Monday, June 09, 2008


There is a design giant alive today who seems to get overlooked and sometimes even dissed by young designers and design enthusiasts. Many disregard his work as being too 1980s, too traditional, too English country looking, and too frou frou. And it's really a shame because this designer is truly quite talented. He has a remarkable sense of color and a keen understanding of what makes a room comfortable. His look is one that has changed little through the years- he honed his style as a young man and has stuck to it, perhaps with some tweaking over the years. Bottom line- his rooms are unabashedly pretty, and in my mind pretty is not a dirty word.

Who am I talking about? None other than Mario Buatta (a.k.a. Mario Buattachalotti-Sister Parish's pet name for him- and most famously "The Prince of Chintz"). The man has an impeccable design pedigree. He studied at Cooper Union and later at Parsons, studying under legendary teacher Stanley Barrows. He considered John Fowler a friend and mentor (one can see Fowler's influence in a Buatta room), and he also worked for Keith Irvine for a short time.

So why the disrespect? Perhaps his rooms are a bit conservative for some. Perhaps others don't like the amount of "stuff" in a Buatta room- at times, his rooms can be a bit over the top. And maybe some people can't stand Buatta's use of chintz (although maybe he is having the last laugh- after all, chintz's popularity is once again on the rise). But don't you agree that even if Buatta's look does not suit you, his rooms are incredibly inviting? Don't you just want enter one of his rooms and sit in comfortable chair and while away the hours reading a good book? Or what about relaxing in one of his nighttime rooms with a stiff drink and good friends?

I think what I am trying to say is that even if Buatta's traditional and at times maximalist look may not be hot or trendy right now, there are elements to his rooms that are timeless and stylish. But if you keep an open mind and look past the fabrics or furniture that may not be up your alley, you might just learn some important design lessons.

(I also would like to say I can't understand why no one has written a book on Buatta and his work. So many other designers have books devoted to their work, why not Buatta?)

How gorgeous are these Prussian-blue glazed walls? Alright, so the bow from which the painting is hanging may be a bit precious, but see how great that peach color looks against that shade of blue? I think this Buatta room is a lesson in rich color.

Buatta loves to design both daytime and nighttime rooms, of which this room is the latter. Nobody does a lacquered room better than Buatta. See how the gold frame looks so rich against the glossy walls? If you're a modernist at heart, just think how about a modern picture in a plain gold frame would look against the aubergine walls. Or what about a modern cream colored sofa in place of the traditional one above?

I know, I know- those of you who don't like florals might be apoplectic right now. However, look how effective the repetition of the floral print is. Think about whatever your favorite print is and then imagine it on walls, pillows, and chair and ottoman. I think that in this case, more is more!

Buatta decorated this bedroom in 1971. It's slightly dated, but look at that pink, that yellow, and the acid green. This color combination is bold and gutsy. No grooviness for Buatta; even back in the early 70s he was striving for sweet and pretty.

This shot of a Buatta room is one of my favorites. Take away the traditional pictures and pillows and insert some modern paintings and graphic pillows and I think you just might have a rather Miles Redd-esque room.


  1. I think he actually is gutsy. His rooms, to me, are not saccharine because he always balances the chintz with rich lacquered walls that go pow. I mean, he isn't really matronly or washed out.

    His rooms are really lush and he knows who he is.

  2. Courtney- Really well said. The other thing I should have mentioned in my post is that the homeowner, especially if it is a female, looks good in rooms like these.

  3. I've always enjoyed Buatta's comfort with color and pattern. He also uses the "other" great B&F - the one from the Astor library, that I'm currently drawing a blank on - with great success.

  4. Anonymous9:26 AM

    As I started to read the article, I said to myself, "I can't believe no one has ever done a book on him!" I'm glad to see I'm not the only one to feel this way.

    I see his rooms as being multi-layered and timeless. There's always something interesting going on, even if it might be a bit much for some people. But I'd rather have a little of his "preciousness" than the huge load of "pretentiousness" that passes for a lot of interior design these days.

    My first time posting. Love your blog. Keep up the good work.

  5. There are certainly elements in each room that be appreciated by design aficionados and with stand the test of time. I agree, the last photo is my favorite.

  6. Thank you for your wonderful post on this design legend-he will always be my favorite. If I see another beige room I will scream! Mario-please do your own book-like Charlotte Moss has done so many times so well. My sun room is still done in his "Evelyn"-a stunning fabric. True style never goes out of style.

  7. I agree with Courtney.
    Mr Buatta's rooms go beyond mere prettiness; they have weight and authority. His colour sense is finely tuned, slightly unpredictable. The most lavishly appointed drawing room is never forbidding. It's all about comfort, sensual pleasures, coziness. If there is a temporary lack of respect for his style, it has more to do with bad copies of it in less skilled hands, than any inherent flaw in MB's work.

  8. Jennifer~ I love the way you are always so positive and give credit where credit is due. Mario is one who influenced me as a young girl, as I was devouring my mom's decor magazines. I even had to make a large moire bow to hang my "dressing table" mirror from. He has a timeless style and a great deal of refinement and classic style. I think he is cool, even if he may be under-appreciated at the moment. The trend cycle will probably eventually swing back to that maximalist look at some point, but even if it doesn't, Mario's distinct talent is strong enough that he doesn't need the approval of the masses to define or validate him.

