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David Michael Miller Shares His View from the Top

modern dining room by David Michael Miller

Photo by Werner Segarra Photography

Interior designer David Michael Miller reflects on his career, his hillside home and a thoughtful renovation of a classic piece of modernism.

David Michael Miller stands on the cantilevered deck of his hillside home in Paradise Valley, Arizona, gesturing toward distant views. “The views are all the way to the McDowell Mountains and Tonto National Forest,” the interior designer says. “Some days, I can’t believe I’m living here and seeing all this.” But Miller, whose thoughtful residential designs have won numerous awards and covered by scores of publications, is the perfect steward for the house—a classic piece of modernism, designed in 1984 by Phoenix architect Edward “Ned” Sawyer, AIA, for a Midwestern couple who were architects and involved in art museums. With Sawyer’s blessing, Miller restored and updated the exposed block home, creating an interior that both honors the bold lines of the house and subtly weaves in today’s creature comforts and finishes.

streamline modern kitchen by David Michael Miller

Photo by Bill Timmerman Photography

Miller, a professional member of ASID, has long partnered with architects on new-build projects, and created renovated interiors for architecturally significant homes. The Chicago native studied design at Ray College, then moved to Arizona with the idea of studying at Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural school in Scottsdale. To be accepted, Miller had to be interviewed by Wright’s widow, Olgivanna, who ran the school after the architect’s death. “I was unbelievably nervous,” Miller recalls of that day in the 1980s. “Mrs. Wright was such an imperial presence, with her Great Danes by her side. I felt like I was in a shrine.”

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David Micheal Miller Paradise Valley

Photo by Werner Segarra Photography

Though he passed the interview and was accepted to study at Taliesin West, Miller decided he was ready to work instead, joining a large interior design firm in Phoenix, then working for several other interior designers. A small house he designed was published in Phoenix Home & Garden magazine. “That really launched my career,” Miller recalls. “I started getting more of my work published and winning ASID awards. In 1989, with a whole $3,000 to my name, I decided to go out on my own as David Michael Miller Associates.”

modern simply design space Paradise Valley home

Photo by Werner Segarra

The work came steadily. Miller became known less for a particular style, and more for his discerning eye and ability to pare down a space to its essence. “I tend to lean towards ‘spare,’ meaning that when I compose a setting, I edit out the unnecessary and make things quiet,” he explains. “I never want my compensation to be how much stuff I can sell to a client. For most of the houses I do, I stand back and let the architecture speak.”

modern office by David Michael Miller
mid century design by David Michael Miller

Photos by Bill Timmerman Photography

That philosophy has endeared Miller to many stellar Arizona architects, and he has worked with the likes of Vern Swaback, Mark Candelaria, Brent Kendle, Jon Bernhardt and CP Drewett. Check out our stories on Candelaria’s family design, Kendle’s modern renovation and Drewett’s modern Magnolia farmhouse. In 1999, he asked Phoenix modernist Wendell Burnette to design his loft-like office and studio in downtown Scottsdale—a simple sculptural presence composed of concrete, steel and glass. In recent months, he’s taken on the renovation of a Scottsdale house designed by the award-winning Texas firm, Lake/Flato.

modern outdoors by David Michael Miller

Photo by Bill Timmerman Photography

When it came to his Ned Sawyer-designed abode, Miller toured it at the suggestion of a Realtor friend. “I really wasn’t in the market for a hillside home,” he says, recalling the first time he drove up the steep road to the residence. “I kept thinking, ‘no,’ but then I returned again and again, looking at the house. It’s such a beautiful, private retreat.” Once he made up his mind to buy, Miller chose to live there for a year before starting the renovations, giving himself time to explore the spaces—and what should and shouldn’t be done to the main house and the adjoining guest casita. Miller opted to enclose a bridge-like pathway to the front door, creating more of an entry sequence to the house and converted two smaller bedrooms to a larger, ensuite second bedroom.

The bathrooms were updated with sleek, modern fixtures and, in the kitchen, Miller extended a window wall to bring in more light and replaced original cabinetry with a subtle, white Bulthaup system. New limestone flooring, warm wood cladding and updated lighting added finishing touches to the interior.

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“It’s all about simplify, simplify.”

simple modern design by David Michael Miller

Photo by Werner Segarra

When it came to furnishings, Miller stayed true to his less-is-more approach, choosing a simple A. Rudin sectional and Christian Liagre ottoman for the living room, and a straightforward live-edge wood table for the adjacent dining area, surrounded by Christian Liagre chairs. For the master bedroom—where he added a window wall for the views—Miller chose a Holly Hunt bed and nightstands. “It’s all about simplify, simplify,” he says. “This house doesn’t need a lot.”

Outdoors, Miller took advantage of plantings and hardscape added by a previous owner—Scottsdale landscape architect Russ Greey—and asked Scottsdale landscape designer Charlie Ray to flesh out the hillside lot with more desert plantings that help anchor the house to the site.

“I never aspired to be bigger. I enjoy being hands-on with the design, being in the weeds with the nitty-gritty and having that client contact."

David Michael Miller Paradise Valley home

Photo by Werner Segarra

With his own house complete, Miller continues his focus on residential projects, aided with his long-time team of four. He works not only in Arizona, but throughout the country, from Florida to California. “We do about six or seven homes a year,“ Miller says. “I never aspired to be bigger. I enjoy being hands-on with the design, being in the weeds with the nitty-gritty and having that client contact. I love the site visits and all those thousands of details.”

At Miller’s own home—as well as his projects for clients—that devotion to design is clearly evident.

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