Don’t be scared of using black” is one tip in Patina Modern, a new book by Chris Mitchell and Pilar Guzmán that sets out nine principles for designing “warm, timeless interiors”. Their instructions are clear, attainable, and sometimes a little offbeat: “Take a bird’s-eye view of the room,” is another. The couple talk readers through their own taste, and the covetable interiors of their houses in Brooklyn and Long Island, though neither trained as interior designers, and they describe themselves as auto-didacts. Guzmán, an editor, has long worked with America’s chief lifestyle experts Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey, and Mitchell is also from a publishing background. (“Our first love is storytelling: magazines and content,” he says.) Their skill lies in mixing their refined lifestyle with chatty, upbeat, and forthright advice.

Do the couple ever break their own rules? “All the time,” says Mitchell. “But I would liken them to the rules of grammar. You can break ’em if you know ’em. And the thing that separates people who are a little at sea with interior design, and people who knowingly veer, is taste.”

In the Bridgehampton kitchen, a minimalist Gaggenau cooktop and sink fit into the island and fridges hide behind panels

In Patina Modern, they set out to make anyone—even those who might feel at sea—think they can achieve such nebulous ambitions as “taste” and “style”, with a few simple rules.

Guzmán grew up in LA in an artistic family and a house full of antiques. She describes waking at dawn to be first at the flea market and taking out a subscription to Architectural Digest at the age of eight. Mitchell, who says he is a “modernist by instinct” grew up “in the most conventional of American homes”. “Then we arrived at something in our intersection,” says Guzmán.

“‘Good taste’ has been democratized with social media,” she adds. To counter blandness, they advise us to expand our design knowledge and hone our eyes by pursuing curiosities, accumulating what Mitchell calls “rabbit-holes of discovery”.

Chris Mitchell and Pilar Guzmán

What are their current obsessions? “Sixties lighting that I would describe as ‘soviet bureaucracy’”, says Mitchell. “Nineteenth-century geometric rugs,” says Guzmán.

But in Mitchell and Guzmán’s world, every object is given space to breathe. The one trend they avoid is maximalism: the piled-on clutter and pattern-upon-pattern so fashionable in recent years. “A lot of Americans have taken cues from the UK, and the layering in ancestral homes,” says Guzmán. “It’s a harder thing to manufacture in the US in a meaningful way, and our eyes have gotten a little tired of it. I think it has run its course, especially in the American adaptation.”

“There’s a terrific quote by [US architecture critic] Paul Goldberger,” says Mitchell. “He says the problem with humor in architecture is that the joke gets old but the building remains. And that’s true in interior design. Exuberant florals are super fun. But you might get tired. Our approach is to have fun, absolutely. But do it with accessories. Change is easier.”

“Or in a smaller room, like a powder room,” Guzmán suggests.

A shallow, hanging oak credenza saves space below mirrors by Uno & Östen Kristiansson

Patinated leather on an Arne Jacobsen Swan chair in the New York living room, where a framed boro textile fragment counters the ornate pier mirror

Photos: Excerpted from Patina Modern by Chris Mitchell and Pilar Guzman (Artisan Books), © 2022, photographs by François Dischingerand Adrian Gaut

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