Classic Acts: A Tale of Two Decorators

Posted:
October 28, 2013

We’re panting over classical design, the elegance and cozy opulence of rooms done by Colefax & Fowler, Sister Parish, Albert Hadley and Nancy Lancaster. We have two decorators, both visiting Houston this month, who have followed the tenets of classical design their entire careers, creating rooms that look lived in … as if they evolved over generations, at once impressive and exuberant.  

Decorators Mario Buatta and Tom Scheerer are themselves some years apart in age — but age, as we’ve explained, is a malleable thing when it comes to classicism and great rooms. Both these gentleman have books out this month, and for both, it’s a first book. In Buatta’s case, Mario Buatta: Fifty Years of American Interior Decoration, it takes 432 pages to survey his body of work, which includes some of America’s greatest estates and country houses for Malcolm Forbes and Barbara Walters; Blair House, the presidential guest quarters; a manor house in Tulsa; and a Georgian in the Philippines. The first house in the book is the 1930s John Staub-designed Neoclassical former Houston home of Courtney and Christopher Sarofim.

Sheerer’s book has just come out as I write this, and a five-page story on his work recently appeared in The New York Times T Magazine. He’s puddle-jumping from the Maidstone Club to the Cosmopolitan Club to Piping Rock, Locust Valley and Hobe Sound, shoehorning book signings and talks amidst work for his clients. Tom Scheerer Decorates is lush in its coverage but a tad “under-baked,” says Mr. Scheerer — a word he uses to explain that the smartest rooms are always a little under decorated.

After reading through both books, I still had a few burning questions … so, here are three minutes with two of my favorite classic guys.

Favorite vintage design books.

MB: Colefax & Fowler: The Best in English Interior Decoration by Chester Jones (1989); Billy Baldwin Decorates (1972); Parish-Hadley: Sixty Years of American Design (1995); and George Stacey and the Creation of American Chic. This last book publishes April 2014, but George designed in the ’30s and for the next 40 years. He was one of my heroes when I was young — he did amazing placement of objects, color … He worked for Babe Paley, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly. Amazing work.

TS: Hands down, the original Vogue’s Book of Houses, Gardens, People (1968) with photographs by Horst and everything one needs to know about style is in its pages.

Favorite room in the world.

MB: Nancy Lancaster’s yellow drawing room in London. 

TS: The Pantheon in Rome is quite a room … resonant in a way that no other interior space can duplicate. I could brag and say the living room at the Lyford Cay Club. My tour de force: grand but cozy, serious decorating but lighthearted. High style in the tropics!

Go-to red paint color.

MB: I mix everything myself, always Benjamin Moore. Out of the can, I like Ladybug Red (1322) and Currant Red (1323).

Your go-to neutral wall paint.

TS: Benjamin Moore Linen White ... sometimes cut with a bit of pure white for trim and ceilings. It’s truly neutral, without a gray, pink, green, blue cast. The beautiful warm white that everyone thinks they need to struggle with.

A handful of very intensecolors that work beautifully in a room.

TS: I did a very uncharacteristic (for me) peacock-blue dining room recently in Florida. It is wonderful set off with rattan elements and a rough cypress ceiling. Fire-engine red makes for a great library or sitting room but might not make for a good breakfast, dining or bedroom! Aubergine is cozy and glamorous, too. Especially with glints of brass and fresh green as a secondary color.

Restaurants in NY that feel like home.

MB: La Grenouille and Swifty’s (which I happened to decorate along with Anne Eisenhower) and Mr. Chow — love the way it looks.

TS: Patroon! Old-school service and wonderful, sensible but gala food. It’s what 21 used to be. I also find the front room of the Gramercy Tavern has a welcoming buzz and delicious, seasonally conscious “not too much” food.

 

Mario Buatta will be at the Decorative Center Houston, October 16, 9:30 am, as keynote speaker for the Fall Market. Mr. Buatta will then sign his book Mario Buatta: Fifty Years of American Decoration ($75) in the Lee Jofa/Brunschwig & Fils showroom, Suite 150, 10:30 to 11:30 am. Please RSVP for the keynote address or book signing to 713.961.1271 or klarson@decorativecenter.com. Decorative Center Houston, 5120 Woodway.

Tom Scheerer will be at The Houston Design Center Tuesday, October 29, 11 am, speaking on a panel with Suzanne Kasler and Jeffrey Alan Marks at the Alkusari showroom, Suite 229. Mr. Scheerer will then sign his book Tom Scheerer Decorates ($55). Books will be for sale at the event. Please RSVP to 713.864.2660 or visit thehoustondesigncenter.com/fallmarket. Houston Design Center, 7026 Old Katy Road.

Mr. Scheerer will sign books at Found Monday, October 28, 7 pm. For more information and to RSVP, call 713.522.9191. Found, 3433 W. Alabama.

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