Mario Buatta is known as “The Prince of Chintz,” but a minute on the phone with the legendary interior designer tells you an off-the-wall sense of humor is also part of his trademark: “Decorating is only decorating. It’s not brain surgery.”
The 80-year-old can afford to be self-deprecating. One of his latest projects—transforming the rooms of an 1850 South Carolina mansion for New York socialite Patricia Altschul—was featured in the October 2014 Architectural Digest. In 2013, he published his first book, Mario Buatta: Fifty Years of American Interior Decoration.
We’re honored to have Buatta as keynote speaker for our spring kickoff, the Antiques, Garden & Design Show, taking place April 17 to 19, 2015. Buatta’s appearance at the Garden is more fitting than you might realize. The storied New Yorker, whose client list includes Barbara Walters and Mariah Carey, has a great affinity for gardens. His trademark chintzes are bursting with flowers, and he weaves nature into the narrative of his work. He says, “No house is ever complete. It grows with you—just like a garden.”
Buatta may love a nosegay, particularly one printed on cotton and finished with glaze, but he is definitely no shrinking violet. Ask his take on current decorating trends and you’ll hear, “I see a lot of bad trends. Younger people want everything done overnight. Instant gratification. Everything simple, easy to take care of. No silver. No brown wood. No antiques. No old pieces.”
The result is a cold, unwelcoming home, in Buatta’s opinion. He says, “The things that make a house a home are the things with a family connection.” He’s been drawn to antiques since childhood, purchasing his first piece at age 11—an eighteenth-century lap desk acquired with $12 in saved allowance. “Antiques spoke to me, because they reminded me of the old days that don’t exist any more.”
A home needs connection to family and the past, but it also needs color. No white walls, or chrome, steel, and glass desert for Buatta: “I couldn’t live in a house without lots of color. Color is a like a garden. It brings a house to life.”
Hours in museums as a youth, looking at the works of Matisse, Bonnard, and other impressionists, taught Buatta a great deal. A professor at his alma mater, Parsons The New School for Design, put it this way: “If you don’t understand the colors these artists use on their canvases you will never be a good decorator.”
Some of Buatta’s favorites include apricot, chartreuse, blood red, and nature’s colors, such as sky blue and green. He’s also crazy for blue and white with yellow. His own living room is three shades of pistachio green, and his bedroom is eggplant. “You should always have a touch of red in a room,” he says. “It gives it life. A touch of black pulls in all colors. It says quality. It’s very important not to repeat colors in two rooms so your house is a palette. You really want to set the mood for the time of day you use the room.”
In our brief conversation, snatched between urgent phone calls, Buatta displayed mastery, humility, showmanship, and outrageous humor. He quips, “I’ve been a celebrity since I was born.” His upcoming lecture, sponsored by Veranda and titled “If You Can’t Hide It, Decorate It,” promises to be anything but dull. Carolyn Englefield, director of decoration and special projects, will moderate!
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