18 October 2018

(1st published the Summer 2011) MARIO BUATTA- a 1 in a Million $ Decorator


"Good night sweet Prince: And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!" ~Shakespeare
Requiescat in pace Mario Buatta October 17, 2018
image from House and Garden

"A house should grow in the same way that an artist's painting grows. A few dabs today, a few more tomorrow and the rest when the spirit moves you. When the painting is completed (as no room ever should be), it never reflects the artist's original conception. A room should come together through this process, as the people living in it grow, and where their needs and paths take them, in order to achieve the ultimate timeless undecorated look." Mario Buatta

cover of The Best in Decoration, House and Garden, 1987.

Buatta's client said 'Make it English'-of her New York pied-a-terre
from New York Apartments Private Views, by Jamee Gregory

So here is an important part of the education I received this is the invaluable part. 
Yes, I do believe in the idea of a higher education-but I would never have turned down an offer to work for someone the likes of Mr. Buatta in 1980 versus Drafting 101, 1980.
The Philosophy of Mario Buatta, you might say--is what I cut my design teeth on and it still rules today.

This photograph of Mario Buatta is etched in my memory as I was graduating college and moving into a career-Mario Buatta is what one might now be called-Hot. I don't think he would say so-nor would he want to think anyone else had said it-Anyway-apologies to Mr. Buatta!


For readers of my blog-one knows I live a bit in the past— with most of the design features coming from rooms created years ago-or centuries ago. I like it that way. I prefer these rooms, the decor, the elegance, the timelessness, the quality of a good sofa and pair of chairs. How many times have I used such words and phrases to make a client understand where they should be going in a project?

a Buatta bath

This spring the New York School of Interior Design renamed its materials library after Mr. Buatta pronouncing it the Mario Buatta Atelier. Being titled, that lofty phrase will please Mr. Buatta. Known in circles of practical royals themselves as The Prince of Chintz, Mario Buatta has been in the business for about 50 years.

"Chintz is coming back in fashion. "Mario Buatta

This set of rooms for a home in New York is one of Mr. Buatta's most wildly successful. From these images, I fell in love with the idea of head to toe use of a single chintz.

from House and Garden Best in Decoration, above & below

another view of the room

This year Mario Buatta has been celebrated, but where does he fit into today's ModPodge of decorating. Thank God he doesn't.


a Buatta designed Chintz

Today's mantle seems to be more about Millions-something I don't think Mario Buatta would like to be dubbed-but for the sake of this little title- that's what I'm going with.  A list of his clients-Henry Ford II, Malcolm Forbes, Barbara Walters, Nelson Doubleday, Mr. and Mrs. S.I. Newhouse, Charlotte Ford, Mariah Carey , nd Billy Joel- proves his worth- though he is known to 'repurpose" curtains from redecoration to redecoration. His public commissions have been equally high profile: From 1985 to 1988, Mr. Buatta and the late Mark Hampton collaborated on the restoration of Blair House, the 1824 White House guest house on Pennsylvania Avenue, an $ 8.6 million project involving more than 100 rooms.(NYTIMES)

The Lee Dining Room at Blair House

images from Blair House here


One of his decorating devices I admire most is his use of the banquette in rooms to create always important additional seating.


 a glass-enclosed sitting area looks out to the formal garden
 from AD
Houston, 2007.

image from House Beautiful

 These little jewel like spaces are perfect for tete a tetes- glamourous women with legs crossed seated side by side- teenagers courting- a  bedtime story- You get the picture.

"Decorating today is dysfunctional. A chair here, a lamp here and a sofa over there—how do you read? How do you have a conversation? Rooms are set up for a camera, not for living. There's nothing personal, no relationship to the past." Mario Buatta

photograph from AD here

“I like all the chairs to talk to one another and to the sofas and not those parlor-car arrangements that create two Siberias.” Mario Buatta



Designers that equally admire and are in many ways adhering to the Buatta dictates of using the sofa banquette in their spaces are Miles Redd, Charlotte Moss, Todd Romano and Alessandra Branca.






a leather & nail-head front door opens up to a silver-papered elevator entrance

above and below, the  Rooms of Hillary Geary by Mario Buatta

all photographs from the NYSD, by Jeffrey Hirsch

Allusions to the rooms created by Nancy Lancaster and John Fowler are alive and well & front & center in most of Buatta's work.

