The Miller siblings have worked together on a wide variety of projects over the years - from the award-winning Constellations Bar in the creative district of Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle to constructing bedrooms cut and sculpted by hand in -30C temperatures for the IceHotel in Sweden.
The duo, who set up H. Miller Bros in 2019, now focus a large portion of their time on high-end kitchens of incredible workmanship and it is for one of these bespoke creations that the Baltic Triangle-based pair won their latest award.
Who are the talented brothers?
Hugh, 36, has been making furniture in wood for over a decade, and his work has been exhibited internationally. One of his pieces, a ceremonial set for coffee drinking, is due to be exhibited this year at Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery.
Howard, 40, is an architect and landscape designer and won a gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show after he was commissioned by the National Schools Observatory (NSO) at Liverpool John Moores University, to design a garden.
H. Miller Bros won ‘Kitchen Designer of the Year’ in the £30,000-£50,000 category at the 2021 KBB Review Awards this week for their Seaside Kitchen.
They also won ‘Kitchen Design of the Year’ 2020 at the Designer Awards last year for their Furniture Maker’s Kitchen design.
The gifted brothers spoke to LiverpoolWorld about their stunning projects and creative journey.
Where do you trace back your enthusiasm for bespoke furniture, architecture and landscape design?
Howard: We grew up on The Wirral, over the water from Liverpool. We used to make things like tree houses and dig up clay in the garden to make into things.
Our mum used to put us to work, quite a lot digging, paving, general garden construction. I taught myself to lay bricks when I was in early high school. My parents have since said that family friends used to say, ‘Oh, he’ll be an architect,’ from about age four, and they were right.
I studied architecture, I also have an MSc in Architecture Advanced Environmental studies from the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education. I have worked for a range of architects and I started out working for a historic building architect in New York doing restoration of some of the heavily decorated ‘wedding cake’ skyscrapers.
I also worked in London for architects Hayhurst and Co. on a mixture of high-end residential and educational projects and we won a number of awards during my time there.
I moved back to Liverpool when my partner and I had our first child, and that is when Hugh also moved to Liverpool as we had always wanted to share a creative studio and work more closely together.
Shortly after we moved, I won a gold medal at the RHS Chelsea flower show for the Dark Matter Garden. It led to a number of commissions, and though I am an architect by training, the kind of design work I’ve done is quite wide ranging, from product design, exhibitions, landscape, interiors, furniture, restoration as well as architecture.
Hugh: Our grandfather had a little workshop and I used to mess around in there; he was so patient with me, letting me use tools and helping me make simple things. He used to make us wooden toys too; I think it was that realisation of, ‘if I just keep at this, I could make something like that one day’.
Growing up, I also studied architecture. I had always loved making things and I started a workshop making furniture when I was 24.
A key moment for me was becoming a Winston Churchill Memorial Fellow: I travelled widely in Japan researching Japanese wood craftsmanship.
In Japan, they have a system of ‘national living treasures’; people who are regarded as the pinnacle of their craft tradition, and are funded for the rest of their lives to carry on producing and keep the tradition alive.
I met four of these national living treasures who specialised in woodcrafts and this experience moved my design work and making to another level. In response to the research, I created ‘ The Coffee Ceremony’ which is a collection of furniture that has been shown widely, including exhibitions at the Saatchi Gallery, London, in the British Pavilion at the Cheongju Craft Biennale, South Korea, the Næstved Museum, Denmark. It s about to be exhibited at the Walker Art Gallery.
Why did you decided to create H. Miller Bros? Do you have differences of opinion how do you get over them?
Hugh: We founded H. Miller Bros in 2019 with a vision to combine the art of kitchen design with the mastery of modern craft to create unique wooden kitchens. We have been designing and making together since childhood, and the idea was that we could blend our architecture and furniture making skills together, to create luxurious and superior quality kitchens.
Howard: Of course, we know each other incredibly well and respect and understand each other’s skills in the business. I really enjoy working with Hugh a lot, I think that we are lucky in that we have complementary skills, we overlap when it comes to a shared vision, but in the getting it realised we have totally different things to bring and tend not to get in each other’s way.
We’re both naturally curious and love generating ideas at the start of a project. It tends to be that when one of us is stuck, the other will have different experience to bring to the problem to help solve it.
Why is Liverpool your base?
Hugh: Our family is from nearby, The Wirral and as we mentioned we grew up there. Hugh had set up his successful furniture-making business [Hugh Miller Furniture] in the Baltic Triangle warehouse, so it made perfect sense to share the workshop space. We both live close-by and love the creative environment of the Baltic Triangle. Howard now has children, and we love to introduce them to the workshop and tools.
How did you end up working on the IceHotel, what was the process for the piece?
Hugh: We loved working on an ice and snow bedroom concept for the IceHotel which we named ’The Ikebana Room’.
We were commissioned to design it as one of their ArtSuite bedrooms and the design was inspired by the traditional Japanese art of flower arranging, which really reflects the spirit of Japanese design and culture. It’s a timeless design and one that hotel guests regularly comment on how beautiful it is.
How did the idea for Constellations Bar come about?
Howard: Constellations was a special project for us, it was the first project we did [in 2014] when we moved to the Baltic Triangle and back then, the Baltic had this very experimental and under-the-radar feel to it.
Things have changed just a bit since then, lots of development has taken place, it feels slightly more grown up now - but we’re still here.
Earlier this year we got the sad news that the site Constellations occupied had been bought by a developer for housing.
The project was always a ‘meanwhile’ thing and we were amazed it lasted so long. With that in mind, we designed it so that it could be dismantled and re-erected somewhere else which is what will happen. Watch this space.
Hugh, can you explain a bit about your connection with Japan please?
Initially, I was fascinated by the way that you can tell a design is Japanese and what was going on culturally to make this the case.
I put it partly down to designs that appear simple on first glance, but in fact a great deal of complexity is going on - it’s not hidden, it awaits careful inspection.
In the UK, we tend to celebrate complexity as a design feature, that would be considered showing off and something to be avoided in Japan. I just find that distinction so very thoughtful.
I was lucky enough to travel extensively in Japan for my research study on Japanese wood craftsmanship as a Churchill Research Fellow.
I have also lectured on Japanese design, furniture and am fascinated by its relationship to architecture and the design process. I have written a book on Japanese design and was a visiting professor at Osaka Institute of Technology, Japan.
Howard, do you prefer architecture or landscape design?
The answer is both for different reasons.
If you imagine the most beautiful place you have been in, you will probably be able to remember the effect it had on all of your senses; the smell of oiled timber, a slightly echoing sound of the space, the cool touch of a stone floor on a hot day, as well as how it looked.
If an interior or architectural space doesn’t give you anything but visual stimulation, it’s not a wholly satisfying; it can sometimes feel a bit fake or uncanny. And that’s where I think the love of landscape and garden design comes from, it is a total sensory work of art - one that is literally alive.
I think that’s what ultimately drives Hugh and I - we want to create places that are total works of art, that span across different design fields and are inspired by the people that commission them.
Do you both have a certain way of working, for example, using special or unusual tools?
Hugh: We love using the treasured Japanese cutting tools I brought back from Japan - we regularly use them in the workshop for cabinet making as they allow us to create intricacy in our design details.
Are there any big future projects you are working on?
Yes, we are working on a large bespoke kitchen in East Sussex which has allowed us to be highly creative with some amazing Scandinavian and Japanese inspired features.
We are also pleased to have been commissioned for a number of bespoke kitchens including some local Liverpool-based projects, as well as a mid-century kitchen design in Southport and an industrial-style kitchen in East London.