Tony Baratta

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Tony Baratta of Diamond Baratta design is a conundrum: we had real fun interviewing him because he’s given to loud bursts of infectious laughter, giving us the kind of un-canned answers that we love. The hilarious pictures in their book, “All-American, The Exhuberant Style of William Diamond and Anthony Baratta,” of he and his long-time business partner, Bill Diamond variously posing on giraffe-print thrones or looking coy in silk pyjamas, would indicate that neither of them take themselves too seriously—at least this was our interpretation of those pictures—(you have to see them!) And yet for all that showiness and the assuredly bold designs for which Diamond Baratta is known, ultimately Tony came across as a thinker—and something of a loner.

So you very modestly describe yourselves on your website as ‘geniuses’ and I was wondering how you were going to reveal your genius to us.

[Bursts out laughing] I thought we had taken that off the website—that’s really funny! [still laughing] Other people have commented on that. That little piece was written for us … I think maybe my partner keeps it!

A group of vintage Fornasetti plates form an image of ‘Adam’.
L. to r.: Looking across open kitchen.; Ettore Sottsass vessels purchased at the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum store stand atop the kitchen island.
A vase of fan palms from the nearby flower district add a bit of greenery to the dining room table.
L. to r.: Whimsical chairs designed by Diamond and Baratta surround a sycamore and maple Art Deco dining table from Cotswold antiques. Tony designed the corner screen, which is covered with photos of classical nudes.; Stainless shelving by USM is filled with a mix of classical sculptures, framed photos and art books. The largest classical sculpture is nicknamed ‘Spike”.

You also describe your clients as ‘beloved’ …

Oh really? Some of them are beloved and some of them I don’t have much love for …

Well, I’m teasing you about these exaggerations but in ties in with the way your designs take ideas and amplify them—would that be a fair assessment?

Yeah … I think we consciously do that. We’re exuberant and that’s one of the key words in what we do. I like to think that we push the boundaries by taking things to a new level in terms of scale and color. That’s the hallmark of our work. Both Bill and I have a hard time just doing very, very traditional decorating.

Looking across the living room a mélange of textures and patterns in neutral calming tones,
A custom rug made out of real coat fabric by Jan Jurta is reminiscent of a Josef Albers work.
A Fornasetti tray rests atop a leather pouf.
A wool throw from Hermès drapes over the back of one of the living room Art Deco style chairs.
A ‘Boomerang’ coffee table out of terrazzo is in the shape of a French curve. A plaster cast of a Roman foot stands atop a coffee table by Diamond and Baratta. Round Art Deco side tables flank a tufted Victorian sofa.
A Memphis style side table was purchased from the estate of Geoffrey Beene.
A plaster cast of a Roman man hovers over the living room.
L. to r.: Another view of the Roman man.; The small table in what Tony calls ‘Belgium Congo Deco’ came from an antique store in Miami. It stands next to Art Deco style chairs by Diamond and Baratta.

Are you bold in your life in general?

I have been … [laughing loudly] … sort of too bold!

Yes, there are a lot of bold men in here …

I have this big living room just to hold these men … I had this great guy who used to restore these statues for me. They’ve all had appendages replaced … [begins to giggle]

Are, um, those bits particularly vulnerable to damage?

Well, some of them would have leaves on them and I got rid of all the leaves. My father came in and said, “Can’t you put some underwear on them?” Sometimes I do dress them up for Christmas.

A two-tiered coffee table designed by Diamond and Baratta is layered with art books.
A Harlequin lamp from a Pier Antiques Show stands next to Danish Modern chair found at a thrift shop. In the foreground: A side view of the Philip and Kelvin LaVerne chair.
Two drawings hang above a Danish Modern chair.
L. to r.: A side view of the custom neo-classical cabinet.; Tony found these three photos with their original Adirondack style frames in an antique store in Wells, Maine.
Clockwise from above: A bust of Mercury stands adorns a round Art Deco sofa table; All-American, The Exhuberant Style of William Diamond and Anthony Baratta, is displayed atop the coffee table; Another coffee table display.
A chandelier from the Diplomat Hotel in Miami adds a bit of pop to the living room ceiling.
The back of the curvaceous ‘Cookie Chair’ by French designers, Philip and Kelvin La Verne.
A zebra-covered African drum stool sits comfortably next to its leopard neighbor.

Where are we headed, design-wise, would you say?

Everybody’s tired of living in an airport lounge. I’ve been doing this for thirty years and I’ve watched as the Joe Durso minimalism of the 70s turned into this huge, overblown traditional 80s and that’s how the world works.