Lancaster's Rooms

"My style icons are [decorators] John Fowler and Nancy Lancaster. 
Nancy was a great woman, a real character. They don't make them like that anymore. 
 They're all blondes. They all look alike, dress alike, nobody has any personality." Mario Buatta

Derry Moore photograph of Nancy Lancaster

 The  Salon at Hambleden by John Fowler


"Roll on, deep and dark blue ocean, roll." Lord Byron

Some of Mario Buatta's most beautiful rooms are heavy-handed in BLUE.
Could it be his favourite color?
Evidence from a House Beautiful Favorites Things point to it-Excerpted below---

STATIONERY: Dark blue from Smythson
EVERYDAY DISHES: Blue and white anything
COLOR YELLOW- So there goes that color theory-
but still, there is a lot of incriminating evidence here.
ALL-PURPOSE GLASS: Royal Blue glasses from Ralph Lauren
TOWEL: Porthault's blue-and-white seashell
SCENTED CANDLE OR ROOM FRAGRANCE: Rigaud "Blue"SHEETS: Blue-and-white checks like Ralph Lauren's gingham
WORKHORSE FABRIC: Sunbrella indoor/outdoor, especially navy


WELL -On second thought-in another House Beautiful piece the Prince said:

 I'm blue, I'm blue! I'm a happy guy but I have always loved blue, in all its shapes and sizes. For libraries and dining rooms, I like this deep Mediterranean blue. I'd use it glazed and shiny, and bring in reds and greens and pinks. Every color looks fresh against blue. Put lemon yellow with it and it will look like a Matisse painting." -Mario Buatta: BENJAMIN MOORE BAINBRIDGE BLUE 749 -here at HB

Anemones and Woman, Harmony in Blue by Henri Matisse

image from WSJ.com, linked in footnotes

The essence of Buatta, 2005, with drop-dead elegance & blue walls

Cool blues in a bedroom using a Manuel Canovas print, from the pages of AD

One of the most memorable and beautiful rooms I can remember is Buatta's 1984 Kips Bay Showhouse bedroom. In a post about the fabric used in the room I wrote: Buatta lavished the room in the B&F Verrieres and the results were stunning. I think this is Buatta's best-published room hands down. It captures a mood, a spirit, an energy that makes a room timeless- of course Verrieres helps out loads. The Brunschwig motto " GOOD DESIGN IS FOREVER" echoes in this beautiful room. The August 1984 issue of House Beautiful is filled with pages of the Buatta room & an interview with Buatta. Mario Buatta started with Verrieres-it is the room's inspiration. "This is a timeless room. There's no date on it because nothing is faddish. It's a forever kind of decorating.

“I must have visited this room 1,000 times before painting it,” artist Jeremiah says of his 1980 rendering of the Buatta room. “It was done from mental notes.”

another blue bedroom with Mr. Buatta's suggestion that yellow makes it like a Matisse.
(image from HB)


deepest aubergine lacquer walls in the Geary rooms, AD 2005.

the Geary Residence in AD 2005, with another Buatta Banquette,
the eggplant shade on the walls resembles porphyry.

 images above & below from: AD, Nov. '89 Inside New York 

a room designed at the request of Barbara Walters for a Charity Event, 1990.

these are the things that make him the authentic Million Dollar Decorator.

take a crash course-from the Prince, you'll be brilliant!

Some things should change, Some things should never change. ~Buatta

the Wall Street Journal 60 Seconds with Mario Buatta here

& a slide show at the WSJ here

The NYTimes story here

Tory Burch here

1st dibs here

NY magazine here



  1. I was looking for that Kip's Bay blue bedroom. A true classic. We share the same taste, my dear. Love his rooms. So much more that certain "million $ decorators".

  2. You missed a link here. Mario Buatta got his start as assistant to the great designer Keith Irvine. Mario took his style from Mr. Irvine who worked for John Fowler and Sister Parrish. Keith's style was genuine. Mario Buatta's is, in my opinion, an overblown pastiche, where Keith's was authentic, genuine, grounded and warm. He was Scottish. He grew up in the finest of these houses. He knew these houses and he gave Mario his start, as well as Richard Keith Langham. I appreciate that you like Mr. Buatta, but in all fairness Mr. Irvine should not be left out of this post. Without his sharing and mentoring, Mario Buatta would never have had the career that he did. Nor would Mr. Langham.

  3. Wow, this tribute is overwhelming. Buatta's quality trademarks come through a gamut of styles and projects. One element I actively dislike, however, is the look of paintings "suspended" on heavy ribbons and bows, featured in the first photo.

    His characteristic uses of broad color and detailed patterns seem especially worthy of study.
    --Road to Parnassus

  4. I'm patiently waiting for the embracing design aesthetic of the 80s to come full circle. Mario Buatta's designs, perhaps a tad subdued, are desperately needed on today's design horizon where trendy and stagey seem to be at the forefront. I want the chairs and sofas and benches and wonderful pillows to all have great conversations once again, Thanks for this great post. Mary

  5. The high gloss walls are fascinating. This is very interesting as I tend towards Scandinavian Modern. Thank you!

  6. Gaye you have really said and shown it all for Mr Buatta. I do adore his use of banquettes and his ideas of comfort in all homes!

    Bravo on an excellent post

    Art by Karena

  7. Pamela, as said it is one of those rooms- the details in the curtains-all the attention to every element, and the B& F Verrieres fabric is blue is perfection.

