Life Imitating Art

A couple's recipe to a perfect home


Waking up surrounded by lush gardens, acres of flourishing farmland and the cacophony of chirping birds would inspire even the most toughened urban dweller, but for mixed media artist Kelly Milukas and her husband Al, it’s a creative, culinary compound. “It feels like a nest, the way a home should be,” says Kelly about the “bow” style house the two have made home. Built in 1985 – practically yesterday by Tiverton standards – the couple decided to make what was once Al’s bachelor pad into a smart, welcoming space that would celebrate their shared passion for cooking, art and entertaining. “He found it and fell in love with the house in its reiteration,” explains Kelly. “Since that time, we’ve lovingly and ‘lengthily’ just redone almost every part of the house.” Bow houses earned their name for the rooflines imitating the inverted bow of a ship. “It has all the feel and the look of a house that is old,” says Kelly.

Though the couple had seemingly endless tasks to tackle, Al and Kelly immediately knew where they would begin: the kitchen. “The kitchen was insanely small and we’re major foodies, so that was the first thing,” says Kelly. The two turned to Warwick-based carpenter Jeff Renfro to take the small kitchen and even smaller dining space and transform them into an expansive kitchen. “We had the wall knocked down so we could really have the size of kitchen we wanted - and needed,” explains Al, who is best known for his boisterous musings on the Paul and Al Morning Show on WHJY. Warm, dark wood custom cabinetry and a pot rack lend a traditional feel while top of the line stainless steel appliances, Honed Black Granite countertops and 18” Italian travertine marble flooring add a decidedly modern element.

Since the kitchen redux, the couple, along with Renfro’s help, has tackled multiple renovation projects throughout the home. They’ve created a stylish, comfortable home for friends, family, their young daughter Ava and their two lovable rescue dogs, Hazel and Fellow.

In an area where acreage is ample and roadside stands plenty, local produce is readily available, but for Kelly and Al, simply walking out the front door affords them a yeoman’s bounty. The two estimate that they eat straight from the garden about ten months out of the year, with this time of the planting calendar being especially exciting.

Kelly is living proof that there are flower gardeners, and there are flower gardeners. When she moved from her circa 1840 farmhouse in Gray, Maine (she earned her BA in Arts with a concentration in sculpture from the University of Southern Maine), the garden came with her – not a few houseplants or bulbs, but the whole kit and caboodle. “One weekend we dug and divided the entire garden,” she says, laughing. Her plan was to temporarily transplant the garden to Connecticut before rooting it in its final Tiverton resting place. “So literally this garden was in a 24’ U-Haul truck... 24’ worth of plants! [The garden] is now nine or ten years old and it’s stunning.”

While she is the admitted doyenne of the blooms, it’s Al who has spearheaded the robust showing of herbs, fruits and vegetables. As Kelly would describe it, tending to the land is in his blood. “He was raised in a traditional European family that was very passionate about gardening,” she says. Passionate is an understatement. Here you will find ten to 12 tomato varieties (“Each one is used for a different recipe or sauce,” explains Kelly), six types of heirloom carrots, Brussels sprouts, cherries, three different bean varieties, three different kinds of peas, husk cherries, cranberries, quince, turnips, cauliflower - and this list just scratches the surface. “It started literally when I was a kid; my mom always had a garden at home,” says Al, adding that his grandparents’ garden was equally stocked. “My mom would grow plums and make her own plum wines. These things were very common for me but I didn’t realize it wasn’t normal for my non-Lithuanian friends.” While other kids sat at the middle school lunch table will their fruit roll-ups and pudding cups, Al would unpack his gooseberries and currants. It was crystal clear which one of these was not like the other, but even today, Al practices Old World methods, like making and grating his own horseradish, just as his grandfather taught him.

Al and Kelly have the food covered, but proven entertainers like these would never forget drinks. “Al is an amazing mixologist,” says Kelly. “He’s always growing things just for drinks. He’s tinkering in his garden with crazy herbs.” Much of the expansive herb garden is destined for infusing spirits with distinct, authentic flavors in addition to spicing up dishes. Thyme, basil, mint parsley, sage and lemongrass are just some of some of the garden’s yield. Al keeps a blog about what makes their garden grow.

Though they adore their home and gardens, both are particularly fond of the most artful space on the Milukas compound: the Bow House Studio. With nary a hint of the shed it once was, Kelly's Bow House studio, surrounded by elaborate gardens, has become one of the most visited spots on the South Coast Artists Open Studio Tour. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this summer, the annual, multi-day self-guided tour features the work of several of the nearly 100 South Coast Artists throughout the South Coast region of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. “Art is borderless,” says Kelly. “This community we’ve developed... it’s really unique and it’s a spirit of support that really goes very deep.” When the organization officially registered as a non-profit five years ago, there were around 30 members. Today, there are nearly 100. “The more we collaborate and get to know one another, it becomes this really organic network of support and sharing.” The same spirit, she says, can also be said about Tiverton as a whole. “The economy is driven by independent creative people who embrace community, and neighborly values are a strong and common team sport,” she says. “The roots of local support and friendship go far deeper than most.”

It’s no surprise the studio and kitchen remain Kelly and Al’s favorite spaces. “The biggest creative things happen in both places. Al creates in the kitchen and I create in the studio,” says Kelly. “We participate as a family in both places; we stage great family and friendship meals in each space.”