Artist Apryl Miller’s home is an extraordinarily single-minded quest to turn her space into one of undiluted creativity and intricate visual expression. A poet as well as an artist, she initially trained in fashion at FIT then went on to become a jewelry designer. Two decades ago she moved into this apartment with her daughters and set about finding an architect who could, as she puts it, “find what was latent inside of me.” It took several deeply frustrating rounds with designers to realize that ultimately only she could find what lay within. The result is utterly idiosyncratic: “sculpture masquerading as furniture”, individually painted switch plates and hand-cut kaleidoscopic bathroom tiling in hundreds of colors represent just the start of things. It’s not “beautiful” in any conventional sense—nor is it intended to be—but it is properly original, a generous and intriguing challenge to keep us alive to our own senses.
I’d like to start with this quote: “The whole apartment is one giant emotional endeavor.” Can you say why you embarked upon it in the way you did?
I have a feeling I was misquoted …[laughs]. When I read that myself, I thought, “What??” What happened was that I thought that I could find an architect who would help me discover what I had in mind and I didn’t know that’s not really what they do. I was so naïve! I was like, “Hey you guys, come out and play! Give me your most wild stuff! We can always pull back—it’s easier to do that—but let’s be out first.” I thought I would find somebody who could find what was latent inside of me and I didn’t find that.
You mean you just found them unimaginative?
Someone got angry with me over the phone and this woman was yelling at me, “Don’t you know I only do white?” I couldn’t articulate what I was looking for. Color! “Well how many colors?” Pattern! “Do you mean like three per room?” I’m saying, “It’s not math—what are you talking about?”
Why did you go to architects as opposed to interior designers?
I was just looking for people whose names I saw in the papers a lot. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t really have enough experience to ask, “How do I want my home to feel?” What does it mean to me? What am I trying to say as a person? I had never thought of those things before—ever. I always knew I was a creative person but I was not an artist. What happened was, coming to this, bit by bit, that came to the surface.
So how did you get going on it?
Before this I had been making these [intricate] boxes and so it was as though I went from a bunch of small boxes to a bunch of big, white boxes. I used my experiences from having made jewelry and incorporating those elements in this space.
Perhaps what you didn’t realize was that you didn’t need designers or architects?
I did need them because there are architectural touches that I could not have done, for example we dug into the ceilings and things like that. I had to fire one architect because he kept pushing things on me—he wanted me to buy one of those large stuffed leather animals and I was like, “What does that mean to me? It means nothing.” Because I kept saying no to everything I thought that in the end I had to say yes to something so I bought sliding doors from Bali and these African chairs and because he was French, everything had to match; I had to have two of everything. [laughs]
I can see what he was misinterpreting—he thought you wanted girly Boho.
He had no idea. I knew that if I didn’t become more vocal, I’d be really unhappy at the end of the day. What I did was that I took everything that I didn’t know and I poured it into this space. One day I said to the team, “Let’s go look at the furniture I have in storage—kind of pull it out and think about it.” Then I said, “You know I think it’s time to start re-covering some of these pieces.” And [one of the designers] said, “You can’t do that! You don’t have any color scheme! You have no plan! You don’t know what you’re doing!” And I looked at her and said, “Maybe you can’t but I can.” It was very organic. It’s just visceral. Ultimately, I chose the architect Michael Pierce, who was very helpful in realizing my vision.”
What would you say, design-wise, was the real start in developing confidence in your own vision?
It’s kind of really hard to say. There were endless decisions. Maybe I felt like a sense of mastery or something was when I started doing the tiling in the bathrooms. I cut them up with a tile saw. I went out and bought tiles, colorful, colorful, colorful—it was an evolution. It was [the moment] when I said, “Oh hey, I’m going to cut these up.” I don’t think of myself as being a designer—it’s just … that everything comes from within me.
I do think that designers are very good at order, especially visual order—and ordering things in a way that is pleasing to a lot of people.
Yes, you see I don’t know that you could even have an apartment like this planned in advance. Everything was built on what had come before. You can imagine my poor contractor!
Where did you source your fabrics?
