Gary Miller’s bucket list included a spiral staircase, a loft, a big backyard and the perfect place to display his neon Miller Beer sign. He got all of that and more when he turned an unlivable house into his ideal bachelor cabin.
After retiring from a teaching career and 40 years in the National Guard, longtime Rapid City resident Miller decided the time was right to find his “bucket list” home.
“I’ve always wanted a house on a hill with the A-frame style,” Miller said. “After I retired I started looking around. I knew in my head what I wanted it to look like.”
His dream house had an unlikely beginning. One of his now-neighbors suggested buying and renovating a house on Morse Place a few miles from Rapid City. Miller loved the location but had doubts about the house.
“It was a little rabbit warren of rooms when I first looked at it,” Miller said. “I said there’s no way I could live in that house.”
However, the house has a big backyard and views of the Black Hills in every direction, and Miller’s friend and contractor, Randy Ericksen, believed it had potential. Miller bought the house in June 2013 and a two-year renovation soon began. Miller chronicled his home’s transformation on a Facebook page, Gary’s New House, facebook.com/newhouse13170/.
“We pulled the house down to a shell and started over. There was no roof, no walls around it. It was just all gutted out,” Miller said. “During winter storm Atlas, there was 4 feet of snow in the living room.”
The tiny grouping of rooms became an open-concept great room-kitchen-dining room on the main floor, enhanced by huge windows and a vaulted ceiling. A spiral staircase in the center of the great room leads to a loft. The loft is Miller’s bedroom, exercise space and laundry room. Outside, back stairs from the loft lead to two decks — one just big enough to hold Miller’s hot tub.
“The entire house is designed around my Miller Beer sign,” said Miller, whose sign hangs in a window on the front of his house. “It’s a beacon to the neighbors. When the sign’s on, Gary’s home. Come over and have a beer.”
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The basement was reconfigured into two bedrooms. “I call it the Miller Hilton. I encourage family and friends to come and stay, and they do,” Miller said.
Miller moved in a year after renovations started. Unique finishes, furnishings and accents make Miller’s “bucket list” house distinctive and personal.
Ericksen’s original wood and tile work can be found throughout the house, such as the tiled image of the Black Hills on a built-in charging station, and mosaic tile flooring and a custom wood wall accent in the loft. Ericksen also came up with idea of using an ax as a door handle in the great room. “He figures stuff out and makes it work,” Miller said.
The upstairs loft was designed to be spacious enough to accommodate Miller’s roll-top desk. It had belonged to his grandfather, who originally got it from the Miner County Bank.
Marble underneath the great room’s wood stove, and rusty wheels, tin scraps and old incubator lamps repurposed as light fixtures all came from the farm in Howard where Miller’s parents still live.
“There’s a lot of things in this house I think are unique. You’re not going to find another house like it in the world,” Miller said. I didn’t want that ‘looked like it came out of a factory’ (style). … I like the way it turned out.”
Tree trunks from Baker Lumber flank the kitchen island, while handmade wooden bar stools from Pitt Sticks in Whitewood provide seating. Slate accents the island. “The stone came right out of the Black Hills. You can just go and pick it up out of the road ditches,” Miller said.
Miller’s “bucket list” house now gives him easy access to the Black Hills for hiking and running, and plenty of room for hosting family and friends.
“The biggest thing I like is that it’s open. That big great room, I just love it. That’s what I built this house for, is to entertain. In the summer, I have the deck with a fire pit and we sit on the deck. I’ve probably had 15 parties here already,” Miller said.