An Ode to Mario
| A tender scene in Central Park. 2:20 PM. Photo: JH.
|Thursday, March 10, 2011. Not so cold. I went out last night without a coat over my suit, grabbed a cab at my door that took me to the entrance of the Metropolitan Club on 60th and Fifth.
Last night was Mario Buatta’s night in New York. If you don’t know Mario, let me tell you that in a certain world, and actually a rather wide one, everybody knows who you mean if you just say “Mario.” Like Garbo. Or Elvis. Or Pavarotti. Or Pagliacci himself. For Mario is a great character, a mobile mise en scene. He’s comedic and he’s a prince. Prince of Chintz.
Now do you know who I mean? Mario Buatta is one of the most famous American interior decorators of his time – which is now and also reaching back years, like maybe fifty or so. Hard to believe but true. Last night there was a tribute to him at a dinner at the Metropolitan Club.
The evening began at the AVENUE Antiques and Art at the Armory Show at the Park Avenue Armory, with an invitation-only cocktail benefit for the New York School of Interior Design in honor of the Principe de Chintza (if you’ll pardon the translation).
After cocktails, the crowd moved on to the Metropolitan Club to join a few hundred others who’d come for the dinner part of the benefit for the NYSID, which is the country’s leading educational institution for interior design. The highlight of the dinner was to be NYSID’s president Christopher Cypher recognizing Mario’s contribution to the profession by renaming its materials library and primary student work space The Mario Buatta Materials Atelier.
The showstopper was the dining room of the Metropolitan Club. The interior designers who decorated it for the occasion pulled out all the stops. It’s a beautiful room by itself, full of Gilded Age grandeur. But the designers’ touch last night was grander than grandeur, with the table decoration and settings, the floral centerpieces and the brilliant lighting.
It was spectacular the way you’d think an interior designer would be spectacular. The mood was celebratory. I couldn’t help thinking what a fabulous room to be dining in on a rainy March evening in New York, full of an interesting cast of people, lives that could fill novels and comedies and not a few mysteries.
|The room decked out for Mario.
|Mario is a major character in that setting. All kinds of people know him. He also travels with his bag of tricks, practical jokes really, including wigs and plastic cockroaches on a string (he has a name for that one). He is a huge Dame Edna fan, for example. I think he’s seen Dame Edna’s shows hundreds of times. I’m not kidding.
I think the only thing Mario hasn’t done yet in his life that is part of his personal Zeitgeist, is to play Vegas. Even a lounge. Because if you really know him, aside from his most serious side, he can be like your nutty uncle too, plastic cockroaches, Tiny Tim wigs, et al.
I’m reminded of the time he was honored by the Royal Oak Foundation and in his acceptance he told the audience how he came from a long line of Italian artists. His “great-uncle Luigi,” he said, “worked for Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel -- Except he was afraid of heights, so he could only do the baseboards.” This, in a broken Italian American accent.
After President Cypher gave Mario his citation, Lewis Frumkes took the podium and called on Wilbur Ross to read his “An Ode To Mario.”
|Wilbur Ross delivers “An Ode To Mario.”
|Following Wilbur, Christopher Mason sang his medley of songs about Mario.
Buatta doesn’t rhyme too well.
In Fact, it’s even hard to spell.
But all of us do love a prince
Even one that’s made of chintz.
The range of color is his tool
From red hot to really cool.
Though when he bills you for a job,
His prices make a client sob.
He gave me such a sticker shock
I’ve had to sell a lot of stock.
And if the job would ever finish,
My lifetime savings would diminish.
The house he did for Henry Ford
No one else could possibly afford.
He also did the Johnson place
With great flair and easy grace.
Mariah Carey loves his craft,
Though she says he’s really daft.
We all know his book of jokes
And his pranks on lots of folks.
Harold is his plastic bug,
An ugly critter and quite smug.
He also wears some monster teeth
With his real ones underneath.
But all in all, it is a great delight
To honor him right here tonight.
