Mario Buatta: The Collector

Eerdmans is delighted to present “The Buatta Boutique,” a curated selection of nearly 300 items from the legendary interior decorator Mario Buatta’s personal collection. Spaniels rendered in needlepoint and porcelain, Regency lacquer, and mischievous monkeys exhibit Buatta’s penchant for whimsy, glamor and, always, humor.


October 20-December 22, 2020


Eerdmans New York
14 East 10th Street
New York, NY 10003

Our rooms are the stage sets against which we live our lives. Decorating is, indeed, a kind of theater. When the curtain rises on your living” stage, the room you’ve made – from the armoire to the ashtrays – make a revealing declaration of how you regard yourself and your life in general.

— Mario Buatta

Dubbed the "the Prince of Chintz” by reporter Chauncey Howell in 1984, Buatta embraced the collected, undecorated interior. “A house should grow in the same way that an artist's painting grows. A few dabs today, a few more tomorrow and the rest when the spirit moves you. When the painting is completed (as no room ever should be), it never reflects the artist's original conception.” This philosophy of layered, highly personal interiors was formed under the mentorship of the great John Fowler of Colefax & Fowler. Buatta first met Fowler in 1966 on a pilgrimage to see the iconic Yellow Room belonging to Fowler’s business partner Nancy Lancaster. In his own words, Buatta "found himself” and his style in Lancaster’s room: “I had been to England before and had seen all the famous country houses. I loved them but they were often dreary and not very exciting. When I saw the colors in Nancy Lancaster’s room and how she used furnishings that she’d had for so many years in different houses, I went crazy. It was the first time I’d seen a place filled with things that hadn’t been put together overnight. They were things she clearly loved.” Buatta called the room a “scrapbook of her life” and soon he would create his own scrapbook in his New York City apartments.

Besides collecting for himself, Buatta stockpiled things he loved for future clients. Professor Stanley Barrows, who guided the Parsons European Summer School Buatta attended in 1961, once remarked without any exaggeration, “Mario has a tremendous inventory of antiques because he doesn’t understand stocks and bonds. It’s one of the biggest inventories of anyone who works in a private way.” By the end of his life, the size of Buatta’s collection, filling several storage units, was storied, but the designer couldn’t bare to part with a thing. Each piece had too much meaning, and was part of the story of his life.

This is the apartment of a collector. And I am a collector. I guess most designers are. I love a house full of things that have been collected for years. I love having clutter around me, organized clutter, that is. I can’t see parting with things. Each one tells a story.

— Mario Buatta


Mario Buatta was born in West Brighton, Staten Island, on October 20,1935 to Felix and Olive Buatta. His Aunt Mary, a whirling dervish of decorating and style, was a defining influence and took him on his first shopping excursions into Manhattan. Buatta was mainly self-taught, after briefly attending Cooper Union and Wagner College. Before opening his own business in 1963, the young decorator’s first work experience was on on the decorating floor of the department store B. Altman, followed by short stints in the offices of Elisabeth Draper and Keith Irvine.

Antiques were central to Buatta’s interiors and he championed their importance as the chairman of the Winter Antiques Show between 1977 to 1991. “If you don’t know about the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, you can’t decorate for the twenty-first. There’s no way,” he said. His roster of illustrious private clients such as Mariah Carey, Malcolm Forbes, and Barbara Walters often remarked on the comfort of the interiors he created for them. He saw himself as creating backdrops along the lines of a stage set that made them look and feel their best. One of his most proudest achievements was the commission, in tandem with Mark Hampton, to redecorate Blair House, the official White House Guest House in Washington, D.C., in the 1980s.

Buatta was honored in 2001 by New York School of Interior Design with the first NYSID Lifetime Achievement Award as well as having the College’s materials library and student work renamed after him. He leaves behind an inspiring legacy of creating joyful and enduring rooms.

Mario Buatta

Shop the Buatta Boutique

View all the items in the exhibition.

Buatta seated under his "family portraits" in his 80th Street living room, circa 1977.

Best in Show

“I’ve always loved dogs, but I travel too much to own one. Surrounding myself with reproductions of dogs saves me the trouble of having to walk them. I bought my first dog object when I was sixteen years old- a Staffordshire inkwell with a pair of King Charles spaniels in the center. That was the beginning of my collection.”

