Photos courtesy of Rizzoli
One of the best things about interior design is its rich history. The ability to learn and be influenced by design greats provides a wealth of inspiration. Celebrating 50 years worth of interior design, the one and only Mario Buatta has finally put together a compilation of his work. The Rizzoli book, Fifty Years of American Decoration, written by Buatta and Emily Evans Eerdmans, he lovingly refers to as his "Buatta-pedia." Weighing in at 6 pounds and 500 pages, it is a text book of his entire design life. In it, he shares amazing stories of meeting and learning from the legendary John Fowler and Sister Parish, alongside room after room that show his love for color and his design evolution. Best known for his English Country House style with a dose of color, his work has stood the test of time. Influenced by his European education at Parsons in Paris in 1961, his professor Stanley Burrows taught him to look at art to understand color and pattern better. Study the seminal, color-infused work of Bonnard Vuillard, and Matisse and "you see the way those painters attacked the canvas. I am attacking a room like a canvas. Take your time and you are going to find the right things-- a room is like a puzzle eventually you will find the right pieces."
I got the change to talk to Buatta about the book recently, and he shared his Buatta-isms with me. I chose to focus on the hub of most peoples entertaining lives, the living room. While the kitchen may have taken over for casual living, the living room is still where its at for important and impromptu gatherings. A good rule of thumb to always remember? "We are setting a stage for their clients to live their lives against." To get the best idea of what that means, Buatta shared, "I used to stay with clients in their homes for weekends before I started a job to see how they lived there, how they used that house." This sort of market research may not be possible, but getting a feel for one's lifestyle helps make their house a home. In parting Buatta exclaimed, "No house is ever finished, its a living thing like a garden." As you will see, he doesn't just do chintz--
Photos courtesy of Mario Buatta Rizzoli
We started off discussing seating arrangements, which Buatta called "the most important thing. Why don't you look at your room the morning after you have a party and see how the furniture is left. It has been moved that way for a reason, because it is the most comfortable that way. Leave it. I have been known to rearrange furniture after guests have left a party at someones house to make it more livable. I see a lot of what decorators do today is styling. A designer designs. When starting to think about how your living room is arranged, try to have at least 2 arrangements for conversing, if you have the space. I use a round back sofa in a corner, placed caty corner to provide seating for 6 people. Advice: you want to live in a setting that is pleasing to the eye and everything relates. I think of a room as a garden where all the flowers and trees are growing at different levels. "
"Two comfortable chairs are always key. A fireplace is a point of reference to arrange around, a loveseat with two tables on either side with a chair and an ottoman with an open armchair, a skirted piece. It doesn't have have to all match. Skirted tables have fallen out of favor recently, but I like to use them to fill an empty corner." Every space is different, so work with what is there.
When it comes to window treatments, Buatta is known for his use of big, formal styles, including balloon shades, swags and jabeau. So how does he go about selecting what to use where? "I like a window treatment that is right for the room, he says. " It all depends on the setting. If you have 3 windows that don't match in size, then maybe do a fabric that will disappear into the wall."
"The first thing to straighten out is the architecture then work from there. I consider how a room and color will look morning, noon and night as the light changes. This room started out with yellow walls, and after living with it for years, the client wanted a change. "A can of paint is my cheapest weapon. By painting the walls you can transform a room." They painted the walls in a dark green criss-cross glaze, and it refreshed everything else in the room. I asked Buatta how he helps clients overcome a fear of color and pattern. With pattern, he says, "create relationships through color and scale and see a balance emerge. In the 1960's when I was working on my first apartment in the city which was above Swifty's Restaurant (he went on to design the interiors 15 years ago), I had been to Beauport House in Massachusetts and seen a plum color used there. I just loved it. So I picked Lee Jofa's Floral Bouquet to work with in my apartment. I found a touch of that color to pull out of the chintz pattern, and it made the room sing."
"A screen does a great number of things. It can fill corners, divide up a space, hide things, and it keeps things cozy." Another great tip to bear in mind is that, "Creature comforts are very important- have a mirror and console at an entrance for women to check their makeup before they enter a party."