Home Decor

Aesthetic Duo Chris Mitchell & Pilar Guzmán on Their Beloved Dansk Trays

How the authors of 'Patina Modern' mastered the art of display.

July 28, 2023
Photo by Pilar Guzmán

“We display everything because we’re not disciplined enough to put things away,” jokes Chris Mitchell of the homes he shares with his wife, Pilar Guzmán, and their two sons. Perhaps, but the couple has mastered the art of display. Be it the glass shelving for china that turns their kitchens into museums, or a bedside arrangement of old-fashioned haberdashery items in brass and leather, they’ve developed such a knack for filling their spaces with just the right mix of objects (and, of course, furniture) that last fall they published the how-to book Patina Modern: A Guide to Designing Warm Timeless Interiors.

“We believe no surface should be empty, but we don’t think it should look like Ms. Havisham,” says Mitchell, who left the top ranks of magazine publishing (Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, GQ) to renovate and sell cottages in the Hamptons. Guzmán, who comes to her current role as the editor of O magazine via Condé Nast Traveler, Martha Stewart Living, and Cookie, describes their groupings as a mix of utility and folly underscored by logic—be it a similar material or meaning.

Patina Modern takes its title from their love of the tension between old and new; between spare, clean lines and the use of materials that just get better with age, such as brass, wood, and bridle leather. “It’s modern but kind of antique; it’s new but it’s got this kind of patina,” Mitchell explains of the Patina Modern style. “There’s a coolness and an honesty to that combination.”

That patina also comes from the fact that everything they keep out is used, cherished, spilled-on. They might stack stylish books on coffee tables, credenzas, and mantels, but in their case, they’ve read them all. Take their collections of Dansk teak trays, designed by Jens Quistgaard for the company—now owned by Food52—in the 1950s and 60s. They bought their first of three sets of three trays at a flea market 20 years ago, not knowing what they’d use them for, just that they loved the way they looked. Then came kids and the birth of a ritual: Friday movie night, which continues to this day. They fill the trays with sushi, water, wine, and glasses in the ground-floor kitchen of their Brooklyn brownstone and carry them up to the TV area on the second floor, where everyone gathers around the coffee table. “We watched every Pixar movie, then made our way through all the great classics,” says Guzmán, who keeps the trays hanging from a hook in the Brooklyn pantry. “You just grab one. We use them a ton.” (In the Hamptons, they’re displayed on the island when not in use.)

Mitchell recently bought two of the iconic Dansk “surfboard” trays on eBay, but they rarely make it upstairs. “I have this funny habit of buying things and not doing a metric conversion,” he says with a laugh, recounting how he once bought a dining room table that turned out to be a coffee table. “The tray came, and I was astounded by how generous it is. We use it as a display tray because it’s huge.”

The couple use trays throughout their homes to add boundaries that corral clutter and make things feel more resolved, says Mitchell, especially on mantels. “Things can be close together, as long as they’re contained on a tray.”

Mitchell and Guzmán have many opportunities to rearrange their collections, seeing as they tend to sell their homes out from under themselves. “The last two houses we sold fully furnished,” he says. “We packed our clothes, our belongings—and our trays.”

What item gets the most use in your home? Tell us about it in the comments.

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Dansk Brand Strategist, culinary consultant and cookbook author. (Wine Simple, Signature Dishes That Matter, Hartwood, Manresa, On the Line)