Design & Decoration S01 ep8: Mario Buatta, Buatta Interiors, [New York]
Interview with Mario Buatta
There is a very great level of, new money that doesn't know how to live, doesn't really know how to live with things, they have nothing to bring with them to the job and so you have to create a background for them. I inherited nothing. Everything I have is what I have bought. Unfortunately living in America, and particularly in New York, we have such small spaces you don't have a chance to do all the things you like to do with the things you have collected so you end up putting them in storage. It is a sickness you know. Collecting is a sickness.
As a child I always loved everything English,
KM: Why decorating?
I actually wanted to be an architect and studied architecture and I decided that
I didn't like the math and everything that went with it, but I really liked how a
house looked and not how it was structured, I really couldn't care less about
I started collecting when I was 11 years old and the first thing I bought was an
18th century writing lap desk. I had no idea what it was, but I knew I loved it
and when I paid for it on a lay away plan for 12 weeks, my father said that why
do you want that old thing, I don't want it in my house because he didn't like
anything that was second hand.
KM: Where do you think the spirit came from?
It came from my aunt. My aunt Marion, she had a good eye for it. But I think
that it is something that you are born with or it happens when you are young,
and develop it in the first few years of your life.
KM: What was it about objects that had a magnetism for you more so than a
Well I was too serious, I like the.... I like the feeling of an English house. When
I went to England for the first time in 1961 as a student and I remember going
through a lot of English houses. There were great old English country houses
or simple little cottages, and then when I came back and then when I saw
Nancy Lancaster's apartment in London, she was a partner of Colefax and
Fowler - that great yellow room, that really did it for me.
KM: What is your thing?
It is a combination of a persons life, everything is there, it came from different
parts of the world, inherited or could have been purchased or they could have
been anything - in my case everything I had inherited nothing, everything I
have is what I have bought. And you put it together the way you like it.
Unfortunately living in America, living in New York we have such small spaces
you don't have a chance to do all the things you like to do with the things you
have collected so you end up putting them in storage. It is a sickness you
know, collecting is a sickness.
Everything I have bought always reminds me of something I have seen,
somewhere, sometime, and I think that the movies are probably the greatest
experience. When I was a child, I would look at movie sets and see the way
houses are set up and I remember being with my aunt Marion two or three
times, where she sketched what she saw, whether it was a curtain or a
There is something exciting about owning an antique and you own it for a short
amount of time, because it is with you for as long as you want to keep it, or for
your life time, and then it goes off to someone else, so it is really only on loan
KM: When did you get into decorating and why?
I was 22 when I went to school for architecture, and I hated it. I absolutely
hated it, and then I got a job.... and someone said why don't you think about
decorating. I never thought of decorating as a man's profession, people
frowned on it, they thought..... but actually the combination of a male decorator
and a female client is the best. The male decorator gives it the architectural
sense, the foundation, and then the female clients comes in and she makes it
look very cosy and very comfortable.
KM: Why has decoration become so serious in America?
It is very serious. I think there are certain types that have made a great deal of
money in the last 15 - 20 years on Wall Street or wherever and their houses
are static. They will collect 25 toy shell boxes and put them on a table, it looks
like an antique shop - what is that?, what does it mean? There is no sense of
history or anything about them - it is all about the fact that they bought the right
thing. What they have ended up doing is basically having rooms that are very
cold, they are rooms without any feeling, there is no soul to them. Their
apartments and houses look like a display.
The sort of thing I do is cosy, colourful, comfortable, chintz mixed with live
plants or maybe an animal, a real dog instead of a painting of one. The idea is
to have a house that looks like somebody's home - you really are at home with
these people, and you are enjoying yourself and they seem to like the fact that
it does seem like a reflection of you and what you like. That is what I try and
put into my work.
I try to work with people who have the same feelings for things as I do, and
that they like a house that looks like it has been there forever.
KM: What happens if someone doesn't want the English period look, what if
they want French period, what if they want Chinese Oriental style?
I can do other things too, but they don't usually come to me for that, they come
to me because they think of me as Chintzy Prince you know - the Prince of
Chintz. Fortunately I do not suffer from delusions of grandiosity like I would
love to, but I don't.
KM: Your look can be in and out of fashion, just as easily as Dior or...
Right. Absolutely but you try and keep up with the pace of the times, and you
integrate things that are current today in your work so that your rooms don't
look stagnant and that they keep moving.
There are decorators who have done certain things who are innovators, who
have developed a style or a look, like for example John Fowler who I think was
terrific. But there is nothing new, everything under the sun has been done, but
what you do is you take what you have seen, and put it together the way you
want - in you own special way. I don't think that I am a very innovative
designer, but I am basically always borrowing from the past and trying to use
the best of what is available today.
When I give a talk I call it, "If you can't hide it, decorate it" and then I go like
this.....no this hair belonged to my dog, and when he got a clipping I got a
toupee, so I have bang you see and I wear it like this.
KM: It is very cute.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Mario Buatta, Buatta Interiors, New York