Photos by Eric Roth
There are fortunate house-hunters who find fulfillment on the very first afternoon searching. “I wanted to fall in love, not just buy a house. It was going to be the first house I had ever lived in by myself,” remembers Sandy Miller, who was prepared to spend months looking. But on that soon-to-be auspicious day, an acquaintance “said to me, ‘Why don’t you look at Jane’s mother-in-law’s house? It’s going on the market on Sunday.’ The lady gave me directions, and I drove over and bought it!”
Sandy, who owns an antiques store called Earthly Possessions, in Milton, Massachsetts, knew she wanted a house with a sweeping front porch and lots of historic detail. The yellow house in Wollaston (a neighborhood of Quincy) had those, including the original windows with period muntin patterns in the top sashes. “Just for the windows alone, I knew I wanted the house,” she admits. “When I looked in the window, I was thrilled to spy bungalow woodwork details.”
Sandy had been looking for a cottage-sized home—cozy yet big enough for her varied antiques. This one “had a dilapidated two-car garage—I needed a garage—and sat on an oversized city lot.” Although she was enchanted, Miller says that at the time the house’s history eluded her. “Initially, I didn’t realize that what I was looking at was an Arts & Crafts bungalow of the early 1920s.”
Along with updated wiring and a new roof for the garage, Sandy needed storm windows that wouldn’t conceal her beloved decorative sash. The kitchen was also in need of immediate attention. “I was able to incorporate the gumwood wainscoting and door frames into a scheme that fit my goal: having a kitchen that looked like it had always been there.”
After the systems work was done, Sandy got right to decorating and displaying her collections. “I used Benjamin Moore paints,” she says, “and I began with the living room, dining room, and hallways, choosing a soft, pale peachy-yellow that complements the dark woodwork and picks up the golden oak floors. The den is a pale-green that frames the view of the back garden.”
Sandy juxtaposed her collection of Victorian architectural fragments onto the Craftsman-style woodwork trim. Mid-19th-century furniture pediments sit atop door and window casings in a few strategic locations, lending a pleasant quirkiness to the interior. While her interior furnishings leave a historical impression, she didn’t adhere to a particular era or style. Most of all, the house is a showcase for her possessions. Sandy is an inveterate collector—when she gets focused on something, she proceeds to acquire with abandon.
Nowhere is this more evident than with her extensive collection of antique dishes. Sandy focuses on pre-1890 Staffordshire transferware in a variety of forms and colors; decorating a white ground are motifs in blue, brown, green, purple, and black. “In the built-in cupboard in my dining room, to my embarrassment, even the drawer is filled with cups and saucers.”
Spool furniture is another passion: rustic items incorporating discarded spools. Sandy has more than 30 objects, including a rocking chair and various stands and tables. She had shelves built on either side of the fireplace to balance the ornate staircase at the other end of the parlor. The top shelf is reserved for her glass trumpet vase collection. These hand-blown, Depression-era pieces were fashioned in a variety of colors; her favorites are blue, amethyst, gold, and shades of green.
Her rarest pieces are a small collection of “motto” prints, which Sandy explains are made by laying ferns on photographic paper to form phrases such as "God Bless Our Home" or "The Lord Will Provide." They are then exposed to light, creating a black and white print. “I have found only five in my life, and they are among my most treasured belongings.”