Mario Buatta, the “Prince of Chintz,” has had his own New York decorating firm for 45 years. His lavish yet cozy rooms, resplendent in cabbage rose print slipcovers, swagged curtains and dog paintings evoke an Americanized view of English country style.
He has lacquered walls in peach and lavender at a Manhattan triplex for Mariah Carey and accessorized and mixed patterns for Barbara Walters, Billy Joel and Malcolm Forbes. During the 1980s heyday of tasseled pillows and blue-and-white porcelains, Buatta fringed his way up Park Avenue and landed the job of refurbishing Blair House, the president's official guesthouse. He split the 112 rooms with designer Mark Hampton.
Their floral legacy lives on.
Despite minimalism and modernism, Buatta has continued doing his traditional thing. He is decorating a penthouse in New York, an estate in Charleston and a house in Birmingham, Ala. “I get a lot of business in the South,” he says. “It's still the hotbed of traditional decorating.”
Q. Does traditional decorating appeal to people under 35?
Young people don't like antiques, and they don't want their grandmother's furniture. They tear the history out of houses, and they want white, white, white.
Q. What's your advice to people decorating their first apartments?
You should do a layout of the furniture based on your space before you go shopping. Figure out what the best sizes for sofas and chairs are and get those first before end tables and coffee tables. Put in an etagere or cabinet for height.
Crate & Barrel, Ballard Designs and Pottery Barn have things at great prices.
The way I see it, people decorate three times in their lives: The first time is when they get married and get their own place. The second is when their children grow up and they redecorate with better things. Then after 60, they do it for the last time and they make their home look the way they have always dreamed.
Q. What does a Mario Buatta house look like?
It's got color, textiles and lots of patterns. It looks like a Vuillard impressionist painting. I love the warmth of a house that looks like it happened over generations.
Q. What's the biggest mistake people make in doing their own decorating?
Scale. They never get proportion right.…You should have both high and low pieces to take your eye to different levels. If you have a tiny bedroom, even 10 by 12, if you put a big canopy bed in there or a huge armoire, it will look better.
Q. What is your all-time favorite chintz pattern?
Lee Jofa's “Floral Bouquet.” I've used it in every apartment I have ever had.
Q. Will chintz ever be back?
Everything comes around. Most decorating trends begin in the fashion world. Right now, Seventh Avenue is giving us so many flowers again. Just wait.