Prince of Chintz Mario Buatta Gets the Royal Treatment from a Probing Protégé

Emily Evans Eerdmans is steeped in the life and work of her former collaborator and mentor Mario Buatta, who died in 2018 at the age of 82. The incisive writer, design historian and gallerist behind Eerdmans Fine Art authored the 2013 Rizzoli book Mario Buatta: Fifty Years of American Interior Decoration under the designer’s watchful eye. Now, she has written a solo take on his work and import, Mario Buatta: Anatomy of a Decorator, also from Rizzoli.

Drawing on abundant archival materials and encompassing projects completed toward the end of his career, the new RIZZOLI volume MARIO BUATTA: ANATOMY OF A DECORATOR take a deep dive into the world of the designer, seen here at work in his office in 1986 (photo courtesy the Estate of Mario Buatta). Top: Located in Aiken, South Carolina, the colonial revival Toad Hall — which Buatta was commissioned to redesign in 2004 — “serves as an instructive example of how Mario created ‘collected’ interiors from scratch for secondary residences,” writes the book’s author, gallerist Emily Evans Eerdmans, of EERDMANS FINE ART. All photos © Scott Frances / OTTO unless otherwise noted

Eerdmans calls the new volume a “Mario primer.” Drawing on his vast archives, including presentation boards and scrapbooks, Anatomy, as the name suggests, traces the design legend’s path from growing up on Staten Island (where a favored aunt was key to developing his eye) to dropping out of college to becoming one of the world’s most famous decorators. 

Buatta reimagined Toad Hall’s formal entry foyer as a sitting room, “creating an inviting space that distracts the eye from the asymmetrical arrangement of passageways,” Eerdmans writes. “Mario purposely covered the room’s furniture in different textiles to disperse color and create the illusion that these pieces have been collected over time.” Here, Regency decor — the daybed, the curtains — mingle with less formal styles.

Eerdmans focuses on his tutelage under some of the 20th century’s design titans, many of whom employed Buatta before he became his own brand, Keith Irvine, Sister Parish and Albert Hadley among them. The influence of the houses created by John Beresford Fowler and Nancy Lancaster, of the British firm Colefax and Fowler, is deeply felt throughout Buatta’s work. The spaces created by these designers were prime exemplars of the English country house look — most notably, Lancaster’s Yellow Room in her home in London’s Mayfair. On this side of the pond, Buatta took the Colefax and Fowler approach and famously made it his own, becoming the Prince of Chintz, with a penchant for dog art. (The 2020 auction of items from his homes in Manhattan and Connecticut revealed a revival of interest in his aesthetic among a younger set.)

Eerdmans concludes her exploration of the designer with a section titled “Deconstructing Buatta Style,” complete with schematic diagrams unpacking how he arranged furniture to facilitate movement around a room

Buatta selected a variety of blue fabrics to unite an assembled suite of wicker seating on Toad Hall’s covered porch. “The use of a dhurrie rug on the veranda’s stone floor,” Eerdmans writes, “is unexpected and further enhances the atmosphere of the space as a proper room.”

The book’s final chapter, “Master Class,” takes a deep dive into some wonderful projects from Buatta’s last decade — ones that did not make it into the 2013 book — among them, a sumptuous apartment in Manhattan’s historic River House, where reflective pearlescent wallpaper adds to the glow of the entrance hall. Also included here is the Charleston home of socialite Patricia Altschul, who penned the book’s foreword. “I can’t tell you how much I miss him,” Altschul writes. Thanks to this book, his presence is felt again.

MARIO BUATTA: ANATOMY OF A DECORATOR — published by RIZZOLI in September — contains a foreword by socialite Patricia Altschul, a Buatta client and friend whose 1850 Palladian-style Charleston, South Carolina, home is featured in the book.

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