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'Patina Modern' book helps redefine how to use our living spaces and what to put into them

Authors Chris Mitchell and Pilar Guzman. (Excerpted from Patina Modern by Chris Mitchell and Pilar Guzman (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2022. Photograph by Martien Mulder)
Authors Chris Mitchell and Pilar Guzman. (Excerpted from Patina Modern by Chris Mitchell and Pilar Guzman (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2022. Photograph by Martien Mulder)

Much has changed since COVID-19 arrived in 2020, including how we use our homes. After quarantining in them, working in them, and home-schooling in them, many people decided they needed changes. There was a surge in retrofitting, re-designing spaces and making our homes into our cocoons from the outside world.

It’s not the first time pandemics have affected home design — powder rooms were invented during the 1918 flu pandemic so people could wash their hands when they entered a house.

Host Robin Young talks to Chris Mitchell and Pilar Guzman, the authors of a new design book “Patina Modern,” about different ways to alter your space, including using items you’ve stashed away in the basement or attic, and simply re-arranging what you’ve already got.

The cover of “Patina Modern.” (Excerpted from Patina Modern by Chris Mitchell and Pilar Guzman (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2022)

A Pink Floyd poster hangs above a fireplace. (Excerpted from Patina Modern by Chris Mitchell and Pilar Guzman (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2022. Photograph by Adrian Gaut.)

A washstand. (Excerpted from Patina Modern by Chris Mitchell and Pilar Guzman (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2022. Photograph by Adrian Gaut.)

The primary bedroom. (Excerpted from Patina Modern by Chris Mitchell and Pilar Guzman (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2022. Photograph by Francois Dischinger.)

Book excerpt: ‘Patina Modern’

By Chris Mitchell and Pilar Guzman

This Isn’t Your Typical Design Book

INTERIOR DESIGN IS HARD. OR AT LEAST IT SEEMS INTENDED to be. Most of us get tripped up by the wrong labels and the wrong questions. So much of the design jargon that gets thrown around in books and magazines and all over Instagram forces us to self-identify using terms like “traditional,” “modern,” “eclectic,” or, our least favorite, “transitional.”

And while we are all for a house with a clear design point of view that might hew to one tradition or another, and have utmost respect for rigorous modernists with nary a knickknack as well as die-hard maximalists who deftly mix ikat with toile, we find that both camps often forget the humans with all their moods, hopes, and dreams–who do the actual living in these spaces.

We aren’t professionals; we are self-taught, highly discerning design enthusiasts and collectors who have amassed, over the course of twenty years and six renovation and design projects, some hard-won wisdom. Our projects have been influenced by two things: a passion for twentieth-century design, and the groundbreaking work of our favorite designers. The goal of this book is to inspire you to identify the things you love, and to give you a few tools and guiding principles to help you put those pieces together into beautiful spaces.

We recognize how much pressure most of us put on ourselves to get it just right -to have our homes both protect and reflect us, to be the ever-evolving backdrop of the movie of our lives. See, we believe that the job of a home is twofold: to signal the aspirations of how we want to live on our best day, as well as to provide shelter to us, both practically and emotionally, along the messy road of life. We also believe that all houses have a soul.

Some present it readily, while others require coaxing. The way we see it is that when we move into a home, we are entering into a relationship, a dance in which we balance our own needs with what the house wants to be. Not unlike marriage, designing a home requires the ongoing reconciliation of mutual hopes and dreams with baggage and limitations. But as you will see in the following pages, these limitations often proved to be our greatest gifts. If you like what we’ve done with our spaces, we think we can give you a playbook and the confidence to create a home that feels both modern and warm, both personal and photoworthy.

—Pilar

What is Patina Modern?

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, PILAR AND I BROUGHT VERY different design sensibilities to our relationship. She grew up in Los Angeles, but contrary to stereotype, in a beloved Old English Tudor house filled with an eclectic mix of antiques. I was the professed modernist- a midwestern kid who had dreamed of living in a SoHo loft. From our first apartment together, and along the way through two New York City renovations and four in the Hamptons, our tastes merged surprisingly easily. In fact, this “your-peanut-butter-is-in-my-chocolate” collision turned out to be the basis of a design philosophy from which we haven’t looked back.

By way of explanation, our favorite two buildings are the Glass House and the Rhinelander mansion. The former is as described: a low, sleek, steel and glass box that the architect Philip Johnson built for himself in Connecticut, in 1949. It’s spare, rigorous, perfect modernism. The other is Ralph Lauren’s original flagship store, on Madison Avenue in New York City an impossibly grand, 1895 French-inspired château with plush carpets, polished mahogany, and equestrian paintings. In a word, both are equally transporting. But we’re not sure we’d actually like to live in either. You see, we want rooms that are both spare and warm. Layered and clean.

Current and timeless.

We think the formula for achieving this lies in mixing modern design with well-worn materials thus creating interiors that feel a bit like the love child of those two iconic buildings. We’ve always been drawn to mid-century furniture, and our favorite pieces are those that are rendered in a limited palette of materials like white oak, aged brass, and bridle leather.

What these elements have in common is that as they age, they become richer, mellower, burnished. Some things are best on their first day in the world. Not these.

Perhaps our favorite example of this combination at work is the leather banquette in our Brooklyn kitchen (see it on page 54). We designed it based on a 1940s Danish chair, which makes it very tailored and leggy and a bit formal. Over its fifteen-year lifetime, it has endured everything from papier-mâché accidents to wayward soy sauce, and this wear and tear has only made the piece better- aged in a way that no “distressing” treatment could ever replicate.

That’s Patina Modern.

— Chris

Excerpted from “Patina Modern” by Chris Mitchell and Pilar Guzman (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2022. Photographs by multiple contributors.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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