Capturing the core of Mario

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DPC Mario finally meets his idol, (or rather, a lookalike) Dame Edna! Photo: JH.

Friday, January 17, 2020. Another fair and mild day, yesterday in New York. With temps in the 40s. The forecast, however, is for lower temperatures and even maybe some snow over the weekend.

In the late morning I went over to Sotheby’s for a opening tour of the collection of the late Mario Buatta. It sounds odd to think of Mario as “the late” anybody. I just hadn’t seen him in awhile he died two years ago last October 18th. I knew that but because I saw him infrequently, I just hadn’t seen him. His presence was very much sketched in my mind. This is a typical New York Experience where you have relationships which are frequent, yet not close, yet familiar to the point of intimacy. 

So yesterday, when I arrived on the fourth floor of Sotheby’s for this “private tour” and luncheon for the upcoming auction of Mario Buatta’s possessions, I went just to see Mario. He’s still with us, kids. 

Mario Buatta: Prince of Interiors LIVE AUCTION BEGINS: 23 Jan 2020 | 10:00 AM EST.

If you’ve known Mario Buatta, you tend to think everyone knows him. He was famous in his field but as an individual around town, like a good guy in the neighborhood, he was famous to those who knew him for being Mario. There were a couple of sides to him, one which was ebullient, amusing, funny, even hilarious, and there was another side not dark or darker but could be intolerant and even his own version of bitchy (which meant it had to be witty and/or funny).

He was naturally street smart. He had basically strong, good values. He also was dual talented. Truly. He was the decorator, the interior designer par excellence with a gold and platinum client list, but he also was a comedian. I could see how the ultimate for him would be doing stand up in Vegas. He had the emotional sensibility of a comedian.  They are usually acutely sensitive not only in their humor but in the way the world affects them. It’s a separate kind of brilliance.

But he was a boy from Staten Island. His father was a musician, maybe a band leader (not sure). If you knew him you learned that his father wasn’t impressed with the boy or his artistic interests. It’s a commonplace matter in many families, but can also builds assertion. Mario had that. He had a sunny personality on meeting or socializing with, but he liked the spotlight. And when he had it, he was funny.

The Collection at Sotheby’s is about both. There are touches of his humor everywhere as well as artfulness. All those dog pictures? He didn’t have a dog. Thank God for the dog. But he got it. He got what dogs are to people. It’s a good message; kindness, love, devotion, loyalty. There’s a rug that belonged to a famous decorator – maybe Nancy Lancaster – that Mario bought at auction for $100,000. It went right into the collection, meaning a storage facility. He was a collector. Who knew/they were all ideas for further use. That, and profound appreciation for the artisanship, the artist’s talent and the colors that light up a life. That was at the core of Mario.

The tour I had began around 11 and ended a little after 12 noon when all of the guests were seated for special lunch, all arranged and hosted by Patricia Altschul and Hilary Geary Ross, both of whom were long time clients and close friends of Mario.


The luncheon centerpiece.

It was a big turnout, mainly of friends and admirers of Mario. Clients too, like Pat and Hilary. The exhibition had been put together under the guidance of Emily Evans Erdmanns who was a close friend and associate of the man and got his message. He had lots of admirers and friends. I remember seeing Jane Churchill, Charlotte Moss, Marianna Kaufman, Blaine Trump, Patty Hearst Shaw, Jamee Gregory, Carolyne Rhoem, Bunny Williams and John Roselli, Christopher Spitzmiller, Susan Gutfreund, Martha Stewart, Alexia Hamm, Barbara Bancroft, Amy Fine Collins, Muffie Potter Aston, Vera Wang, Adrienne Vittadini, Fern Mallis, Donna Acquavella, Anne Bass, Cynthia Frank, Anne Ford, and on and on.


Mario believed in luxurious bedrooms, reminding his clients as they lay down to sleep or awaken in the morning that it’s all beautiful. When it is.






Nancy Lancaster at home.





A cape for the Prince of Chintz.






There’s water in each of those holes.





A stepladder for the chic and creative.





He greatly admired Nancy Lancaster, the British interior decorator, and purchased several things of hers at the auction of her estate, including the pair of mirrors on either side of the door way in her salon.



Plant holders.




Walter Chrysler’s bed.

















Mario at thirty, a good looking interior designer in a hurry.

To see all 922 lots, and get yourself a Mario memento or two, go here.

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