All that autumn sun got Mills Group LLC right where it lived late Friday afternoon.
Rays streamed through the giant windows upstairs and the not-as-giant ones downstairs.
It glinted off original stair railings and floor surfaces and even caught the eye of Ellie, the official four-legged, Labrador greeter at the architectural firm on High Street.
The pup who has her own email address on the company website gave a blink and maneuvered her snout around one ray, as she set about her duties for the afternoon.
Celebrations of canines, and the natural surroundings they love to inhabit, are just part of the daily dealings at the firm.
And on this afternoon, “celebration” was most definitely the watchword.
Mills Group was marking its 15th year in business while also cutting the ribbon on its new address downtown at 88 High St.
You’ll find the firm not far the Monongalia Arts Center, the Clarion Hotel Morgantown, the now-shuttered Warner Theater – and other structures that have given the University City its iconic look for generations.
“Fifteen years feels great,” owner Michael Mills said.
“Morgantown and West Virginia have been really good to us,” he continued. “And we are really happy to be in our new place.”
Make that, old-new space. That’s how Mills Group does it.
The firm now occupies the former Hope Gas building, which was also home to City Office Supply for several years.
Built in 1961, the boxy, mid-century modern was out of the Mies van der Rohe school, for those of you keeping architectural score at home.
While the pandemic was roiling last spring, the new owners took over and transformed the place into, well, a Mills Group building.
Period fixtures. Those aforementioned windows. The stairs with the original railings.
“Anything we could save and incorporate, we did,” the owner said.
Design studios, conference rooms and a lounge area with a drone’s eye view of High Street are prominent features.
So is the library, with its tomes of West Virginia achievement, architectural and otherwise: A retrospective of the works of Cass Gilbert, the architect who designed the state Capitol building, bumps up against Earl L. Core’s multivolume history of Monongalia County.
Sweat equity (and job site equity, too)
Every Mills Group employee did the literal heavy lifting in the makeover.
“We were our own contractor,” Mills said. “We were our own architect.”
What was it like being one’s own client?
“Well, it was interesting,” he said with a grin. “We learned a lot about ourselves.”
Collectively, the firm came away with something it already knew it knew, during those move-in days and in-house design sessions.
The hard work made Mills Group want to work that much harder for West Virginia.
Over the past 15 years, the firm and its offices in Morgantown, Wheeling and Shepherdstown has put its signature on more than 2,000 projects across the region – West Virginia, most notably.
That includes historical renovation, environmentally friendly designs and creations that are originally exclusive.
Visit https://millsgrouponline.com/ for more on its history and portfolio.
Just ask Ellie
Mills’ history in the Mountain State began with a job. He’s a Vermont native, and an offer from a now-defunct foundation made him an official Green Mountain State ex-pat.
After a while, he decided he wanted to venture forth with his own company.
That, he did, as a Department of One in his basement, with a newborn and toddler snoozing on his lap while he worked.
It didn’t take long for his company to set a literal, and figurative, foundation.
The writing was literally on the wall Friday afternoon, as well.
A mantra and mission statement is prominently lettered on the wall of the lobby for all to see: “Designing on the Principles of the Past and Preserving for the Future.”
“Well, yeah, that pretty much sums up who we are,” Mills said. “Huh, girl?”
Ellie gave a tail-wag in response.