Built to Last
Local Entrepreneur Finishes Renovations to Historic Mills House
Photographer / JWcreative.indy
After nearly a year, the renovations on the Historic Mills House are complete. During that year, owner Todd Anthony and his crew toiled for endless hours restoring the home to its former glory. The labor of love involved a lot more repairs than expected, and the end result was far beyond what he ever dreamed.
The long process involved repairing and restoring the roof, badly damaged from lack of proper drainage. Anthony and his crew devoted an enormous amount of time restoring and enhancing the landscape in order to preserve Ernie Mills’ (the original owner of the home) vision to reflect a connection with nature.
“Ernie’s vision was to incorporate a blending of indoors and outdoors. We’ve done that with the gardens,” Anthony says.
Following his mission to preserve the historical integrity of the home and the time period, Anthony put painstaking effort into meticulously restoring special features in the home. From the simple and subtle entrance via a three feet wide door that opens to a light, airy space that expands as you go, the home oozes mid-century modern cool.
“It’s the opposite of modern design that pulls you in with the grand façade on the outside only to reveal a smaller and simpler interior,” Anthony says.
Among the many gems throughout the home is a vintage 1950s princess style television.
“I found it at the Southport Antique Mall,” Anthony says. “I couldn’t resist it.”
Also irresistible was the rocket-shaped trashcan by the kitchen table which Anthony found online.
“I included something in each room that was period-specific along with something modern but in retro style, making it relevant for all generations,” he says.
The iconic Terrazzo flooring throughout the home was repaired and restored. When Anthony inspected the flooring, he surprisingly found just one small area where the natural stone was chipped. Miraculously, he found a manufacturer who was able to match the exact style, color and dye lot.
Made in Germany, the iconic egg-shaped lamps illuminating the stairs leading to the lower level were cleaned and restored to give off an even glow and a truly authentic look. Anthony ensured an authentic look in the kitchen and bath areas as well. He ordered new Kitchen Aid appliances and had them re-skinned with a retro design, classic to the time period. Instead of installing modern toilets and sinks in the bathrooms, the fixtures were restored. In fact, the tile in the master bath was custom color-matched to the existing fixtures.
Sure to be a hot topic of conversation about the house is the wallpaper in the master bathroom, Anthony’s way of adding his own personal thumbprint to the restored home. With a green foliage patterned design to match the bathroom’s 1950s era green fixtures, the wallpaper is a replica of the wallpaper in Frank Sinatra’s secret room in his Palm Springs home. The “secret room” is the location where JFK and Marilyn Monroe were rumored to have met.
The Frank Lloyd Wright boardroom features an iconic conference table. A serendipitous find for Anthony, this Frank Lloyd Wright table now in the former master bedroom of the home, was part of FLW’s furniture line. As an extension of his architecture designs, the famous architect developed a furniture design as he began to dabble in interior design. The table was custom made for the Dutch National Bank. While researching furniture online, Anthony found the gem advertised for sale by the Dutch National Bank. Without hesitation, he purchased the table and had it shipped from the Netherlands to Greenwood, Indiana.
“It’s authentic,” he says. “It’s stamped and numbered. It came with risers that were customized to accommodate the characteristically tall Dutchmen.”
Perhaps one of the most special touches to the renovation is the railings added to the upper level of the house. Though the original home did not feature railings, they were required for general safety and to meet code standards. Anthony tapped Bill Cooler, son of the home’s architect, Harry Cooler, to design the railings.
“Who better to bring in on this project than the son of the original architect of the home,” he says.
“Todd and his team of relentless workers have done a phenomenal job on restoring the original details of the house and in many cases improving upon them,” Bill says. “It has brought a lot of joy to our family to see the home reused as a conference center honoring my late father Harry Cooler. It is a real honor to have worked with such a detail-oriented and capable person such as Todd. This structure will now live on for the next 50 years giving new purpose to the City of Greenwood and to all its residents. I look forward to sharing its new and improved attributes.”
To make the railings, Anthony brought in high profile metal fabricator Bo-Mar Industries out of Beech Grove. The company’s custom metal artwork has been part of projects locally like Lucas Oil Stadium and worldwide at Disney.
The enormous renovation project required the help of not only contractors but friends and family. Many items were taken offsite and cleaned up at home.
“Even my mom took some things home and cleaned them up,” Anthony says. “So many people were involved in this project from contractors, landscapers to friends and family. It was a fun and meaningful project for everyone and each one of them said they knew they were involved in something special.”
From start to finish, the surprises flooded in.
“When I started this project, I set out simply to save a house and it turned into a story,” Anthony says. “I knew nothing about the Mills family and nothing about Harry Cooler. I started researching and the history unfolded in front of me.”
Anthony admits a penchant for Frank Lloyd Wright style architecture and the time period.
“It’s a generation I can really connect with,” he says. “The period of prosperity and idyllic lifestyle are encapsulated here.”
Dozens have shared comments about their connection to the house or the Mills family.
“There have been so many coincidences, connections made across generations and state lines, and memories shared about this house,” Anthony adds. “It’s all simply amazing. We’ve come into this project at the perfect time because these people are still around. So much has happened since Ernie Mills built the house and yet people are still sharing memories of cocktail parties and other events at the house.”
No one had more special memories to share than Ernie and Edith Mills’ daughter, Susan Mills England. Readers may remember she reached out from Ann Arbor, Michigan when a friend shared details about the first article in the series. She shared countless memories and a goldmine of photos from her father’s personal photo album. Many of those photos were digitized and can be found on the Cooler Conference Center website. Anthony connected with Mills England and was thrilled to give her a personal tour.
“I was very happy to see that Todd is really ‘owning’ the restoration of my family’s home. He has spared no expense to ‘get it right’ and I love that,” Mills England says. “I’m sure my parents would be very pleased with his results.”
Now that the project is complete, Anthony has finalized details for reservations. The Harry Cooler Conference Center will be used primarily as a business venue for conferences, banquets, fundraisers or corporate training and recognition events. Companies interested in exclusive memberships or sponsorships with the center are encouraged to visit the website coolercenter.org for details about making reservations and pricing. Corporate members and sponsors will have priority access to the facility for events. Charitable organizations are also encouraged to inquire about planning their fundraising events at the center.
The Cooler Conference center will host open houses open to the public starting in January and many times throughout the year. Find details on the website along with links to all the social media pages. Fans of the Historic Mills House will be excited to know the house will be part of the Indiana Landmarks Back to the Future: A Mid-Century Modern Home Tour, May 30, 2020, from 1-6 PM. The 13th annual tour is primarily in the Homecroft/Southport/Greenwood area and attracts more than a thousand guests. Details can be found on indianalandmarks.org.
In the meantime, Anthony encourages everyone to keep sharing their stories and their connections to keep memories alive.
“I’m just delighted to be part of this historical gift that’s so unique to Greenwood and it’s going to be shared for generations to come,” he says.