The interior design world lost a legend last week with the passing of Mario Buatta. Affectionately known as the “Prince of Chintz” Buatta passed away October 15th from complications of pneumonia. Mr. Buatta’s career spanned more than five decades, and he worked with numerous celebrities designing their homes. The list of his famous clients include Mariah Carey, Billy Joel, Barbara Walters, and Malcolm Forbes. To honor his memory, today we’re going to look back at the life and work of Mario Buatta.
Mario Buatta grew up on Staten Island, New York and knew from a young age that he’d be involved in the decorative arts somehow. Having a few relatives that were architects, Mario started to study architecture in school, but realized that he had no interest in the exteriors of buildings and soon turned his attention instead to their interiors. He started his own business in 1963 and became well known for his signature style in the 1980s. Starting in 1977 and until 1991, Mr. Buatta was chairman of what is now known as the Winter Show, which has a wide and eclectic assortment of vintage furniture, decorative housewares and wholesale oddities. It’s still held every year at the Park Avenue Armory, at 67th Street in Manhattan. It was under his leadership that the Winter Show turned it into the leading international design fair and major New York social event that it is today.
Buatta’s signature style was a modernized take on the English-country look and was renowned for his ability to mix and match color and pattern. He became a fan of the style after seeing it on his first trip to England on a study program sponsored by the Parsons School of Design. He was attracted to the “historical clutter” of English homes and the generations of collections they held. His approach was to fill the spaces he was working on with comfy club chairs, dog portraits, blue-and-white porcelains, glazed walls, tassels and floral chintz fabrics. He believed that rooms should feel lived-in and be decorated over time. In fact he would often spend years working on one space. He also spared no expense when acquiring materials, spending hundreds on tassels and choosing fabrics that cost hundreds of dollars per yard.
Mr. Buatta had a large personality that won’t be forgotten by those who knew him. He also had a distinct approach to design that should be remembered. Even if his style was not to your taste, there are lessons to be learned from his long career. Take design slow, and let your space change and evolve with you. Perhaps the most important lesson is to have fun and laugh often, even if it involved bringing a plastic cockroach with you to parties. The design world will definitely feel the loss of Mario Buatta.