After Wilbur’s reading of his Ode, Lewis then introduced the privately commissioned balladeer Christopher Mason who sang his medley of songs about that larger than life character Mario. You can hear even hear the audience’s laughter at certain lines:
“The Prince of Chintz Song”
Written and Performed by
To Celebrate the Establishment of the
Mario Buatta Atelier
At The New York School
of Interior Design.
Metropolitan Club, New York
March 9, 2011
To the tune of “America the Beautiful”
Oh Buatta-ful for swags and swirls,
Chinoiserie and chintz;
For lime-green walls
And topiary balls,
Styled as befits a prince;
Terrific and prolific,
He’s a legend in our time;
Too bad he’s kind of crazy,
But his work is quite sublime.
To the tune of “Il Sole Mio”
As a bambino he seemed to know,
While still in diapers he hated Art Deco!
His family’s house was white and chrome
He cried, “If this décor stays, I’m-a leaving home!”
His dear Aunt Mary, his Auntie Mame,
She praised his talent, his path to fame;
He loved strong colors, Mama was nonplussed,
Her son loved chintz and welcomed dust!
To “The Stately Homes of England”
The English Country Style look
Was frankly dull and bleak
’Til this guy from Staten Island
Came along and made it chic!
His ruffles, bows and potpourris
Inspired thriving industries
As millions watched, entranced,
Tried to copy him,
But even landed dukes
Can’t match his grand deluxe.
His famous doggy pictures
With ribbons on their frames
Became the rage on Park and Fifth
And even in St. James;
Four-poster beds were torn to shreds
To match Buatta’s style:
The Cotswolds by way of Staten Island!
To “Il Sole Mio”
The happy reason we’re here to dine:
The New York School of Interior Design
Is renaming its design studio, as of today
The Mario Buatta Atelier.
Aspiring students can match their whim
With materials in a studio named for him,
Textiles and swatches, inspired, you bet,
By the Mario Buatta style alphabet:
To “The Christmas Alphabet”
M is for the gilded mirror’s soft reflective glow,
A is for antiques, which cost his clients lots of dough,
R is for the rope and ribbons, matching all the drapes,
I is for Italian chutzpah, landing him in endless scrapes,
O is for the ornamental sconces, hung with glee,
B is for his Blair House work, the White House B&B,
U is for the ugliness he finds in Art Deco,
A is for the Aubusson, he says your carpet’s gotta go,
T is for the tassels, in bright colors, and we know
That A is for Atelier, which is named for Mario.
But then again . . .
M is for that Mario mischief, laugh until you weep,
A is for assistants, which we’ve heard he cannot keep!
R is for his ranting when upholsters are late,
I is for impossible—he’ll yell like hell, don’t make him wait;
O is for the ottoman he says is way too big,
Also for occasions where he wears that ghastly wig!
Put them all together, and what do you a get?
Pearls of inspiration from the Buatta alphabet!
To “Il Sole Mio”
Beloved and famous, though it appears
It takes him decades to finish jobs, not merely years;
Clients are dazzled, it’s not sour grapes,
But they wonder if he’ll ever design the drapes!
To “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?”
When you’re worried that he’ll spring again
His cockroach on a string—again—
Or tell some corny joke best left unsaid;
When you fear that he’ll unsheathe
A set of wind-up plastic teeth,
Or that damned toupee is falling off his head . . .
How do you solve a problem like Mario?
The loveable kid who simply won’t grow up,
How do you solve a problem like Mario?
How do you scold a naughty, playful pup?
To “He’s Just My Bill”
His talent’s great
But his bills are always late,
A year goes by, and not a single charge from him;
With passing time,
The zeros climb,
He’s fiercely resistant—
Won’t hire an assistant;
When at last it comes,
With stratospheric sums,
Some reach for pills!
Clients love him, but he’s impossible,
He hates to send out bills!
To “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen”
Still in demand, piled with receipts,
Rock stars and moguls snuggle up in Mario’s sheets,
’Cause he delivers style with flourishes galore,
They keep coming back for more!
He sure gets ink, press clips galore,
His jealous rivals claim that he’s a media whore!
But he’s a superstar and still knows how to jive,
Looking good at seventy-five!
To “Il Sole Mio”
So Mr. Mario, what’s left to say?
