Meet Mario Buatta
One of America's most popular decorators -- Mario Buatta, the "king of chintz" -- shares his tips on how to "undecorate" your home, and much more.
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When you hear the word "chintz," it’s highly likely that the name Mario Buatta, ASID, isn’t far behind. The New York decorator is the well-known "king of chintz" and has a long-reported love of the floral fabric—and all things English. But one word can’t define a talent such as Buatta, who has a long resume in the design world. After studying architecture at Cooper Union in New York and attending Parsons School of Design in Europe, Buatta began an apprenticeship in the decorating department of B. Altman and Company, a famous New York City department store. He went on to work with several decorating firms, including Elizabeth Draper, Inc., and started his own firm in 1963.
Buatta has created his own unmistakable style, which he calls, "The Undecorated Look." His general approach is to provide a maximum of comfort by using a balanced mixture of contemporary and antique furnishings. He has performed his magic for a wide variety of clients, including Mariah Carey, Billy Joel, Henry Ford II, the late actress Elaine Strich, Malcom Forbes and Nelson Doubleday. His designs have also been featured in the Kips Bay Show House in New York.
HGTV.com’s roving designer, Mark McCauley, ASID, recently spoke with Mario Buatta:
What is your general design philosophy and how did you develop it?
I was brought up in a very contemporary 1930's Deco Moderne home, but I spent a lot of time with my Aunt Mary, who was a real Auntie Mame. She was terrific; I learned a great deal from her. When I went to her house she always had these great cakes and things and she was always decorating something.
I would go to town with my aunt and her decorator and that’s how I got interested in decorating and in the English style. She had her "summer chintzs" and her "winter chintzs," and her Chippendale and Hepplewhite furniture. I loved it all.
I began collecting when I was 11 years old but my father wouldn’t let me bring what he called "antiques" into the house because he felt they would be full of germs and dirty. So I took my collections into the garage. The first thing I bought was an 18th-century box, for $12, and I have been collecting ever since.
You’re well known for combining fabrics in a room—any tips you can share?
When we went to Paris with the professors from Parsons School, they took us through the great museums of Paris, and our professor told us that if we did not understand these paintings we would never be a good interior designer. It was then that I saw paintings en masse by Edouard Vuillard, Matisse and the like and I was just crazy about the use of color by these great painters. The pattern and the texture of their paintings and how they put it all together simply intrigued me.
What I usually do is create a floor plan with the seating areas first, then do all the hard goods—tables, end tables, chests and the like. Afterwards I will take fabrics and place them around the room. We will put a particular fabric in an area and then repeat it on the other side of the room, so that the fabrics are in balance.
Then we will, off of this basic start, put a plaid here, a stripe over there, a checkered pattern, a smaller figured pattern and little by little it all comes together. It’s the easiest way to do it, create the floor plan, start with a particular fabric and then surround it with a variety of other fabrics and patterns. I usually start with a biggest pattern first and then add all the other elements based off of the colors in the largest pattern chosen.