We dug through 10 years of EditorTV archives for our best Mario Buatta interviews in commemoration of the legendary designer, who passed away Monday evening. We’ve also compiled a few memories from the editors who knew him best.
Former Architectural Digest editor in chief Paige Rense’s friendship with Buatta began after she showed his work in the magazine for the first time. He called and asked her to lunch. “I accepted and asked if he would give [me] his work in the future,” Rense tells Business of Home. “He said yes and I trusted his word absolutely. He fulfilled his promise.”
“He was one of the best designers of our time,” says Rense. “His legacy will be his work, which many tried to copy, but no one could do it successfully.… His works exuded his warmth and empathetic character.”
Former Veranda interiors editor Carolyn Englefield shared that she will always remember the first time she met Buatta: “He reached out to shake my hand with a rubber cockroach in his hand,” she tells BOH. “His irreverent and jokester spirit always kept you laughing, and you were never sure whether what he was saying was fact or fiction. Just like his faux finishes, many of his stories were too good to be true. Every day with Mario was like April Fool’s Day! I will miss him dearly.”
Buatta, Englefield says, never took himself too seriously, even though he moved in a take-yourself-seriously world. “He made English country style relevant and alluring for America in the ’80s. He was a master colorist with a trademark flair for mixing patterns, tassels, trims, ribbons, bows and ruffles to no end, topped off with splendid swags and jabots, gilt brackets piled with Staffordshire dogs, and English dog paintings with a genius that is unrivaled,” she says. “He made it all look like it had always been there: deliciously tossed off and collected over a lifetime.”
His longtime friend, Peggy Kennedy, a former editor at House and Garden and House Beautiful, also emphasized his design contribution: "Mario defined the English country look as defined by John Fowler for America. The Brits would say he cleaned it up a bit. Mario would say, 'All you have to do is get your friend’s dogs in for the weekend and then it would be the real thing.'”
"In 1984, he did a room for the Kips Bay Showhouse," shares Kennedy. "You had to really analyze the details in this room; there was such density. It was one of our best selling issues because people wanted to know how it was done—even the decorators. It was a particular moment in time and he was top of the heap in that definition of English Country look."
But the reason people loved him, Kennedy shares, is because he would talk to everyone as if they were the most important person in the room—that and his preposterousness. She recalls a time when he arrived at her holiday party wearing a sweater with holes all over it and a flannel shirt underneath. "'Ho ho ho, there are a lot of moths in my closet,'" he told the crowd. "And he brought gifts. He gave my mother in law one fuzzy slipper, just one! It was just nonsense. He just had the silliest sense of humor.”
"A photo shoot with Mario was an adventure … and road trips to the location were especially memorable," says Carolyn Sollis, who first met Buatta as an assistant editor at House & Garden under then editor in chief Mary Jane Pool. "Props and flowers were piled into the car and while we worried about the weather and the logistics, Mario worried about lunch. We always packed a tasty picnic and more often than not, Mario had sampled almost everything before we had arrived!"
"He would drive us crazy yet we had a big crush on him. His bag of tricks was always at the ready and we were frequent and willing victims," Sollis shared.
It was his casual calls that former House Beautiful editor in chief Sophie Donelson found most delightful. “Mario’s calls to my office became a running joke with my assistant Haley,” she tells BOH. “I’d always feign fatigue at their regularity—as if it was my mother nagging me again. But the truth is, I never got over his casual endorsement of me. I never stopped feeling a rise from seeing those sticky notes on my desk: ‘Mario Buatta called.’”
Lighting designer Christopher Spitzmiller was friends with Buatta for 16 years. “He took time with people,” he tells BOH. “He really, whether you were a showroom salesperson or the manager of a place, he took the time to make personal relationships with all of them. I think that’s the thing that really differentiated him.”
Spitzmiller once threw a party for his friends to meet his two new dogs. Buatta, who was there, wrote him the next day: “Can you get me the phone number of that big, dark-haired guy at your party? I have to see him again.”
“If you mean Richard,” Spitzmiller responded, “he’s got a boyfriend.”
“No,” said Buatta. “I mean your dog. I mean Lyon. I’m in love with Lyon.”
“Everything he said,” Spitzmiller explains, “he had a good way of being witful.”
Have a story about Mario Buatta you’d like to add? Share in the comments below.
The funeral will be for family only, and a memorial will likely take place in another month.
Featured above: Mica Ertegun and Mario Buatta at the Elle Decor A-List event 2017. Photo by Gaia Squarci.