Back in 1990, the magazine Martha Stewart Living revolutionized the D.I.Y. world. With lush photographs and break-it-down text, it made everyone believe they could master the mysteries of table settings and other exotic domestic arts to create a more beautiful home.

Using different types of lighting ensures that a room looks even more beautiful at night.

One of her editors back then was Pilar Guzmán, so it’s no surprise that Patina Modern: A Guide to Designing Warm, Timeless Interiors, which Guzmán co-wrote with her husband, Chris Mitchell, is built solidly in the Stewart mold. (“And that,” as Martha would say, “is a good thing.”) Guzmán and Mitchell smartly understand that, in a world awash in images from Instagram and Pinterest, no one will ever be at a loss for interior-design inspiration. Rather, we are all hungry for demystification—eager to learn how to go from those dream images that are pushpinned to our bulletin boards to actually living inside those dreamy four walls.

Pilar Guzmán and Chris Mitchell believe in mixing textures to give rooms added dimension.

This is the power of Patina Modern. Drawing on their own experiences transforming six run-down homes, from a Brooklyn brownstone “estate sale” (realtor code for “owner died here”) to a weather-worn, Slim Aarons–esque property on eastern Long Island, Guzmán and Mitchell distill their hard-won wisdom into actionable, concrete rules and a nine-point manifesto. (Rule No. 3: “Get your spaces to glow. In the evening, we want our rooms to feel like lanterns, both within and when viewed from afar.” This is the moment to discover the powers of a multi-layered approach to lighting—that it’s better to have a number of low-wattage lamps strategically placed in a room, rather than rely on overhead lighting.)

Utility is one of a home’s cardinal virtues.

Maybe one of the more useful notes Guzmán and Mitchell share, however, is to remind us that the best spaces are created not simply to be looked at but to be a home—the place where we live with our hopes and dreams, and, most important of all, our families. They remind us that beautiful rooms are built and decorated not to be sterile “Do not touch” installations but to be fully lived in and used. Then, if you are lucky, they will acquire that wonderful thing that makes every home so unique: the patina of life.

Sleeping spaces should prioritize a sense of peace and restfulness.

Patina Modern gives everyone the tools and rules to pull their ambitions together and to create spaces that can be both modern and warm, current yet timeless, layered but clean. For many readers, this book may become something like the home-design equivalent of Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking—a resource of recipes and inspiration that readers will turn to often. And like any great cookbook, it may also acquire more than a few red-wine stains as couples sit with it around the dinner table, planning their home.

Patina Modern: A Guide to Designing Warm, Timeless Interiors, by Chris Mitchell and Pilar Guzmán, will be published on October 25

Michael Hainey is a Deputy Editor for Air Mail