Auction Watch: Treasures from ‘the Prince of Chintz’

From Sotheby’s upcoming “Mario Buatta: Prince of Interiors,” a watercolor drawing of Mr. Buatta in bed, by Konstantin Kakanias for The New York Times, circa 1988. Estimate $2,000 to $3,000. (Courtesy of Sotheby’s)

Master interior designer Mario Buatta’s eclectic personal trove crosses the block at Sotheby’s New York this month.

Mario Buatta, the great American decorator who famously brought English country house style to apartments along Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue, spent a lifetime passionately collecting his favorite furniture, art works, porcelains, and dishware, much of it decorated with flowers and inspired by the garden. “The Prince of Chintz” passed away in 2018, age 82, and now his colorful and romantic collection of more than 900 items is to be auctioned at Sotheby’s New York on January 23 and 24.

As a young man, Buatta, who was born and raised on Staten Island, was inspired by trips to England where he was introduced to the work of decorators John Fowler and Nancy Lancaster, who favored yellow painted walls, floral chintz upholstery and paintings hung on silk sashes with a bow at the top.  Soon he was creating his own charming version stateside for clients who were drawn to the joyful prettiness and warm comfort of his work, plus his wicked sense of humor. Mariah Carey, Billy Joel, Malcolm Forbes and Barbara Walters became fans, and Buatta collaborated with Mark Hampton to design Blair House, the president’s guesthouse.

“Mario never put anything in a client’s interior
that he wouldn’t want to live with himself.”

“He made the English country house style his own and more American,” says Emily Evans Eerdmans, who is overseeing the selling of the collection and wrote, along with the designer, the book Mario Buatta: Fifty Years of American Decoration. “His colors are more clear and fresh. There’s a talent and a genius to getting it right. He was a master and there aren’t that many of those.”

Estimates for the auction lots range from $500 to $80,000. “What surprised me was the consistency and continuity to his collection,” observes Dennis Harrington, Vice President, Head of Department/European Furniture at Sotheby’s, who is supervising the sale. “Mario never put anything in a client’s interior that he wouldn’t want to live with himself. He stayed true to it all of his life and never waivered from his love of antiques.”

Indeed, the designer continued to buy up until the end from dealers and at auctions in New York and London. “Everything I have is old, but I love it all,” said Buatta. “It’s the prose and poetry of my life.

Click image for caption information.

“Mario Buatta: Prince of Interiors”

Exhibition, January 16 to 22; sale, January 23 and 24.
Sotheby’s New York, 1334 York Avenue, New York, NY 10021
To purchase a catalogue, call 212-606-7000 or email cataloguesales@sothebys.com.

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