I can’t imagine the 80s opulent traditionalism coming back with the curtains and the chintz.

You know I have to say that the people around who could do those curtains and the chintzes properly are long gone. I love working with De Angelis because they’re the true craftsmen of this industry.

L. to r.: A bold black-and-white herringbone check fabric designed by Diamond and Baratta for Lee Jofa covers the wall of the guest bath.; Guest towels hang below a pastel by Taylor Harbison.

Are you someone who hangs on to things?

I love everything, that’s the problem. I have so much junk but I once put it all up for auction. And it was so painful!

Most people say it’s liberating to do that.

I found no sense of liberation. I still think of the pieces. I was very attached to them, even pieces that at the time I thought was silly junk that I paid $500 for and now they’re worth $5,000 or $10,000 and it bugs me … [starts to laugh]. Ohh … we live in this 1stDibs world where everybody knows everything! There’s no secrets left. Somebody has put a name on it. [Ugly furniture] is “Hollywood Regency” now—you give it a story and it becomes worth something. I mean we called that stuff Mediterranean ugly furniture back in the 70s—it was so ugly!

It’s branding.

You’re absolutely right. It’s branding.

I fear you’re going to come across a wee bit disillusioned …

You know I’m never disillusioned when it comes to decorating. I always look for the fun in the new. I always find it a challenge.

Tony had De Angelis Custom Furniture combine two Victorian sofas to create a fabulous bed for himself. The rug is ‘Sheridan Square’ by Diamond and Baratta for Stark.
L. to r.: A portrait of an ‘Unattractive Man’ stands atop a black-and-white easel from London. The small table is the second of the pair of ‘Belgium Congo Deco’ style pieces from an antique store in Miami.; The bedroom lamps are by David Weeks.
A plaster bust of Hercules bought at a Berlin auction watches over Tony.
A marquetry design of Arnold Schwarzenegger covers the back of a cheval mirror found at an auction in New Orleans. A drawing of a classical bust hangs above a 1950’s zebra-covered chair.
L. to r.: An oversized floor lamp is one of eight copies made for the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami.; Crisp black-and-white cotton pillow shams neutralize the ornate tufted Victorian headboard.
A small table in ‘Belguim Congo Deco’ style from an antique store in Miami holds bedtime reading.

You do have such a distinct style—you seem very true to that.

Even when I look back at the work we did when we first started out, I do see that actual same sense of scale, and coloration and a taste for certain forms. We have just refined it … I have to tell you somebody has this terrible website called The 101 Things I Hate About Decorating … did you ever hear about it?

No, we don’t know that site—now we do.

… oh my God, whoever came up must be like a completely creepy kind of person. What he does is take pictures of other people’s work, posts it on the internet and then people criticize it … and the comments about our work are so hurtful, or just mean.

The internet is the repository of envy.

They don’t understand that we’re working for a client, that there are constraints. Apple green and turquoise … I’m giving you an example of what was criticized—there’s a reason that it was done like that. We are employed by somebody who wants bold color.

If somebody comes to you, they do know what they’re getting into. You have a very distinct approach.

You’re hiring us for a certain reason and a certain sense of style … I have to tell you, my partner and I can read people so quickly.

Oh good, we like playing this game. Can you ‘read’ me and Sian?

[Laughs nervously] I would think that you look like you are a really casual person … that is the way that I would like to live sometimes but just can’t … [turns to Sian and visibly perks up] But for you, you wear color very well. I would be able to give you much more of a strong palette.

You don’t live with anybody else?

No. I have a problem with that. I’ve had relationships where a person really wants to be either be a part of the design or have the house reflect their style … it’s hard for me to adjust to other people’s taste.

A photograph of Audrey Hepburn by George Daniell hangs on a wall next to the doorway of Tony’s walk-in closet.
Tony’s very tidy bedroom closet.

L. to r.: As you might have guessed, the ‘A’ is for Anthony and ‘B’ is for Baratta.; Cerused oak covers the walls and cabinet of tony’s swanky master bath.
Photographs of ‘Lobster Boys’ by George Daniell line the walls of the master bath.

Would you sometimes like to be relieved of this burden of perfection, what you called [earlier] ‘the quest for perfection’?

I don’t really … I feel as though it’s such a part of me now that I don’t want the relief of that.

What do you at the weekends?

My idea of a good weekend is sort of closing off the world. I either lay in the pool or go to the beach.

By yourself?

Mostly by myself.

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