Last week’s Mario Buatta: Prince of Interiors auction at Sotheby’s was nothing short of a sensation that would have surely tickled pink The Prince of Chintz. His treasures exceeded Sotheby’s highest projected estimate by 2.5 times, bringing in $7.6 million! New York designer Nick Olsen dubbed the two-day event “Buattacon”… the Super Bowl of the chintz and china set (source). Decorators and admirers from across the globe fought to own a piece of Mario’s iconic collection of dog paintings, fine porcelain, 18th and 19th century antiques, and whimsical needlepoint pillows. Bidding became so fierce “It was blood sport,” said Christopher Spitzmiller, lamp designer and one of Mario’s dear friends (source).
Mario loved publicity, and the buzz surrounding his auction could not have been greater if he had orchestrated it himself. In fact, according to House & Garden, after attending the spectacular Sotheby’s auction of Andy Warhol’s estate in the 80s, Buatta confided to a friend “I want an auction like this.” And that is precisely what he got! Just as the 1988 auction catapulted Warhol mania to new heights, the Buatta auction is ushering in a pendulum shift in interior design. After years of hinting at a return, traditional decor is officially back… pretty is back… color is back… and antiques are back!
“Everything Mario stood for is coming back in a big way,” says Whitney Robinson, Elle Decor’s editor in chief (source). “It’s the return of maximalism. It looks like the ’80s: bold decorating, brash colors, fearless design. Mario had a zest for life and for the profession of decorating. His happy, glamorous spirit really comes through in this auction.”
Furthermore, Mario Mania is catching on with an entirely new generation of admirers… The “Grandmillennials.” A term coined by Emma Bazilian of House Beautiful, Grandmillennials are identified as the mid-20s to late-30s generation, who “have an affinity for design trends considered by mainstream culture to be ‘stuffy’ or ‘outdated’ — Laura Ashley prints, ruffles, embroidered linens…” says the publication… and of course chintz, and needlepoint!
In a 2017 interview I conducted with Mario he told me, “Young people today have no reference. They don’t want Grandma’s furniture, they don’t want anything brown, they don’t want anything old. It’s weird, it’s very weird. I think it will come back, although not as big as it was like in the ’80s when everything was chintz, chintz, and more chintz.” Mario, you couldn’t have been more right! (Although we ARE starting to see chintz return in a big way!!) It seems only fitting that the man who “shook the world” of interior design would shake it up one last time by igniting a resurgence of the whimsical yet classic style he made famous decades ago. A most fitting final farewell!
For further auction results and details on the sale (including special videos and features), please visit Sotheby’s. To read more about the historic Mario Buatta auction, please check out the following articles:
- Mario Buatta Auction Shatters Estimates for Chintz (The New York Times)… Luzanne and I are both quoted! 🙂
- Mario Buatta’s treasures bring in $7.6 million as Sotheby’s auction soars past sales estimates (Washington Post)
- Design royalty is all atwitter about the Prince of Chintz auction (Washington Post)
- The Death of Chintz (The New York Times)
- An auction of legendary American decorator Mario Buatta’s possessions opens at Sotheby’s New York
And stay tuned, because yesterday the Washington Post announced that on March 13 and 14 and April 23 and 24, Stair Galleries in Hudson, N.Y., will auction “The Collection of Mario Buatta”: 1,400 dog paintings, porcelains, painted furniture and botanical engravings that were not part of last week’s auction. For ongoing news and information, please follow @emily_evans_eerdmans and @mariobuatta on Instagram.
For a fascinating recap of Mario’s legendary style, you will want to read “Mario Buatta and the English House Style in America.” Guest writer Luzanne Otte provides a summary of the panel discussion hosted by Sotheby’s as part of the events surrounding his record breaking auction.