P’s and Q’s,” says Miller of the grand lobby in the main building (once decorated by the celebrated Dorothy Draper). “You almost feel like you have to whisper.”
Miller bought the place in “as-is” condition. The original parquet flooring was still in place the walls had cracks and holes, with nails still sticking out of the plaster; spots on the ceilings were roughly patched over, and Miller estimates that neither the kitchen nor the bathroom had been updated in more than 40 years. Despite all that, he says the place felt like home. “I loved the overall feel. It’s like walking into any house. If it just feels right, it is has a good vibe and energy to it . . . This place had that.”
These days, his apartment looks very similar to his shop: a neutral base, with lots of layers, contrast and touches of color. “My home is a little different because it reflects me, he says. At the store, “I’m always thinking about what other people will like too.”
The foyer is a simple study in Miller’s design method: A dark wood table with a black-and-caramel marble top is placed in the center. On top of the table sit three shapely white vases of different heights. Under the table lies a brown-and-white cowhide rug. Hanging floor-to-ceiling in a random arrangement are drawings, etchings, lithographs and other works of art Miller has collected over the years. (Grouping collections of anything in one place,rather than spreading them around, will create more impact, says Miller. “It adds more drama and makes the collection more memorable.”)
The bedroom, which is down a short hallway from the entry, is painted a deep chocolate brown, which becomes almost black at night, according to Milller. He prefers darker colors in spaces like bedrooms and dining rooms to create a more intimate setting. Many believe that dark walls will make a room feel smaller, but he says the opposite is true: They make the walls recede, visually expanding a small space.
The living room, once again, begins with a neutral base. Miller ebonized the parquet doors and painted the wall with Benjamin Moore’s Clay Beige. He had a book case custom built at the far end of the room to serve as a focal point in a room that lacked a fireplace. Texture and contrast are added through a natural jute area rug, wood finishes on the tables and case pieces, natural linen upholstery and a striking set of white ram’s head lamps with black shades. Color is found on the spines of books laid horizontally in the bookcase and a pair of red vases that rest on the top shelf; a grouping of individually framed pages from a late-18th-century Japanese textile book; and a five-foot-square orange mixed-media canvas painted by Miller himself.
The dining room is dressed in black wallpaper with platinum medallions. The floor is left bare to keep the dark parquet exposed. An old beaten-up schoolhouse table sits in the center of the space, with a vintage metal chandelier hanging above. The crisp white-enameled chairs with camel-color leather seats were chosen to pull in the lighter tones from the living room and as a contrast to all the dark elements in the room.
Speaking of chairs, Miller has a thing for them. “They come in so many shapes, sizes and characteristics,” he explains. “A chair says a lot about a person’s personality, just like a pair of shoes.”
The living-room chair he sits in during this interview is a traditional wing-back with scrolled arms, deep wings and linen upholstery that has a raised pattern running through it. The silhouette is casual and elegant, but the details make it fun, interesting and unique. Just like Miller.
Adapted from a piece that first appeared in the Washington Post’s At Home magazine.