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Lime Chandelier
A Bay View woman's 360-degree vision

Photos by Matt Haas

July 2015

Sarah Boardman-Miller at one of her current renovation sites

Sarah Boardman-Miller built her design business, Lime Chandelier, on the premise of one simple question: "Can you do drapes?"

It was 1996 when Miller, fresh out of graduate school, had only recently arrived at the guileless conclusion that she didnít want to work for anyone else. So after hauling her sewing machine to and from the homes of family and friends to peddle her stylish slipcovers, she confidently answered yes.

Over the years she kept answering yes. Yes, I can paint. Yes, I can do interior design. By age 30, she says she had a growing client base and her first million in the bank.

Miller is one of the few design professionals who provides interior design, construction consulting and home purchasing services in one shop. The former Chicagoan credits the success of her business to having an open mind.

"I had a client who didnít like her general contractor," Miller recalls. "She said, ĎWhy canít you do it?í They were having to deal with general contractors who were great people, but they werenít coming to the job with that design sense, so they werenít getting what they wanted."

Miller jumped at the opportunity. Soon, she would find herself thinking about where outlets should be placed, whether a particular painting would fit on a divider wall, or where the chandelier could go once rewired. Her business took off.

"By 2003, I had 30 people in my office," Miller says. "I loved every minute of it."

Then the housing market crashed. When the recession slammed the nation in 2009, her design business experienced a long fall from grace, plunging from $4 million a year in business to zilch. Miller was devastated.

"Within eight months I didnít have a business," she says. "It was the first time I thought, ĎWow. What am I going to do?í"

With her two daughters nearing school age and her husband equally ready for a change, the Millers began searching for a community with an exceptional Montessori school system. Miller says the family landed in Milwaukee.

"We drove up here, and within two days we had rented a house in Bay View and moved," she remembers. Though it took a couple of years to settle in, Miller says she slowly rebuilt her clientele ó and began to embrace Brew City.

Interestingly, it wasnít much later when yet another client asked her a question that would reignite her design desires: Why didnít she have her Realtorís license?

Now, "When a client comes to me and says: ĎHereís the budget to remodel the house,í it gives me room to find something that isnít perfect, but weíre going to do this and youíre going to move there in three months. I can see the long view."

So far her efforts are paying off. Though not every client demands the home purchase, remodel and interior design trajectory, her clients say it helps that Miller has 360-degree vision.

"I called Sarah to come out to my house and incorporate old and new pieces, re-decorate and style," says one client, Mollie Warner Cope. "To her, no job was too big or too small. She can handle everything ó carpenters, painters and fussy husbands."

"Above the creative, all the other stuff, my job is to manage expectations," Miller adds. "Itís to keep them from walking the plank. My favorite thing is getting a new project and creating what itís going to look like in the end. Itís about the hunt."

Next on Millerís list is to spruce up the city. She has made it her mission to use her design and Realtor skills to "bring Milwaukee into the 21st century."

"Thereís a ton of charm in these houses, but people want more than one bathroom and more bedrooms," she explains. "All of these great industries are here and there are no houses. I want people to move back into the city."



This story ran in the July 2015 issue of: