Flower: Given that you’ve been crowned the “Prince of Chintz,” we can’t think of anyone we’d rather have wax poetically on the subject. Who first bestowed you with the title?
Mario Buatta: I decorated a room at the Kips Bay Showhouse in 1984, and it was in a blue-and-white chintz called Verrieres by Brunschwig & Fils. When a television reporter named Chauncey Howell came into my room to interview me, he looked around and asked why I was using all this flowered fabric. I said, “Well it’s simple—I love chintz.” He started rhyming chintz with anything he could think of… wince… inch… ah, Prince of Chintz! And the nickname stuck. A little silliness has been great for publicity. It’s always good to be known for something, and chintz has been my thing. Once I had clients who invited me to a fiddlers’ weekend in Vermont. When I arrived, there was a huge banner across the town commons that said, “Welcome the Prince of Chintz.” People were asking, “Where is Chintz?” And I would tell them that it was just a little principality between Manhattan and Staten Island.
How did you develop such a strong affinity for chintz?
My parents’ house was all 1930s modern, and I hated it. I spent all my time with my Aunt Mary, who was a true “Auntie Mame.” She had a wonderful house full of Chippendale, Hepplewhite, and chinoiserie furnishings, and she also had seasonal chintz slipcovers. I’ve loved the look ever since.
What does chintz do for a room?
When you think of the big, old country houses in England, they were filled with a lot of fine furniture, and brocades and damasks in the wintertime. In the summer, they used summer covers with floral fabrics to bring down the grandness. Of course, they also needed to keep people from wearing out all the fancy fabric. In those days, there was no air conditioning, so people perspired a great deal, and that would destroy the furniture. Fortunately, the fabric that chintz is printed on will last forever. The reasons for needing chintz may have changed, but it still works.
Asking if you have a favorite chintz is probably a bit like asking a parent to choose a favorite child. But we want to know.
Lee Jofa’s Floral Bouquet. I’ve had it since I got my first apartment in New York in 1961. It has traveled to seven apartments since, and I still have it on a sofa, chair, and curtains.
You’ve seen and been in so many beautiful rooms, and created more than a few of your own. Which one sticks out most in your memory?
My favorite room of any and all time is Nancy Lancaster’s butter yellow room by Colefax and Fowler. It speaks to me. The first time I saw John Fowler’s work I knew the man was a genius. What’s so chic about the room is that the chintz is an accent, a few chairs and that’s all of it that was needed.
Everyone is abuzz about your book, Mario Buatta: Fifty Years of American Interior Decoration (Rizzoli, 2013). What took you so long?
I never wanted to do a book—I always thought it would sort of be the kiss of death. Years ago, decorators just didn’t do books. Well Billy Baldwin wrote a couple, and he retired not long after. I’m not ready to retire. But now it seems as if every designer has one. I recently looked at a list of 30 or so decorating books that are coming out this fall alone. It’s amazing.
Not many of those designers could claim 50 years in the business, however.
I can tell you it wasn’t easy editing down 50 years, which explains why the book is 432 pages. As Dame Edna says on the back cover, all this book needs is four legs and it could be a coffee table. It was a lot of fun revisiting all my clients and projects. I’ll be on a crazy book tour this fall—I probably need to pull the “no smoking” jacket a client gave me out of the mothballs, or maybe I’ll have another chintz suit made.
By Karen M. Carroll
Photography used with permission. Mario Buatta: Fifty Years of American Interior Decoration (Rizzoli, 2013)