They’re vintage garment fabrics. The idea of my artwork is removing barriers, so this space is not a space that is necessarily the way it looks. I’ve talked a lot about the “what” but what’s not out there is the “why” behind the what.
So tell us about the “why”.
The sculpture pieces I call “sculpture masquerading as furniture”. By using garment fabrics, I’m removing a barrier between ourselves and the piece, so that when you’re sitting in it, it makes the experience more personal because these fabrics were made to clothe the body, not to clothe furniture. I find them on eBay, Etsy, thrift stores and flea markets.
So what do you want people to feel, then, when you say that you want the furniture to speak to people? What do you want them to feel in your own home?
My idea was that I wanted to show that one could take furnishings for one’s home and imbue emotion into them. I don’t just make stuff—there’s a meaning to it. As an example, asymmetry is really important to me. If you do things that are unexpected, I believe it creates an energy that wouldn’t be there without it. It makes us perk up and think and look and you might not why but there’s something about it. All the pieces have a title. The sofa sculpture is called “Can you do the rhumba, you can do the twist.” I think it’s what it’s called.
So are you really painting with fabrics? And it is also sculpture. It would almost be better if you learned to do the upholstery yourself. It must be so hard to find the right upholsterer.
It is. The best ones are the ones who are also dressmakers. And here’s the problem [with doing myself]—I’m so slow. I would never get anything done.
Can you talk more about what you mean when you say, “Putting together that which does not belong, a piece is established.”
Um … see when I work, I’m not thinking about harmony. I’m not thinking about matching. I’m thinking about the opposite, so if my brain is working at full capacity [laughs] then I’m thinking, “that’s wrong … that’s wrong …” – it’s perfect! At the end, when something is finished, the cacophony in which it was created, when it rises to the surface, then there is a piece that exists.
You mean because it’s been resolved through completion of a work?
It’s the balance of opposites. So what happens is that there is energy created. There’s also a sense of peace at the same time. When you come into this space, you’re not just thinking, “Oh it’s crazy” or “Wow it’s really interesting and exciting”. At the same time it has a calming feeling to it. And I can’t explain why that is.
Do you feel that during the process or only at the end? Is the cacophony coming through you? You’re explaining this as if it is a reflection of yourself …
How much involved emotionally am I when I do it? Well I’ll tell you it’s a lot harder to not match things than it is to match things.
It is a lot more difficult—and it’s very rarely successful.
I think that’s true. And it’s more time consuming also.
So you initially thought you were going to be a fashion designer and you trained at FIT, is that right?
I did, yes. I worked in clothing stores. I ended up working for this Japanese company, Indio, I think it was called. We really didn’t have accessories to put on our mannequins so I started making necklaces just for fun. All of a sudden I had a business doing jewelry. It was kind of like I put myself through my own art school.
I had sewn also before I got into FIT—I made sure I knew how to flippin’ sew before I got there!
Are you still interested in fashion?
Totally! Because another thing is, you know a lot of things didn’t come to me until way later—you can’t know when you’re in the middle of something, what you’re doing, why you’re doing it. And so what I realized I did was I took my closet and brought my closet out into the whole apartment, into my whole world.
Have you always dressed in a distinctive way?
The kids in junior high still remember the way I dressed—they remember specific garments!
When you say you “grew up in a DIY family”, what did that entail?
Okay, what that means is that it was the mindset of DIY. We lived on an old army base in a very small town two hours outside of Seattle—there were these giant houses. In my family, we didn’t just buy. My mom made hand-dipped candles; she sewed clothes for us. All of our food was made by hand, we didn’t open cans. From the time I can remember we were making our own Halloween cards and our own Christmas cards.
You have raised your daughters here, haven’t you?
Yes, this is their family home. My objective with this space—you know we always want to give our kids things we didn’t have as kids, so what did I want to give my kids? Well I wanted to give them many things I didn’t have but the main idea about this space was to make this creative home for my children. So this whole place, not that it is geared for kids, I don’t mean that, but everything about this was meant to stimulate and support my children’s creative sides. For example I used colors that were like the colors of the personality of each child.
Don’t you think that relying on either an architect or even an interior designer would ultimately never have worked because your own vision was so distinctive?
I know that now!