Mario Buatta is the most celebrated Interior Designer, also known as the Prince of Chintz for the legacy of cheerful floral print – a signature element of his English country-style rooms. His interiors were a classical mix of American due to the gusto and colour along with English due to their comfort, layering and history. With a career spanning over 60 years, his clients included Mariah Carey, Wilbur and Hilary Ross, Barbara Walters, Billy Joel, Henry Ford II and Malcolm Forbes. During his career, he made it to every top designer list and won every possible award for his field.
Buatta was born and raised in Staten Island, New York to a violinist and bandleader father, Phil Burton. He was the grandson of Italian immigrant craftsmen with one grandfather was a carpenter while the other was a plasterer. His parents had a fondness for Art Deco; their red brick home built in the 1930s was furnished with glass, steel and chrome whereas Buatta was fascinated by old Gothic houses since childhood.
An early influence on Buatta’s taste was his aunt, Mary Mauro’s house that was furnished by a decorator at Manhattan’s W. & J. Sloane department store with Chippendale, Hepplewhite Chinoiserie furnishings and Chintz slipcovers. He started his lifelong collection at the age of 11 with an 18th-century lap desk for a sum of $12 with 50-cent monthly instalments. Buatta joined the Cooper Union to study architecture, though he left shortly to pursue his passion for interiors. In his book Mario Buatta: Fifty Years of American Interior Decoration he said, “I wasn’t interested in how a house was constructed; I wanted to know about elements like mouldings, columns and shapes of rooms.”
After dropping out from architecture school, Buatta took design classes at Pratt Institute and Columbia University and later worked with several designers like Elisabeth C. Draper and Keith Irvine for a few years. At the age of 28, he opened his own firm that specialised in country house ideal of rooms with evidence of centuries accumulation. His goal primarily focused on, “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.” His designed spaces flaunted with comfy club chairs, blue-white porcelain, dog portraits, glazed walls, tassels and floral chintz fabrics.
In the 1980s Buatta was celebrated for his signature style of colourful window treatments, old furniture and tasselled pillows done for his wealthy clients that wanted an “old money” look for their interiors. The style soon became very popular amongst the masses as the English country-style houses emerged as the favoured look in magazines and homes throughout America. Buatta for a magazine said, “People who have made money want to look like people who have inherited money.”
Buatta had a deep love for chintz and fashion, for a magazine cover shoot and several parties he dressed in a suit made of his favourite Floral Bouquet chintz by Lee Jofa. He deeply enjoyed the celebrity decorator status and publicity, he was proudly the first interior designer to sign lucrative licensing contracts for embellishing his name on furniture, bed linens, wall coverings, lighting, tableware, fabrics, room scents and telephone. He was a true prankster and often brought his pet plastic cockroach named Harold to parties and social gatherings.
Buatta was recognised and celebrated for his masterpieces with fine craftsmanship and detailing of interiors. Painting a medium-sized dining room would easily cost around $10000 as for him paint wasn’t a coat of latex semi gloss. He achieved the precision with a thin coat of plaster with a layer of canvas followed by five primers or finish coats with stippling, brushing and glazing to achieve the exact burnished sheen.
In 2013 he launched his only book, Mario Buatta: Fifty Years of American Interior Decoration. The 400 pages long book that weighs about seven pounds gives an insight into his process and rules for interior designing along with showcasing a few of his projects with their images taken for magazines and many unpublished photographs from his own collection. In an interview, Emily Evans Eerdmans, an author and design historian who co-wrote the book said, “He always imagined that he was creating backdrops for his clients to live in their best life against”.
The glorious era of Mario Buatta came to an end in 2018, when he died at the age of 82 on October 15 at a hospital in Manhattan. He will always be known for his colourful work, humour and most importantly for the iconic chintz interior. The final project done by him featured in AD magazine, a few months after his death. It was a glamorous duplex apartment in Manhattan overlooking the East River. Interior is a classic example of his work with plump seating, drapery with dressmaker details, beautiful rainbow colours and flowered chintz with planetary chandeliers and the signature curtain style.