Small Spaces: Fire and Ice

In a Buckhead townhouse, designer Tish Mills creates a quiet retreat for a spirited homeowner.

LIVING LARGE IN SMALL SPACES: The challenge of maximizing a small space can be quite a task, but that didn’t stop designer Tish Mills from giving her client everything she wanted when the two set out to give a Buckhead townhouse, which hadn’t had a facelift in 15 years, a new look. After seeing her work three years ago at the Atlanta Symphony Associates’ Decorators’ Show House, the homeowner knew that Mills was the designer for the job. Her task: to reflect the client’s outgoing personality yet still make the 1,400-square-foot space a serene retreat after a busy day of work as a hotel executive. The result: an updated, chic look Mills calls “French-meets-1940s Hollywood glamour.”

At their first meeting, says Mills, the homeowner “was wearing a top with ginger, gold and red, and it looked so pretty against her skin tone and hair.” Using the blouse as inspiration, the designer presented the client with the vibrant color scheme. The homeowner, who entertains frequently, was thrilled. Before Mills started the project, the floors were Brazilian cherry hardwood and the walls were subtle variations of white. Mills picked up those warm and cool tones with markedly different color palettes upstairs and down. The fiery shades that now ignite the first floor are favorites of the homeowner, who originally suggested a neutral scheme. “The opposite was true for the master—it had to be cool, serene. The day Tish presented the colors, I named the palette ‘fire and ice.’ ”



“Every element that came into the living room served to balance this room,” says Mills. A Harlequin print rug adds a little spice while creating a new domain for a sofa and chairs with curves that Mills says make the space flow and appear larger. Built-in bookcases were converted to display niches by removing the shelves and installing quilted panels inside. The texture forms the perfect backdrop for feather compositions designed by a friend of the owner.

A few well-edited accessories also simplify the space. The homeowner chose only the most meaningful pieces for accents, including the mantel’s intricate bone piece, a family heirloom set off by the black lacquer fireplace—which Mills painted herself. Along with a firescreen she designed, it makes for a dramatic statement. “The rich color of the screen gives the strength that a fire would give if it were there,” says Mills.



From the beginning, the homeowner wanted a glamorous house. That spirit is captured in an oil painting over the dining table by Clifford Bailey, an artist she discovered with her sister. Mills reused the glass top from the homeowner’s previous dining table by giving it new bases. The decor also took its cue from the homeowner’s favorite piece, a circa-1930s French gilt bronze and crystal chandelier, which helped guide Mills in striking a balance between metal and glass throughout the house. Perhaps the biggest challenge involved segmenting one long room into clearly defined living and dining areas. A solid rug, placed horizontally beneath the dining table, helps set off the dining area, while patterned armchairs on each end anchor the space and draw the eye width-wise. “I wanted dining chairs that were comfortable, so guests would linger. And I loved the idea of a living/dining area that was vibrant, to spark social interaction among my guests,” the client says.




Upstairs, the mood shifts dramatically. The bluish cast of the walls and light-colored carpet inspired a monochromatic palette of pale blues and greens, which lends a cozy serenity to the space. A pair of 1940s Hollywood-style mirrored chests, a mirrored side table and glass lamps carry the French-Hollywood theme to the master and boost the glamour quotient. Twin silver candelabra offer Rococo flair and an unexpected elegance. For a focal point, Mills chose a headboard upholstered in soft blue velvet and green silk. Its curvature mimics the shape of the bay, which was given understated window treatments to open up the view; its height plays against the weight of closet doors just beyond the foot. When closed, the closet maintains the look of a traditional master, but inside, it serves as storage space for the television—for the owner, all too necessary for unwinding after work.


A closer view of a bedside table in the master bedroom illustrates the balance of metal and glass throughout the house. Glass lamp, Tish Mills Collection.

 TISH MILLS … ON DESIGNING SMALL SPACESUse a combination of ambient lighting, task lighting and accent lighting. “Always maximize the amount of natural light. You get the feeling of bringing the outdoors in, and it gives you a whole world to expand out to.”Bold colors in similar tones can add depth. “A dark color can push back a space and make it appear larger as much as it can close it in. Darker colors can make a room cozy or even provide a frame for a window view.”Space planning is crucial. “In this home, attention to niches, the curvature of the bay windows and a division of the living and dining areas helped maximize the use of the space.”


Tish Mills
Harmonious Living by Tish Mills
(404) 814-3838
[email protected]