  8. Dandy-Yes there are reams and chapters to be filled about MB. I did not set out to chronicle his design story in full-impossible, but to point out My experience at the time upon embarking on my career & to highlight the elements of his work that I adhere to. Forgive any neglect.I have written about KL as you know in context with John Fowler-each contributes to the other, and no one is intentionally slighted here. I learned about design from many masters-I rarely if ever- worked off a room MB created, but his principles of design are impeccable in my humble opinion-and as he says in the video, his work is not for everyone, but for those who share his own tastes.I would love for you to share more of your experiences in working with Mr. Irvine. pgt

  9. Parnassus, point taken. I respect the breath of his many years of design. Certainly his signatures-the banquette, the ribbons, are very much documented in magazines and various books, however a comprehensive book of his work I think would reveal a broad range of rooms- the 2005 room with blue walls is timeless-and I challenge anyone to say "Mario Buatta" there.Take aways are evident in rooms-where simply removing some of the flourishes that defined the 80's make the older rooms he created much more of the moment. pgt

  10. Mary-my point exactly-as we can see in the NYSD rooms Buatta himself tones down some the 80's flourishes and uses the client's art en masse throughout the space. I was struck too by the HB bedroom with the canopy bed-a signature-with the Ikat fabric- a room very much of today, don't you think?

  11. Linnea- I love these walls too, again each to his own, and I find many of the principles of his work- especially his first statement apropos for any style one loves best.

  12. Karena, that little technique goes such a long way-capitalizing on those dead corners, especially in the New York apartment spaces-is so smart-and it looks smart too. The Todd Romano room attests to that. pgt

  13. Gaye, an amazing post. I think Mario Buatta is so right in his emphasis on lots of seating: it is practical, welcoming and stimulates conversation. It is something he has in common (or pehaps learned from) the John Folwer/Nancy Lancaster tradition.

  14. I've always been a fan! Absolutely adore the new Ross penthouse, especially the library. He's also an extremely modest, elegant, erudite and witty man; a far cry from that silliness that passes for "high" design on Bravo these days. Doesn't anyone have good manners anymore? I think he hit it right on the nose in his description of today's artistically over-styled interiors. They're not for living!

  15. Thanks for such an in-depth look at Mario Buatta. I'm not a huge fan of chintz, but I've always marveled at how Buatta mixes and matches many patterns with such success.

  16. Emile, The Lancaster-Fowler connection is real-He speaks about meeting Fowler-and seeing the Nancy's rooms in the last video, a bit long but very entertaining!

    Philip- I thank you!

  17. Michele- Oh so true. I think the videos show how stylish and full to the tips of class and taste-little of that, as you say, is exhibited on Bravo. Mr. Buatta is someone who seems very real and would be a pleasure to meet.

    Mark, He does do it well, and though the chintz is not for everyone, I long to do one room up in it from top to bottom-surface to surface! The small picture along with the Matisse paintings at right is my thinking on that!

  18. I think Buatta’s has an Unparalleled Vision…I really enjoyed the superb examples of his work. Great post!

  19. What a post! I can read it again and again and learn more every time. One image (all stunning) belongs to Alessandra Branca (below the quote on two Siberias) is that on purpose? What a post!
    Brillante Interiors.

  20. Elegance, well said, thanks!

    Brillante- I know your own design work leans to modern lines-however you do see the theory here and I bet apply much of it to your approach with projects. You get it. The Branca photograph was misplaced-and should have been put with the other designer's using this seating arrangement-which I love. thanks for spotting that-I've made the change. PGT

  21. Years ago, when I was callow and indecisive, MB offered me a job to come work for him at the insistance of a mutual friend. I foolishly turned it down, as I was pursuing a career in banking. I wonder if I would have been happier taking the path I forsook? Who knows. I see him about and at parties from time to time and find him amusing and droll, and fortunately he's forgotten that it was I who thoughtlessly spurned his generosity all those years ago. One of the greatest of them all. I do so long for a book. Fabulous post, m'dear. Reggie

  22. Wonderful post. Keep going back to it. First image of book cover blows me away. Perfection.

  23. Reggie darling, Little time is wisely spent on wondering what IF-You know that well. I would have jumped to do it-If, and If asked-If-I had been braver to move to NYC-etc.etc. I think you have found several niches beyond the "bank." Mr. Buatta seems to be all you say-and more. No doubt he would say the same to you. Yes, a book is long overdue-and how odd that a tree is sacrificed to more mediocre decorators and their one project.I mind boggles. PGT

  24. Clara, it is a great cover-perfection as you say. pgt

  25. A delicious post. I feel taken back to things familiar but gone out of sight, and am now contented and sustained.
    pimp my bricks

  26. I cannot say enough about this post! Brilliant, delightful, and so appreciated! Tomorrow I go to his book-signing in Los Angeles; I spent over two hours on your two posts today! I watched every film; and read every article! (three posts)!!

    Every word he says resonates with me. Thank you so much!!!



Related Posts with Thumbnails