Pilar Guzmán and Chris Mitchell are not professional interior designers. But if taste can be taught, you might want them as your teachers. They are the authors of Patina Modern, a new home design book that counts Ina Garten, Martha Stewart and Gwyneth Paltrow among its fans.
They are a New York power couple with decades of experience in the media industry. Ms. Guzmán is the newly appointed Editor-in-Chief of the Oprah Daily and former Editor-in-Chief of Martha Stewart Living and Condé Nast Traveler. Mr. Mitchell is a former executive who served as editor of Vanity Fair, GQ and other Condé Nast titles.
Over the last 20 years they have renovated and decorated several homes in town and the Hamptons, fusing their design styles into a symbiosis (suitable for sophisticated Pinterest mood boards and features in Architectural Digest and Martha Stewart Living). Patina Modern – the couple’s first book – started as a pandemic project as they reflected on the interior design tips they’d shared with friends over the years.
“What we find with most design books — these coffee table books — is that they’re really pretty, but they don’t really say anything,” Mr. Mitchell said in a video interview. “The analogy that one of our friends said is, ‘It’s like having a cookbook with pictures of food but no recipes in it.'”
“We wanted there to be recipes in it,” he said.
So as the days grow darker, temperatures drop and people gather for joyful reunions, meals and traditions, how do we make our spaces so much more welcoming?
Use lots and lots of low light.
“We believe firmly in sconces,” said Mr. Mitchell, “and in many small table lamps and mantels.”
They hold over a dozen lights in each room, many with dimmers and low wattage. They avoid any recessed or overhead lighting, preferring lights at eye level (and lower). Overhead lighting can create a feeling of “an operating room or a department store,” Mr. Mitchell said.
“You want to feel like you’re in a lantern,” he added. “And when you look at it from the outside, you want it to glow like a lantern.”
During the holidays they increase the shine – with large and small candles. They love candles from DS & Durga and L’Officine Universelle Buly, tealights from Ikea and all scented candles that smell like wood fire. But it’s less about the candle, said Mr. Mitchell, than about the holder. They use porcelain votive holders, brass candle holders and antique barley candle holders from English oak.
“Tablescaping is also about the beauty of the food.”
At their wedding, Ms. Guzmán said, they couldn’t afford enough flowers to fill the room, so they decorated with food — with “crates of tangerines on the vine” and “big chunks of Parmesan cheese.” It’s a technique they still use. Often serving cheese, fruit, and charcuterie, they create an atmosphere with multiple cutting boards and bread plates in a palette of materials.
One of their greatest design tricks is overcrowding small ships, especially if you’re short on space. Get a bouquet of flowers from the grocery store or deli around the corner, cut them up and put them in a small vase or place flowers in small silver or gold julep cups around your house. If you’re short on time: light some scented candles, make a pitcher of cocktails and put on some music.
And when setting a table, they focus on layers: start with a runner that offers a touch of color, add pine boughs, holly, candles and Libeco linen napkins.
Use your best stuff all the time.
“We should remember the things we love about the holidays for the rest of the year,” Ms. Guzmán said.
That means opting for warm and subdued lighting, but it also means using the best now: that fine china dinnerware or that antique silver plate inherited from a grandmother, or those martini glasses with the gold flecks, or that carafe that before the They always fear that you will break. Try getting a little bolder with these pieces, the couple said, and weave them into everyday wear.
In their own collection, which favors oak, brass and vegetable-tanned leather furniture, they love it when things live with them for a lifetime, getting better with age and taking on a life-borne warmth.
“If you don’t take it off the shelf and use it, what’s the point of having it?” Mr Mitchell said. “You don’t live in a museum and you shouldn’t.”