I've watched auctions from afar for a long time. Last time I was in New York, I popped into Sotheby's and watched bidding take place just because it produces a sort of adrenaline rush for me. I have to confess though, that I've never bid on anything. When Peggy and David Rockefeller's collections where at Christie's a couple of years ago, I thought about how fun it would be to bid on something even if it were something of little interest to me, just to say I had partaken of history. But the idea was fleeting and I quickly went on with my life.
When Mario Buatta, AKA "The Prince of Chintz" passed away in late 2018, the interior design community mourned. I was sad because he was one of those larger-than-life figures whose name presided like a deity over the profession I care about. But I didn't think, "wow, I can't wait to get my hands on something he owned." Partly it may have been that chintz is not really my thing and neither are porcelain cabbage tureens, but I think more it's that it seems a little odd to covet something that belongs to a dead man.
Now that Buatta's collection is on display at Sotheby's though, and I feel like I read a new article everyday about how well it's exhibited, I can't help but want to be a part of it. If at first I thought my desire was odd, now I'm thinking, what better way to honor a designer than to covet something he deemed beautiful? I would take it as the ultimate compliment for a thing of even mediocre value to suddenly have great worth simply because I had owned it.
And the way I feel about a thing Mario Buatta owned is the same way so many people all around the world feel about stuff their parents or grandparents passed on to them. My brother has my dead father's palm pilot, which hasn't worked in 15 years, but which he treasures. My mother has half of a collection of Waterford Crystal and my aunt has the other half, because their mother and aunt bought the set together and split it over 6o years ago. It is beautiful to my mom and aunt because it was first ordained by those that came before them.
There is nothing I dislike more than going to someone's home and finding exclusively new stuff assembled just as the retail store they purchased it from curated it in the window. Where are is the stuff, hideous or otherwise, these people treasure because of it's history? Do they have a guilty closet somewhere, like Monica Gehler had?
Many designers come to projects ready to wipe the slate clean of these ugly treasures people cannot part with, but I think the most gifted ones realize these are the objects that set one interior apart from all the rest. The designer's job, like the hairdresser's or the tailor's, is to portray the client in the best light possible, not to turn the client into someone else entirely. Who a person is has completely to with their history. Their belongings are a collection of things that say something about that history. An article in Architectural Digest
about the last project of the late Buatta says, "It might surprise many to hear how frugal Mario could be on his clients’ behalf. If he could reuse existing furnishings, he did so with relish. When this couple moved into their previous residence, only two new pieces had to be purchased for the sprawling living room."
I have created a Sotheby's account and placed a bid on lot 209, a pair of Vitruvius Britannicus plate circa 1715. I love robust classical architecture, I learned to make drawings in a similar fashion in school. This makes lot 209 special to me. And Mario Buatta owned them before, so they must be lovely.
GO PLACE YOUR BIDS ON HISTORY NOW! Not on lot 209 though, because I can't afford more than my current bid.