Remembering Decorating Legend Mario Buatta: Colleagues and Clients Share Memories of the "Prince of Chintz"
Decorating legend Mario Buatta, known affectionately as the Prince of Chintz, passed away on Monday at the age of 82.
Over the course of his impressive career, which began in the 1950s, the New York-based interior designer worked with a slew of celebrities, including Mariah Carey and Barbara Walters, who appreciated his love of floral fabric and English country style. His work was influenced by iconic designers like Sister Parish, and his eye-catching sensibility embraced the power of color and pattern.
“I loved working with Mario on designing my NYC apartment," Carey told ELLE DECOR today. "He was a wonderful collaborator with an eye for beauty, and he truly helped make my vision for a home complete.”
In a March 2011 ELLE Decor interview, Buatta opened up about his daring design style. "Color is a mood setter," he told Ingrid Abramovitch. "It can make you feel great. But people have a fear of color. They're afraid of what their friends will say or not say."
In 2013, Mario Buatta: Fifty Years of American Interior Decoration was published by Rizzoli. The monographed documented the designer's successful career, and offers insights into Buatta's start working for department store B. Altman & Co in the 1950s. Buatta, who grew up on Staten Island, loved rooms that felt lived-in and decorated over time. "You can't treat decorating as fashion; it's not like a dress you can push to the back of the closet," he said. "A room is an investment in money and time. No room is a still life. It should look like it happened over years."
We asked colleagues, clients, and fellow designers to share their memories of Buatta, who had a singular aesthetic and a wicked sense of humor.
I loved working with Mario on designing my New York City apartment. He was a wonderful collaborator with an eye for beauty, and he truly helped make my vision for a home complete.” — Mariah Carey, singer and songwriter, client
“Mario was a delight in every way. Enormously talented. He could turn the dreariest room into a paradise and the dreariest person into a happy one.” — Barbara Walters, journalist and author, client
"Every minute, every encounter with Mario was a memorable moment. We all have our stories, mine go back 33 years—and that is a lot of memories." — Charlotte Moss, interior designer
“Mario: where to start? He was such a brilliant designer. I’ll never forget his 1984 Kips Bay Decorators Showhouse room—the first I ever stepped into and not just admired in a photo. All blue and white, frothy, country but in a city sort of way, detailed with the most assured hand. His rooms were always over the top, but never stepped over the edge. His humor was over the top—and often stepped over the edge. When joking and gossiping, he often just wouldn’t stop. But sadly now he has. Farewell Prince!” — Jamie Drake, interior designer
A New York department designed by Mario Buatta
“Affectionately known as 'King of Clutter,' Mario Buatta will most certainly be remembered as one of the most iconic decorators of our time. I know that I was influenced by his work—particularly his legendary mastery of layering as well as his ability to mix brightly colored prints and patterns in ways that came across as effortless. But beyond the flowery wallpapers with matching lampshades, dog portraiture, needlepoint and traditional European antiques was a quirky man with a wicked sense of humor. I had the pleasure of being seated next to him at many dinners and cocktail parties over the last several decades and he always made me laugh with fake spiders and cockroaches that started out in his navy blazer but always ended up on the dining table!” — Sheila Bridges, interior designer
“Mario's unceasing passion for design, coupled with his big, bold, fantastical mind, places his work in another world. His generosity and humor set the bar for rest of us that remain in this profession. They broke the mold with this gentle man.” — Beth Martin, interior designer
“Mario made me fully understand that if it’s not fun, don’t do it. He made being a decorator a blast. And I’m sure if his job was anything like mine, it was stressful, but that never rose to the surface. He was unflappable in his enthusiasm and joyfulness and very much of the time. I remember distinctly bumping into him on Lexington Avenue when rapping was at its absolute zenith and he was wearing a jewel-encrusted dollar-sign ring. He was absorbing a cultural moment, just walking up the avenue, which is terrific.” — Jeffrey Bilhuber, interior designer
“I’ll never forget Mariah Carey’s episode of 'MTV Cribs'. Those closets he designed for her changed my life!” — Ryan Korban, interior designer
“Mario Buatta, the design legend, the 'Prince of Chintz' was fearless with his gift for design. In a time when the word 'authentic' is thrown around so easily, Mario was the real deal. A true original.” — Paloma Contreras, interior designer
“For me, he epitomized New York in the’80s and ’90s. Those fabulous Park and Fifth Avenue apartments of the great dames of the Upper East Side. Effortless, big decorating with a light touch and a depth of style and confidence that we don’t see all that often today.” — Rita Konig, interior designer
“Mr. Buatta was as much a teacher as decorator. A creator of timeless, yet ever-changing design, he strongly felt houses are living things, which should be regally adorned. I developed my love of layering and opulent chintz florals from studying his work.” — Joy Moyler, interior designer
A New York library designed by Mario Buatta
“Besides his extraordinary talent in championing the beauty and the femininity of English style, he had the best sense of humor of anyone I knew. I'll never forget Mario and his fake rubber mouse that he would terrorize every hostess with. Or the time he showed up at my apartment with a Tiffany & Co. bag as if he had some extravagant present for me and proceeded to drop it as if it was an accident and you would hear a huge crashing of crystal as if it was breaking. He would say 'oh I thought this was so YOU!' But in actuality, he would just carry a bag full of broken glass to drop on purpose to play tricks on people with. I found it rare to have such an elegant style and such a crazy sense of humor in one very fine man.” — Carolyn Roehm, fashion designer and tastemaker
“One of the lessons I’ve learned from Mario as a designer and friend is that life is for living. This extended to his rooms, which were pure joy. He was a magician pairing aubergine with cornflower blue, lemon yellow with watermelon pink. He also understood the importance of comfort, something he often lamented that many of today’s 'curated' interiors are missing. But what I will most miss is his sense of humor—another one of his secret weapons, which earned him legions of friends, fans and clients.” — Emily Evans Eerdmans, co-author of Mario Buatta: Fifty Years of American Interior Decoration
"When I first moved to New York City, and worked in the design world, circa 1994, I met Mario, and he was the most delightful, kind, and supportive guy. Mario always acknowledged me at events, and made everyone feel special. We had a crazy friend in common, and his favorite question for me, was always whether I had any 'updates from crazy.' I was always amazed at the scale of his projects achieved without a large team, or perhaps solo, I am told. I loved his layered, collected look, and I can only hope his style influences future designers and clients to enjoy layering the history, and legacy of classic interiors into new projects." — Steven Gambrel, interior designer
*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com
*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors