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A Q&A with Chris Mitchell and Pilar Guzman, Co-Authors of Patina Modern
Chris Mitchell and Pilar Guzmán are design obsessives who both want the same thing: rooms that are spare yet warm, layered yet clean, current yet timeless. Rooms that never forget the real humans – with all their needs, hopes, emotions, aspirations, and even spills – who live in these spaces. Over the course of six ever more ambitious home renovations, they’ve cracked the code on how to achieve this.
Pilar, Chris, tell us a little about your background.
We met 25 years ago, at the beginning of our careers in publishing. Pilar went on to become the founding editor of the parenting magazine Cookie, and then Editor in Chief of Martha Stewart Living and Condé Nast Traveler. She is currently the editorial director of Oprah Daily. And Chris was a longtime executive at Condé Nast, including serving as the Publisher of Vanity Fair and GQ, and the Chief Business Officer of a division of the company that included The New Yorker and Wired. In 2020 he devoted himself fully to design and renovation projects.
What first got you interested in interior design?
We both grew up with an interest in design. When we met, we realized that we had different tastes in furniture, but to our surprise, they merged really well. And then we started tackling renovations because we wanted to put our own stamp on things. That started a series of really rewarding projects to suit our growing family, and ultimately this became a passion that Chris wanted to pursue full-time.
How would you define the Patina Modern style?
We always say that our formula is to marry timely design with timeless materials. We started collecting Danish furniture in the 1990s, and we realized that what made them so lovely was their exceptionally clean design, but also that they were crafted with really warm materials like oak and bridle leather and brass. That became the basis for our palette and our approach to decorating, as well as collecting from other eras and countries.
Tell us a little about the book and how you came up with the idea of publishing it.
We aren’t professional interior designers – we only work on projects for ourselves. But so many friends have asked us for advice and help that we thought we might have something to share with others about the sometimes intimidating process of renovating and decorating.
You define Patina Modern as “Not your typical design book”. What makes it different and unique?
Most design books are intended to feature a designer’s work on past projects – in part to solicit new ones. And these coffee table monographs can be really beautiful. But they don’t really teach – that’s not their mission. In this way, they’re kind of like a cookbook that has gorgeous photos of food, but no recipes. We wanted to include the recipes. So our approach was to feature some of our own projects, with beautiful photography, but also with the behind-the-scenes process stuff. In other chapters, we break down our formula for collecting, for choosing materials and palette, and for putting it all together.
What is the formula to design warm and timeless interiors?
In addition to those materials and colors we referenced, a big lesson for us has been that revelation we had when we first met: mixing our different design sensibilities created something really special. Chris’s love of modern, with its harder edges and cleaner lines, marries so well to Pilar’s love of burnished, timeworn antiques. Together, these things play off each other in a way that allows us to more fully appreciate both.
There’s an analogy we often invoke, from the renowned architecture critic Paul Goldberger. He wrote that when the first glass and steel buildings went up in 1950s Manhattan, they worked especially well because they reflected much older stone and brick buildings around them. This push-pull of styles was the magic – something that was lost when this midtown neighborhood ultimately became almost all modern buildings.
Inside the book, you showcase different real examples of home renovations that you managed: what was the most exciting one and why?
Honestly, they were all fun, because each project is so specific to the building you start with. We only work on 19th-century houses or older, because the quirks, limitations, and challenges of the existing structure is what spur our creativity. Pilar says, “your limits are your freedoms,” and we’ve found that to be true for every project.
As designers, where do you mostly get your inspiration from?
As above, it’s history more than anything. The shingle style cottages of the late 1800s are just masterful in their quiet detail, balance and proportion. We study the architects of this period, and always try to imagine how they would resolve a trim detail or tackle a floorplan challenge when we are working on the same kind of thing.
Is there something interesting and unexpected that you’ve learned from the experience of writing this book?
We had never written something together, and it turns out that dynamic was incredibly fun. For Chris, since his former work life was more about managing and operations than about creating, this was a wonderful discovery process. And for both of us, the work of organizing our ideas and cataloging our advice really crystalised what we believe in.
We live in a world where everything moves fast and people’s attention has dropped significantly. A physical book forces us to slow down and enjoy the moment. What’s your take on it and how do you see the future of books and paper?
We don’t think there is anything more enjoyable than the escape of curling up in a great room with a great book. And that applies equally to burying yourself in a story, or being transported by a large-format photography volume. Hopefully, Patina Modern offers both.
Where people can find out more about Patina Modern and where can they buy it?
It’s available everywhere, books are sold in North America, UK and Australia right now.
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