Inside the Homes of Sonoma Designers: Chelsea Miller of Olive + Rose

A fixer upper in the Montgomery Village area of Santa Rosa gets a facelift.

Interior designer and Olive + Rose proprietress Chelsea Miller takes a holistic approach to home design. Miller, who grew up in Petaluma and graduated from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandise in San Francisco, believes a home’s decor should be focused on individuality and comfort, reflect the history of the building, and create a welcoming spot for guests to gather.

Her most recent home design project involved a challenging structure: a rundown fixer upper she and her husband, Andrew Miller, purchased in the Montgomery Village area of Santa Rosa.

“We couldn’t believe that nobody wanted this house. It was the summer of 2016 and everything was flying off the market,” says Miller of the 1950’s ranch home. The renovation process revealed a worse-than-expected condition, but the couple was able to unearth and accentuate the home’s unique attributes.

The yard was full of treasures planted long ago that had become obscured by a mass of overgrown ivy. The Millers removed the ivy to reveal roses, jasmine, tulip magnolias and an olive tree. The home’s interior redwood siding, painted white, really beckoned during the house-hunting  process, and Miller’s design (mostly modern and natural elements) played off the ordered look of the horizontally-lined backdrop. Pine vaulted ceilings were kept as they were, striking a warm and pleasing contrast to the white walls.

Miller says her husband felt an obligation to be “good stewards of the house,” which they estimate fell into disrepair in the mid ’80s. Miller said she wanted to “listen to the house,” and design to honor its original character.

Miller’s use of white makes for a crisp and quiet canvas for surprise spots of pattern and color from carefully chosen elements: ceramics, original artwork, blankets and more.

“Instant gratification and emotional buys are my jam. I love buying things I’m not supposed to. I’ll always find art, pottery and textiles,” says Miller who opened her own retail space—Olive + Rose on Fourth Street in Santa Rosa and online—to offer unique finds to enhance a home or to give as gifts.

Miller believes individual expression is essential in design, and she recommends her clients fill their places with meaningful pieces like original art and well-made objects. She encourages clients to buy the best pieces they can afford, even if they have to go slowly.

Decorating slowly is the key, which is the inverse of Miller’s biggest design dislike: the fast design and “homogenized look of real estate flippers.” Miller says designing a house for profit results in “the cleanest aesthetic at the lowest price point,” a look that’s “so thoughtless.”

Miller’s design sense was also informed by her years in retail, some of which were spent working in Tennessee and North Carolina, a major buying and manufacturing hub for the home decor industry.

In addition to the home decor scene, Southern hospitality made a big impact on Miller, and she sees it as an important dimension of a well-designed home. Even for a gathering to watch a football game, southerners freshen their homes and hosting is done “with intention,” Miller says. “No one eats on paper plates. Something is always made from scratch.”

Miller likes to “freshen” her house naturally by opening windows and then adding handmade soaps and candles. Her criteria in choosing these items is, again, scrutinizing. Smells must be subtle and natural and ingredients must be biodegradable. The packaging of the candle matters, too, as the look impacts the visual space.

Miller says these additional efforts make guests feel important. She adds that it’s great to give a thoughtful gift when visiting someone. “Practicing thoughtfulness, which impacts others, is good for you, too.”

Miller paraphrases a popular quote that further illustrates her approach to design and living, “The way you do one thing is the way you do everything. If you’re generous in one way, you’re generous in all ways.”