Ask Billy Milner just how many collections he maintains, and he begins to laugh nervously. “All it takes is three of something for a collection,” he hedges. For the last 20 years, the designer and owner of Billy Milner Design has been amassing three or more of everything from vintage movie posters and glass fish floats to McCoy pottery and Bob’s Big Boys. “I’m always on the hunt. I’d like to say that I’ll eventually stop. Probably not,” he says, laughing. And so he filled his abode at Murray Lofts with his many treasures.
Then love struck. Billy met Neiman Marcus art director Jerod Dame in 2008, and a few years later, the couple decided to merge households. “We actually thought about taking the space next to me at the Murray, but the guy decided not to move,” Billy says. So the couple began a quest for the perfect space—something that could house Billy’s fab finds as well as the treasures that Jerod brings to the mix: two sons and a daughter from a previous marriage.
The couple’s real estate recon eventually led them to The Continental, a cotton gin turned residential property in Deep Ellum. “We looked at a large unit on the third floor,” Billy says. They liked the space, but as they were leaving, they noted something interesting: a bridge leading from one of the units. “I looked up and saw that bridge and said, ‘That’s really cool,’” Billy remembers. The duo asked about the space attached and learned that it was vacant. They were immediately sold. “It’s less square footage, but the taller ceilings made it possible to add the lofts for the kids.” That’s right. With space limited, the only way to add square footage was to go up. Billy designed two “rooms” for the kids—one for the boys, one for the girl—raised high by thick metal pieces. “Our main goal was to get the metal structures in before we moved in. It was extremely challenging. The freight elevator was broken, so they had to hoist everything over the bridge,” he says. “It took a day to get it up there, and then it took them a few hours the next day to get it all welded and put together.”
The space was a work in progress. “We got the bridge done—that was probably the first thing done,” Billy says. “Jerod calls it our Las Vegas. There’s no water. No dirt. We had to bring in 40 bags of dirt, maybe more.” It took about a year to complete the kids’ rooms. (Billy and Jerod have the children about 45 percent of the time.) And, of course, Billy has been busy incorporating his items into the space—many of which have proven to be as useful as they are fun. Take the suitcases. “They really are more for function. I built individual shelves for each one,” Billy says. “The challenge was finding them all in the same size. They hold shopping bags, dishcloths, pasta, and rags.” Each suitcase is adorned with a numbered metal tag, which has been carefully inventoried. Of course, this being Billy, even the tags have a story. “The tags are from a coal mine in Arkansas. There were two—one stayed on the board, one stayed with the miner,” he explains. “If there weren’t two tags on the board at the end of the day, a miner was missing.”
And then there’s the dining room table. Billy used a midcentury modern piece as the base. “It was a conference table,” he says. Then he made the wood tray on top and began collecting old letterpress blocks—lots and lots of letterpress blocks. “It took a couple of years to collect it all. It was crazy,” he says. He credits stops at B. Gover Limited, trips to Round Top, and eBay auctions for help completing his mission. When it was all put together, he added glass, and a conversation piece both practical and pretty was complete.
So how does a family of five coexist with a Santa Claus collection (out year-round, by the way) in a Deep Ellum loft? Peacefully, it turns out. The kids love their rooms. When they get restless, they play on the rooftop terrace or skateboard in the lobby. And Jerod and Billy have thrown a few more parties recently, thanks in small part to D Home. “We’ve been entertaining a lot since the photo shoot,” Billy says. In fact, the only real challenge is keeping the couple’s collection of architectural Legos out of the wrong hands. “We keep them away so the boys don’t play with them,” Billy says.