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 City power couple with decades of experience in the media industry. Ms. Guzmán is the newly appointed editorial director of Oprah Daily, and the former editor in chief of Martha Stewart Living and Condé Nast Traveler. Mr. Mitchell is a former executive who served as publisher of Vanity Fair, GQ and other Condé Nast titles.
Over the past 20 or so years, they have renovated and decorated multiple homes in the city and the Hamptons together, melding their design styles to create a symbiosis (fit for aspirational Pinterest mood boards and features in Architectural Digest and Martha Stewart Living). “Patina Modern” — the couple’s first book — began as a pandemic project, as they reflected on the home décor advice they had given friends throughout the years.
“What we find with most design books — these coffee table books — is that they’re really pretty, but they don’t really tell you anything,” Mr. Mitchell said in a video interview. “The analogy 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 this,” he said.
So as the days darken, temperatures drop and people gather for rosy-cheeked reunions, meals and traditions, how do we make our spaces that much more inviting?
Use lots and lots of low lighting.
“We are big believers in sconces,” Mr. Mitchell said, “and lots of little table lamps and mantel lights.”
They keep over a dozen lights in any given room, many on dimmers and low wattage. They avoid any recessed or overhead lighting, favoring eye-level (and lower) lights. 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 if you’re looking at it from outside, you want it to glow like a lantern.”
During the holidays, they amplify the glow — with candles, big and small. They love candles from D.S. & Durga and L’Officine Universelle Buly, Ikea tea lights and any scented candle that smells like a wood fire. But it’s less about the candle, Mr. Mitchell said, than about the holder. They use porcelain votive holders, brass candlesticks and antique English oak barley twist candlesticks.
‘Tablescaping is as much about the beauty of food.’
At their wedding, Ms. Guzmán said, they couldn’t afford enough flowers to fill the space, so they decorated with food — using “crates of tangerines on the vine” and “big hunks of Parmesan cheese.” It’s a technique they still apply. They often serve cheese, fruit and charcuterie, curating a vibe with multiple cutting boards and bread plates within a palette of materials.
One of their biggest design tricks is to overstuff small vessels, especially when you have limited space. Get a bouquet from the grocery store or the corner deli, cut it down and put it in a small vase, or place flowers in little silver or gold julep cups around your home. If you’re short on time: Light a few scented candles, make a pitcher of cocktails and put on some music.
And when setting a table, they focus on layering: Start with a runner that provides a pop of color, add pine boughs, holly, candles and Libeco linen napkins.
Use your best stuff all the time.
“We should remember the things that we love about how the holidays feel for the rest of the year,” Ms. Guzmán said.
That means opting for warm and low lighting, but it also means using the best stuff now: the fine china dinnerware or antique silver platter inherited from a grandmother, or those martini glasses with the flecks of gold, or the decanter you’re always afraid that you’ll break. Try to become a little braver with those pieces, the couple said, and weave them into everyday use.
In their own collection, which favors furniture made of oak, brass and vegetable-tanned leather, they love when things live a life with them, getting better with age and taking on a life-worn warmth.
“If you don’t pull it off the shelf and use it, what’s the point of having it?” Mr. Mitchell said. “You’re not living in a museum and you shouldn’t be.”