In the foreword to Collected Interiors: Rooms that Tell a Story, published last month by Rizzoli, Bunny Williams writes about the moment she was introduced to the work of Philip Mitchell: “In 2015, as a member of the committee who chose the designers for the Kips Bay Decorator Show House, we came across a portfolio submitted by Canadian designer Philip Mitchell. I did not know him or his work at the time, but we were very impressed by what we saw.” The committee promptly invited Mitchell to participate and Williams notes that he drew a space almost no one who creates a room in a show house wants—the hallway.
Collected Interiors by Philip Mitchell Debuts
“Philip chose to do all three stair halls, and he created, that year, the showstopper for the whole house,” Williams goes on to say. “He hung the walls with pictures of every genre and medium in salon style from top to bottom. Everyone was in awe, and no one more than me. I returned many times to study his hanging. Having hung a few pictures in my time, I can only say this was a masterpiece of incredible scholarship and creativity.” This is certainly high praise considering the legendary career that Bunny has had.
In his Introduction, Mitchell writes, “The best interiors, in my view, tell a story. They make emotion and history visible because they express how we respond to the world that surrounds us, the experiences we have over time with the specific places we choose to live, and the unique furnishings, objects, and art we love.” He notes that creating a home is a collaborative process, adding, “Bringing a dwelling from a dream to a reality involves an enormous amount of work and a great deal of empathy, insight, and imagination, to say nothing of the intricate logistical calculus required to finesse every last detail.”
There is so much personality in every visual in his portfolio, each with a unique character and mood. In the first chapter, titled “Layers of Meaning,” Mitchell writes, “Embracing change means different things to different people.” He describes how he and his partner adjusted their idea of home when they moved from a residence near Toronto to a smaller place in the city. “The more we thought about the way we lived when we actually were in Toronto, the clearer the parameters of a new place became: no formal dining room, because it would only sit empty; a living room that would be comfortable for the two of us or as many as twenty for cocktails; just one bedroom; and, of course, a kitchen and bath.”
What he has just described is a home that will be thoroughly lived in, which so many people don’t achieve when they are choosing the spaces they will call their own. Stylistically, the interiors are a masterful mix of contemporary, vintage, mid-century modern—all in a layered complexity. Substantial pieces of contemporary art are paired with antique landscapes in gilt frames that show the patina of years of existence. A rock crystal lamp that looks as if a child has created it, made by Carole Stuppell in the 1970s, graces a vignette that also includes a drawing by Picasso.
The chapter “Contemporary Perspective” begins with the story of a couple who purchased a “wonderfully eccentric historic house in one of the Atlantic coast’s historic villages.” After discovering that the foundation was crumbling, these homeowners put their trust in Mitchell, who had a desire to respect the period context. “The house we designed and built from scratch is a Georgian-inspired Cape with an exterior that complements its older, lovingly restored, and beautifully kept neighbors along the harbor front.” Drawing the water indoors, pops of blue enliven eclectic spaces filled with vintage furnishings and contemporary art.
Mitchell ends this chapter with his thoughts on Modern Maximalism: “There is no law of design that says those who love the modern, the dramatic, the edgy must dwell only in the sparest of spaces. Collectors come in infinite variety. The chapter “City Living” finds the couple creating a residence in Manhattan when they decided to open an office there. “The search parameters were straightforward,” he writes: “close to Central Park for the dogs, easy access to the airport, and near to both the D&D Building and Fifty-Ninth and Sixtieth Streets, at the time home to many antique stores and suppliers.”
They chose a one-bedroom apartment in an intimate, landmarked, prewar building with numerous windows on several exposures for an abundance of natural light. Keeping true to his philosophy, he took cues from the architecture for the style of the interiors, though not in a predictable way, as the powerful presence of contemporary art intermingled with traditional compositions and vintage furnishings brought the home the layered look he naturally achieves.
As the book flows forward, the chapters include “Reinterpreting History,” “Developing the Mix,” “Making the Most of More,” “Evolution of Taste,” “Connections,” and “Backdrops for Beauty.” In this last section of the book, he discusses the challenge in creating city and country residences for the same family, noting that one question invariably arises: “how similar should they be?” This well-thought-out chapter is a must-read for anyone who is planning to decorate multiple residences in disparate settings.
Mitchell ends this chapter with his thoughts on “Reinventing Blue and White,” saying, “History is anything but abstract for people like me with a passion for the past. Knowing what was provides a catalyst for thinking more creatively about what could be.” He notes that the classic combination of blue and white is a perfect example. “In interior design and the decorative arts,” he goes on to say, “this dynamic design duo has endured for centuries. This makes it ripe for an update—for finding that personal take on tradition with a twist.”
You’ll want to buy the book to find out his revelations on this subject and the others contained within the intelligent narrative visually enriched by the classically beautiful rooms. You can purchase it from Rizzoli or from bookshop.org, which supports independent bookstores financially.