podcast | Sep 11, 2023 |
The real story of Mario Buatta with historian Emily Evans Eerdmans

The first time Emily Evans Eerdmans met acclaimed interior designer Mario Buatta at an antiques trade show, she greeted him as “Mr. Buatta.” “I was very respectful and deferential, and he did not like that—I don’t even think he remembers meeting me back then,” Eerdmans tells host Dennis Scully on the latest episode of The Business of Home Podcast. But when Rizzoli tapped her to write her first book about Buatta’s work around 2011, Eerdmans ended up spending a lot of time with the acclaimed designer, eventually understanding his playful personality. “He loved to joke and push your buttons to see how far he could push you, and he really respected you when you could push back and joke with him,” she explains.

In the later years of Buatta’s life, Eerdmans was something of a protégé to the legendary “prince of chintz.” Since his passing in 2018, she’s devoted herself to his legacy, organizing a blockbuster auction of Buatta’s estate and penning two books on his life and work. The latest book, Mario Buatta: Anatomy of a Decorator, draws on more than 80 scrapbooks and reams of personal correspondence, offering an inside look at his process and creative evolution.

On this episode of the show, Eerdmans discusses how Buatta was able to find his way from a humble beginning in Staten Island to the upper echelons of Manhattan society, the rise and fall of English country style, and what young designers can learn from the industry’s last great eccentric.

Crucial insight: During his early career in the 1960s and ’70s, Buatta told clients he would do whatever they wanted—whether it was modern or traditional. (Imagine: Some of his earliest projects included chrome furniture.) To make it big, Buatta borrowed an advertising trick that proved valuable to his aesthetic: You can’t be everything to all people. “When he finally connected with the English country house style and his Americanized version of it, he said, ‘This is my look. I’m going to just go with it, and that’s what I’m going to do.’ That’s when he really found success,” says Eerdman. “If there’s something that works for you that you love, I think the work is going to be its best because you’re fully expressing it and it’s natural to you.”

Key quote: “Mario was from an immigrant background, and you may think of antiques as secondhand furniture or from a fancy antiques show—it’s something that’s put on the pedestal. He grew up in a household that would have thought, ‘Oh, that’s secondhand, you can’t afford a new thing,’ [but] he just wholeheartedly embraced the world of antiques and collecting and having old things around him—that was really essential to his identity.”

Listen to the show below. If you like what you hear, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. This episode was sponsored by Lillian August and Hartmann&Forbes.

The Thursday Show

Meanwhile, on the latest episode of The Thursday Show, Scully and BOH executive editor Fred Nicolaus dissect the most recent news in the design industry, including the return of Modsy, an update on Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams and a deep dive into why millennials are looking to the past for design inspiration. Later, M&A experts Tim and Bo Stump discuss a chaotic time in the furniture industry.

Listen below. If you like what you hear, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. This episode is sponsored by Chelsea House.

Homepage image: Emily Evans Eerdmans | Courtesy of Eerdmans

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