Bittersweet Primitives: Debbie Miller

Debbie Miller has been imagining this shop for 30 years; the stock of clean, New England-style reproduction furniture; the smattering of antique dishes and décor; the hand-poured candles; even the name, “Bittersweet Primitives.”

In November 2013, Miller opened the doors to her ’80s-era dream, housed in an historic home on 320 Fourth Ave., North in downtown Franklin.

“We moved to Franklin from Michigan when my husband and I retired. I thought, ‘Now’s the time to do this.’ Franklin is a great area to start a business and is very historically driven, which is perfect for this kind of shop,” Miller said.

“When people ask me where I get my furniture in my home, it’s pieces I bought elsewhere, usually on the East coast. I don’t really know of another shop like this in the area.

“What I’m carrying is a collection of my tastes and a culmination of my travels.”

To reference her point she nods toward a room that holds heirloom-inspired bedding and an extensive collection of rug-hooking materials, a hobby that Miller picked up long ago.

She says that though there is a large group that enjoys making rugs in Middle Tennessee, she had to travel all the way to Jackson, Miss. to pick up the supplies for the store.

“Rug hooking is calming to me, and you can almost tell a story with a rug. It’s a throwback in time, just like the store,” she said. “I like to show people that because it is a reflection of the unique inventory I carry. My shop won’t be like anyone else.”

All of Bittersweet Primitive’s five rooms are subtly themed. The first room, Miller says, looks a lot like her own home: it’s set up to look like a fully furnished dining and living room, with upholstered furniture, Windsor chairs, a formal dining room set, a primitive and framed folk art.

One room over, cans of Miss Mustard Seeds milk paint in colonial colors are stacked under walls covered in tavern signs and tinwork. And in the back room, Miller has stored shabby chic furniture and industrial lighting for the younger crowd, with quirky objects–like a cast iron pig’s head–thrown in for good measure.

Miller says the prices range from $5 trinkets to $3,000 furniture pieces, and nearly all of her inventory carries the “Made in America” stamp.

“I do feel like this is something that Franklin needed. We have placed special emphasis on American-made product,” she said.

Miller says though she’s never been an interior decorator, her taste has been passed down generationally.

“I inherited my grandmother’s style. Growing up, I was always inspired by her style,” she said. “Those primitives just make you nostalgic. The simple things are the most beautiful to me.”

Miller, who also runs a bed & breakfast in the Fernvale community with husband Jerry, says they looked for the right location for years before stumbling upon the home across from Rest Haven Cemetery. It took 11 months to renovate the space–largely due to the fact that the couple did most of the work themselves.

The Millers’ two daughters and their granddaughter, who is a senior at Franklin High School, will help in the store.

“It’s a family affair. This was definitely a labor of love. I’m excited and feel very blessed to be able to do this,” Miller said. “I want people to know it’s very homey and warm in here. It’s kind of like you’re sitting in my living room.”

The store is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Saturday.

For more information, call the store at 614-3389 or like its Facebook page here.

Faces of Franklin is part of a series on merchants and small business owners in downtown Franklin that runs in the Williamson Herald. To read more, go here.