  9. Bravo! I love Mario and his style and his rooms, so hurrah for your championing of him ... not all is to my taste but the quality is as high as the comfort level and very, very attractive ... that flowered room is ravishingly pretty ... I would live in it in one second ... very chic, warm, sort of exotic ... a WASP version of a Moroccan or Indian-paisley room, yes? ...

  10. iplayhouse1:37 PM

    Twice in the past two weeks I was in the D&D building in New York and Mario Buatta was there looking at fabrics and waiting to pick up his own samples. I had heard that he works on his own but I could not believe he was there doing all his own legwork and acting as pleasant as could be to everyone. It was refreshing to see and certainly made me think it would be a treat to have him as one's designer.

    This is my first post. I really enjoy your blog. I hope to have my own up soon.

  11. Well, I knew I wasn't alone in my admiration for Buatta, but it's certainly encouraging to see that so many people do appreciate him and his work! Perhaps we should start the official Mario Buatta fan club! (And it's great to hear how nice and down to earth he is!)

  12. Anonymous2:38 PM

    I am also a fan of Mario Buatta. I hope he will do a book!!

  13. Whether the younger designers and design hobbiests like him or not, they cannot dispute the fact that he has lead the way for many of the design ideas and trends that have come about in today's interiors. You make a very valid argument here. The most successful designers today take information from many sources, including Buatta and many other design icons, without negative judgement, and meld those ideas into new and fresh approaches. Thanks for reminding us all!

  14. Olivia6:42 PM

    In my own decorating, I tend to be more minimalist and modernist, but I absolutely LOVE Mr. Buatta's work! ( I suppose if I could achieve the genre as masterfully as he does, I would have rooms like his!). Thank you for sharing him with us.

  15. Andrea V.11:10 PM

    Amen. He's been a long time fave of mine. I also don't LOVE everything about the rooms, but I ALWAYS find them intriguing, and incredibly multi-faceted, surprising even. In fact, I was just talking about him last night with Joni (Cote de Texas) about how when I first started my biz, I was very unsure about the quality of my work/aesthetic, then the Veranda with Kips Bay and his green velvet room came out on 06' and I almost fell on the floor b/c the feel of that room and my house that I had just finished were SO similar (although his cost more than my house and everything in it ;) I was just GUSHING over the fact that I had come up with something that looked eerily similar to a room done by someone that I regard as a design gangbuster!

    Thanks for the great post!

  16. I completely agree. I have loved Mr. Buatta's style for quite some time now. Someone above used the word lush, and that is exactly how I feel about his designs. Lush, lavish, but oh so inviting :). Would love to see a book.

    I also love Scott Salvator's work. He worked for Mario, and his designs are equally inviting and beautiful. I'd say they're a bit more masculine and jewel toned.

    Thanks for the post.

  17. While I'm not a huge fan of his work, I do agree that the prussian blue and black (?) glazed walls are amazing...

  18. Yes - it's nice to see positive comments - when I've talked about him - boy I got some stinko comments!!!! Jennifer - you know I adore the man. It's not easy to do what he does so effortlessly. You try mixing 20 patterns in one room and have it look like his! As for the book - I think that 99 percent of design books written about living designers are self generated. He has to want to do it himself. I wish he would!!! I have a list of people whom I want to put books out - I know you do too. Great post, as usual! Loved this one.


  19. I love the look and details, but strip that away and what you have are rooms that really work. He always includes many various types of seating in a room. Settees, taborets, some upright chairs and some lounge chairs. This is observant as at a party many people may not want to be esconced on a sofa. There are plenty of options for people to select the seating that they are comfortable with. I also like how he will angle a tufted loveseat softening a corner. Lighting really works. There are always plenty of lamps and one can easily read in any of these rooms. He also has no fear of antiques. He uses them in a comfortable way, contributing to the function of a room, as well as adding delight and beauty.

  20. Balsamfir4:35 PM

    Except for the one floral masterpiece these are rather restrained. The glazed walls are really wonderful, and this selection does present a more diverse view of Buatta than I usually think of. I could also see a book on masters of pattern in traditional design. Maybe several of you should collaborate on one.

  21. Anonymous4:42 PM

    Not an MB fan, but I read something recently that made me like him. He was being interviewed, and was asked which decorators working today he admired. He said simply: "I like Barbara Barry."

    That's it. One decorator, whose work bears no similarities to his whatsoever.

    I'll always remember that.


  22. Anonymous8:45 PM

    Love what I read about the man as a person but do not care for his work. Enough is enough!!!!!!!!

  23. He is my idol! Every inch of his work is genious! Your post is lovely, thanks for the great read...

  24. Another fan here -- and another one that is hoping for a decor book! Comfy, cozy and elegant rooms! Hope someone can let him know about his fan club!

    Jan at Rosemary Cottage

  25. Anonymous8:29 PM

    First time writing.. I absolutely adore Buatta, his attitude and his portfolio. I have heard him speak twice and each time he was charming, funny and completely approachable. I love the Astor library that Mrs. Blandings mentioned. The fabric is B&F 'La Portugaise" a classic. I have every room that Mr. Buatta has published. Oh how I wish he would write a book like Billy Baldwin Decorates or Billy Baldwin Remembers!

  26. Anon- Lucky you to have heard him lecture! I would love to. It's so nice to know that there are so many others who are fans of his. I would love it if he would write a book. That would make my design library complete :)