Famed interior decorator Mario Buatta might be known internationally as the Prince of Chintz, but anyone who has spent more than a few minutes with the master discovers that his disarming humor and his penchant for puns might lead one to label him the Count of Comedy. "I grew up in a two-door (pronounced Tudor) house," he quips in explaining the origins of his interest in interior design.
On a recent breeze through Houston, Buatta charmed a room full of designers and decorators attending his Decorative Center Houston lecture and slayed everyone he encountered with his non-stop verbal play. "Oh, you're happy to see me?" he asked on meeting decorator Randy Powers. "So I owe you money. Do I owe you money? When people are happy to see me, I think I owe them money."
For the past 14 years, Buatta says, he has worked without an assistant even when he undertook the task of furnishing a 98-room Beaux Arts chateau.
Buatta was in the midst of a book tour promoting his brilliant 400-page design tome Mario Buatta: Fifty Years of American Interior Decoration. It was a less than ideal morning for the designer as his book, which had been at the top of the design best sellers for seven weeks, slipped to second place. Nevertheless, he continued in high spirits as witnessed when he pulled an ink-stained rubber hand from his jacket pocket. "This is my blotter," he said, not joking. Whenever he autographs one of his books with his felt-tip pen, Buatta blots it with the Halloween-ish hand.
As he settled in on a sofa in the George Cameron Nash showroom, after admiring the furnishings and examining the fabric collection, Buatta maintained his humorous momentum while contemplating his illustrious career. "In two years, I'll be 80 years old and I'm retiring. What's the point of agonizing myself and trying to prove myself when I've already proven myself?"
For the past 14 years, Buatta says, he has worked without an assistant even when he undertook the task of furnishing a 98-room Beaux Arts chateau in California. "I prefer to do it myself and have it the way I want it."
His various, resplendent decorating adventures are chronicled in beautiful photography in the book written with design historian Emily Evans Eerdmans. Images are taken from leading shelter magazines and include unpublished photographs from the designer’s own archive. With a client list that has included Billy Joel, Mariah Carey, Henry Ford II, Malcolm Forbes and Barbara Walters, the interiors are lush and lavish in Buatta's signature English country house style, which he redefined for the American market.
While he demurs on naming his clients, Houstonians who have gladly mentioned their association with the designer include former Mayor Bob Lanier and Elyse and Christopher and Courtney Lanier Sarofim. We suspect it was one of these couples with whom he dined that evening. He was unwilling to share their names, allowing only that he was having dinner with friends.