Design, Made Easy
Mario Buatta reminds that a light heart can often be the key to success
Renowned interior designer Mario Buatta arrives at a Manhattan din- ner party with a special gift for the evening’s hostess: an ornately crafted, dollhouse-scale model of a staircase. An eager smile spreads across his face as he presents his odd treasure—an addition, he explains, intend- ed for this single-story apartment. After a moment of confused silence,the din- ner party erupts into laughter.
As it turns out, a charming story—involving a previous incident when a young houseguest asked where the staircase was in the simplex apart- ment—is behind the gift. But it is Buatta’s endearing essence that really brings the gag home.
And such is life when you invite Mario Buatta to dinner. Before the jovial mood can die down, the designer-turned-parlor-trickster pulls out of his pocket a pet plastic cockroach dubbed George VIII, the twin brother of Harold the Cockroach who, Buatta sadly reports, recently passed away. Wiggling it around, he pets it—even talks to it—as everyone in the room giggles and laughs.
To meet him is to love him; Buatta is as easy to talk to as his home designs are to live in. Perhaps this is why names like Malcolm Forbes, Barbara Walters, Henry Ford II, Mariah Carey, Donald Newhouse, Nelson Doubleday, Fred Woolworth, Ogden Mills Phipps, Billy Joel and others nationwide have requested the NewYork designer decorate their homes.
Or perhaps they’ve just seen his résumé. A member of Interior Design’s Hall of Fame, Buatta was included as one of the AD 100 by Architectural Digest and named to Town and Country’s Top 12 Designers in America list. He was given the title“Dean of Design”byThe Chicago Merchandise Mart and holds honorary doctorates in the fine arts from Wagner College and Pratt Institute.
It’s no wonder then that he was recently assigned the decoration and design of the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum Galleries in Wilmington, Delaware and was chosen to redecorate Blair House, the official White House guest house in Washington, D.C. His latest major completed project involved a 98-room chateau in Hillsboro, California he spent six years working on.
In short, Buatta’s designs embody a comfort, elegance and richness with a lived-in and timeless quality.“I believe in a maximum of comfort with a minimum of a decorated look,” he says. “Often homes are so decorated, they give the appearance that no one ever lives there.”
Born in Staten Island, New York, Buatta studied architecture at Cooper Union in New York City and the Parsons School of Design in Europe. He began his professional career working for a variety of design firms before starting his own company in 1963.
“I’ve loved English furniture all my life—and chintz. Now people are say ing chintz is returning. I never knew where it went,” he smiles. Indeed, Buatta is fond of chintz.Years ago, after he heard he was called “The Prince of Chintz”, he ordered a suit made of chintz which he wore for the cover photo of Manhattan Inc. magazine. A traditionalist at heart, he says,“There’s no relation- ship between the 21st century to the 18th and 19th centuries in design. It’s like the latter have all disappeared!”
But looking to the present, he smiles, “Color is back in a big way. I think young people unfortunately don’t understand it—they’ve never been taught color.That’s why we lived through a decade of plain beige.”
When asked to impart a piece of decorating wisdom, the virtuoso of design simply advises,“A can of paint is your cheapest weapon to change the look of a room.”
This sort of simple advice comes as no surprise. For all the boldfaced names he deals with, Mario Buatta remains remarkably down to earth and unpretentious. His pocket pet would agree, no doubt.
Image: Mario Buatta, Sitting Room for a late 19th century house, New York. Photo by Nick Johnson.