Congratulations on your new Atelier;
The jury’s out–are you insane?
But you’re the Prince of Chintz and Long May You Reign!
After which our principe took the podium again to thank so many people for all they did to make what turned out to be such a beautiful and lovely evening on a late winter’s night in New York.
|Among those attending (the following is a woefully incomplete list, yet so long, the only reason to read it is to see if you’re in it. If not my bad – or you weren’t there): Alexa Hampton, Jodie King, Robert King, Michelle Gerber Klein, Vincent Wolf, Terry Kleinberg, Tim Whealon, Tom Kligerman, Pat Altschul, Jamie Figg, Peter Lyden, Jackie Weld Drake, Jamee and Peter Gregory, Tony Manning, John and Ann Pyne, Stephanie Krieger and Brian Stewart, Elizabeth Pyne, Aileen Mehle, Sarah Medford, Richard and Marcia Mishaan, Carolyn Rowan, Jim Aman and John Carson.
|Mario Buatta and Clare Potter.
|Plus, Elizabeth Krausnick, Wendy MacKenzieJuan Montoya, Renee Morrison, Todd Romano, Robert Rufino, Enid Nemy, Ann Rapp, Ann Nitze, Scott Nelson and Alex Papachristidis, Samantha Topping, Jackson McCord, Michelle Safra, Connie Newberry, Pavlos Papageorgiou, Barbie and Tommy Bancroft, Pat Wood and Ed Ney; Melinda and William Florian Papp, Mitch Owens, Michael Zabriskie, John Yunis, Dailey Patee, Lyn Paulsin, Keith Carroll, Campion and Tatiana Platt, Harriet Weintraub, Lord Charles Spencer Churchill, Jane Churchill, Christopher Petkanas, Hilary and Wilbur Ross, Natalie Pinto-Thomaz, Amanda Essex.
||Urban Karlsson and Juan Montoya.
|Alexa Hampton and Bill Stubbs.
||Dailey Pattee in the tiara.
|Also: Charlotte Moss, Joan Kron, George and Mariana Kaufman, Lee Jofa, James Laforce, Margo Langenberg, AllisonPincusSamantha Nestor, Ana Meier, Amy and Patti Lau, BettyLaudreth, Jerry Lauren, Cindy Prasnal, Scott Prentiss, Mr. and Mrs. James Lebenthal, Sarah Smith, Cheryl Tague, Brigitta Williamson, Joao Magalhaes, Mary Ann Mahar, Allison and Laurent Levasseur, Debbie Bancroft, Larry Lederman and Kitty Hawks, John Loeb and Sharon Handler, Mary Ellen and Richard Oldenberg, Princ Dimitri, Mary Jane Pool, Jennifer Post, Clare Potter, Judy and Peter Price, Christina Juarez, Cheri Kaufman, Philip Gorrivan, Katie Sherwood, Michael Stokes, Michael Bruno, Malcolm Kutner, Anne Eisenhower and Wolfgang Flottl, Pierre Frey. Fernanda Kellogg and Kirk Henckels, Randy Kemper and Tony Ingrao, Margaret Kennedy, Celerie Kemble, Drew McGukin.
||The elephant in the dining room.
|Randy Kemper and Tony Ingrao.
||John Loeb and Sharno Handler.
|As well as: Tessa Kennedy, Bunny Williams, Tracey Pruzon, Ellie Cullman, Carol Prisant, Guy Regal, Julie Dannenberg, Drew McGukin, David Scott, Tom Robinson, Margaret Russell, Scott Salvator, Jean and Martin Shafiroff, Marcia Sherrill, Ilene Wetson, Maria Sepulvde. Roric Tobin, Hugh and Helene Tilney, Adam and Marnie Tihany, Ashley Stark, H. Peter Stern, Stephen Sills, Suzy Slesin, Matthew Smyth, Stephanie Stokes. Marilyn White, Patricia and Michael Sovern, Bill Stubbs, Becky Smith, Ralph Gardner. And hundreds more, just like ‘em.
Heigh-ho the Mario!
||Jamie Figg, Pat Altschul, and Mario Buatta.
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