Flower Power: Q&A with Mario Buatta

Interior design legend Mario Buatta lists Mariah Carey, Barbara Walters, Malcolm Forbes, and Billy Joel among his many high-profile clients. His propensity for using chintzes, replete with textures, patterns, and stripes, earned him the moniker “The Prince of Chintz.” Buatta, whose personality is famously as colorful as the rooms he creates, comes to Naples this month as the special guest at a members’ event for The League Club and a luncheon for members at the Naples Yacht Club. We talked with the designer, whose opulent rooms shown here are from the 7-pound, 432-page book, Mario Buatta: Fifty Years of American Interior Decoration (Rizzoli, 2013).

Jason Schmidt and Nest magazine; background painting.

Jason Schmidt and Nest magazine; background painting.

NI: Explain your signature “Undecorated Look.”

Buatta: You can walk into people’s houses, and it can look just like the decorating floor of a department store. It doesn’t look like anybody lives in these places. They have no personality. My “Undecorated” rooms have personality; they look like real people live in them. The furniture is real, and there are things they may have collected over the years. You don’t want to live in a house that looks like it’s been all dolled up. You want to live in a house where the rooms are comfortable, and people are enjoying them.

Photo by Scott Frances

Photo by Scott Frances

What design trend should disappear?

Gray-beige—what we’ve been living with from the ’90s. I grew up in a traditional house that was filled with art deco, art moderne. I hated it. My stylish Aunt Mary loved chinoiserie. That’s where it all started when I was a little boy. My great love has always been English country style: lots of floral chintzes, different fabrics, classical furniture, occasionally a modern piece thrown in. I like a very cozy, contemporary look.

Photo by Scott Frances

Photo by Scott Frances

Is there a project or client you would love to work with today?

Those people are all gone. There are few people today to look up to. Yesterday you had the salon ladies, like Babe Paley, Pat Buckley—all those grande dames of New York. You used to want to see how they lived, where they dined, where they traveled. You wanted to learn everything about them. Most people around us today tend to be more democratized. They all wear the same shiny yellow hair, or the same handbags. There are no more Diana Vreelands.

What project are you most proud of?

I’d say certainly the job I did for the White House guesthouse, the Blair House, in 1988.

Photo by Scott Frances

Photo by Scott Frances

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