Of the famous wall of dog paintings in his living room, Buatta would often joke, “My ancestors –I come from a long line of dogs.” In place of ancestral portraits of people who weren’t related to him, Buatta's collection of dog paintings still paid homage to the English Country House style while maintaining an authenticity and genuineness that was reflective of the designer himself. Everybody wants King Charles spaniels. I think it’s the feeling of romance about them. The long ears, and they’re amusing, very whimsical looking. I didn’t even notice I was collecting them, it wasn’t until I moved here four years ago that I realized I had as many as I did. In my other apartment I had them scattered about, and a lot of them put away. I have other dog paintings as well, but my favorite ones are the King Charles.”

A massing of blue & white in Buatta's previous New York apartment in the early 1970s.

Blue & White

"I'm blue, I'm blue! I'm a happy guy but I have always loved blue, in all its shapes and sizes!”

The decorator’s own dining room was dedicated to his passion for blue and white ceramics. On brackets, on hooks, on tabletops and shelves, he purposefully massed Delft, Chinese export and French faience together for an impressive effect. He selected an apricot color for the walls: “The peach-pink color warms the blue-and-white and gives my pieces a whole new dimension. The yellow [of his previous apartment] had emphasized the blue, this shade crisps the white.” He wasn’t bothered by chips or cracks - it was the charm of the piece and the overall effect of a collection that guided him.

John Fowler seated in his newly rebuilt garden room at the Hunting Lodge. Buatta was one of Fowler's circle of friends who contributed to its rebuilding.

The Colefax & Fowler Touch

"It was John Fowler, whom I met in London in 1963, who influenced me the most. John used to say jokingly, “My dear boy. If you’re going to copy me, then at least do it well."

This meeting forever changed Buatta’s style point of view. A friendship and mentorship that continued until Fowler’s death in 1977 shaped his taste and was an important part of his training, with Fowler providing lessons on architecture, color, and upholstery. On Buatta’s yearly trips to Fowler’s Hunting Lodge, the pair would visit several stately homes, both public and private, deepening the American designer’s appreciation for the English Country House style: “…I discovered the true English country house style: effortless and without forethought. Those houses and their collections had been added to, built up slowly for generations, and their continuous use for centuries had given them a special aura, a patina all their own which any decorator would find hard to duplicate.”

“John could make a room look natural, as though it had always been just the way he planned it. He had a knack for knowing when to stop. Today his theories can be compared to those of the minimalist designers who believe that less is more. The big difference, however, is that you have to know what “more” is in order to appreciate “less.” Fowler showed Buatta that for every grand element, one must play it down on the next three. For his entire career, Buatta often incorporated Colefax & Fowler fabrics, antiques, and accessories and is often credited with introducing the English Country House style to America.

Penwork, black japanning, and a hothouse glamor all channel the Brighton Pavilion style in Buatta' previous bedroom.

Gôut Brighton Pavilion

“My preference for Regency furniture, lacquer, color, penwork and chinoiserie comes from the Brighton Pavilion.”

Pagodas, dolphin supports, black lacquered surfaces, and high glamor all typify the Regency style that Buatta gravitated to over and over. Perhaps it was the surprising cocktail of strong neoclassicism with exotic fantasy that appealed to the decorator who took not being too serious very seriously.

One of Buatta's earliest showhouse rooms furnished copiously with upholstered pieces.

The Soft Interior

"Make it comfortable. Put in overstuffed sofas and armchairs with ottomans so you can put your feet up. No one likes to sit on stick chairs, so if that’s what you have, no one will go in there. Cozy it up with wall-to-wall carpeting. And wire it for sound and TV. Don’t make it so precious or fussy that people are afraid to actually use the room."

Fringe, ribbon, beads, and bells all find their way into Buatta’s thoughtfully designed soft furnishings. It is all in the details, and it is the thousand finishing touches that elevate a room, but never at the expense of comfort. Buatta’s rooms and everything in it is designed to be used and enjoyed. The comfort of the eye and the body is equally paramount.

Your garden doesn’t bloom all at once, and you shouldn’t try to decorate your house all at once. It should grow and change as the people living in it do, in order to achieve that timeless, undecorated look.

— Mario Buatta
Row of Tulip Cups