By John Burton
LITTLE SILVER – Pat Mills isn’t leaving. She’s just moving upstairs.
There will be changes for Mills, who has owned and operated Byford & Mills for 29 years. She is closing the retail portion of her fine home-furnishings business, located in the lower level of 38 Church St., in order to concentrate on the interior design portion of the operation, which will be operated out of the address’s upstairs offices.
Closing the retail store “was a bittersweet, difficult decision,” Mills said. She has enjoyed dealing with her customers, many of whom have become friends over the past three decades.
“It’s just a timing issue in terms of how people make their choices today” in purchasing home items, she said was the primary reason for the decision. “It’s made a significant impact on the business.”
With that decision, Mills has decided to run a going-out-of-business sale, which began May 2, to liquidate $2 million in merchandise in her Little Silver showroom. The merchandise in the two-story location includes, not only home furnishings, but also a collection of art and fashion and jewelry items, that, like the furnishings, Mills had acquired during her buying trips to France, Italy, Mexico and elsewhere.
When she finally closes the door to the retail side of the business, probably early this summer, Mills plans on concentrating on the design work. While the retail component has offered its own reward – especially in the relationships she’s developed – it’s been the design end of the business that has really dominated her time and been a strong interest for her, going back to even before she started in business officially.
“From the time I was a little girl, I was always putting things together,” doing her own sort of interior decorating, she said.
Mills and her staff work on about 30 design projects a year. “We virtually cover the waterfront in what we’re capable of doing,” undertaking all sorts and sizes of projects, she said. Those projects include homes, including many of the area’s showcase homes; commercial spots, such as real estate and other business offices; and some historical locations, such as work on Rumson’s Bingham Hall, about seven or eight years ago, when Mills and her team collaborated on the site’s exterior work.
Mills said her firm specializes in what she described as “traditional and transitional” styles of design. But the important thing, along with possessing an innate ability for this type of work, “You need to be a good listener” to work with clients, appreciate their tastes and wants “and translate that into the highest form of their vision,” she said.
That develops “an intimate kind of relationship” with clients “because you’re working with people’s surroundings,” in their home or workplace.
Over the years Mills has worked on the primary and second homes, sometimes on multiple occasions, for clients, not only in the area, but also in New York City, Florida, Montana and Puerto Rico. She has seen her work featured in trade and popular publications.
The real joy, she said, is the reception her work elicits from homeowners and their visitors.
“The best compliment we can get is when people say ‘I just want to come in and sit down,’” she said. “It happens over and over and over again.”
For future clients and those who may be interested in this field, Mills offered a little bit of advice concerning function and form: “It’s fine to be pretty,” she pointed out, “but, if it’s not comfortable, it’s only half the job.”